Jeremy Lin’s dreadlocks aren’t harmful, they’re helpful

Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin looks to pass the ball during the first half of the team's pre-season against the Miami Heat, Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, in New York. (Kathy Willens/AP)

The NBA never sleeps. But of the stories I was expecting to be big news leading up to the start of the season, Jeremy Lin’s dreadlocks and Kenyon Martin’s reaction to them, was not one of them.

If you haven’t been on social media the past few days, here’s a recap of events.

Lin arrived at Brooklyn Nets training camp sporting yet another new hairstyle, dreadlocks. Lin then wrote a brilliant piece for the Players’ Tribune explaining his thought process, and trepidation, before deciding to put his hair in “locks.”

It was the perfect use of Derek Jeter’s website, ensuring it doesn’t become simply a place where athletes go to write letters when they change teams. Lin’s piece allowed him to get ahead of the story, knowing it would be hot-button issue that might offend some.

And we can count former Nets star Kenyon Martin among the offended. Or at least initially offended.

In response to Lin’s new look, an agitated Martin posted a now-deleted video to his Instagram account in which he said, “Do I need to remind this damn boy his last name Lin?”

He added: “Like, come on, man. Let’s stop it with these people. There is no way possible he would’ve made it on one of our teams with that bulls–t on his head. Come on man, somebody need to tell him, like, ‘Alright bro, we get it. You wanna be black.’ Like, we get it. But your last name is Lin.’”

But instead of firing off an angry retort — which is par for the course on social media — Lin instead chose to kill Martin with kindness.

As a result of Lin reaching out to Martin with compassion, not combativeness, a road was paved for further communication, allowing the two to share and talk through their perspectives. Martin eventually apologized privately, which Lin says he accepted.

What’s noteworthy about Lin highlighting the Chinese characters branded on Martin’s body in the form of tattoos is how it illustrates the dangers of rushing to judge others without first looking at ourselves.

Lin isn’t the first person who isn’t black to adopt a traditionally black hairstyle, and doing so isn’t wrong. Just like it’s not wrong when a vacationer in the Caribbean braids their hair for a week. More importantly, Lin’s hair isn’t taking a job away from a black player because he now has dreadlocks. In fact, as Lin wrote in the Players Tribune, his dreadlocks have allowed him to bond with teammates DeAngelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

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Lin has no need to “want to be black,” as Martin claims. In fact, he’s a relevant NBA figure primarily because his name is Lin and he’s not black.

Lin’s decision to not only adopt the hairstyle, but encourage a respectful, thoughtful conversation about it, has given us a positive example of how cultures in a civilized society can and should blend together without one seeking to dominate another.

As a black man myself, Lin’s hairstyle is the least of my worries. I choose not to be offended, a decision made easier because Lin has demonstrated he isn’t seeking to offend and has spent time listening to and considering other viewpoints.

If only that was how most people today deal with sensitive subject matters. Lin knew his hair would upset some, so he broke the mold and initiated what he hoped would be a healthy, respectful conversation about a complex issue.

Sadly, in our outrage culture we are so fixated on being angry we don’t often take the time to listen to each other.

Hopefully that will be different by the time Jeremy Lin decides to change his hair again.

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