Yesterday news broke that Ben & Jerry’s, which had begun selling a limited-edition Jeremy Lin flavor called “Taste the Lin-sanity,” had pulled a controversial ingredient: fortune cookies.
The flavor, which is only being sold in Harvard Square, was originally vanilla-based with swirls of lychee honey and fortune cookies to honor Lin’s Chinese heritage.
The ice cream clearly went into production before Anthony Federico of ESPN ignited a national controversy about Lin’s race with his “Chink in the Armor” headline and SNL’s subsequent parody of racial puns in news coverage of Lin. Ryan Midden, general manager of Ben & Jerry’s in Cambridge, told the Boston Globe, “There seemed to be a bit of an initial backlash about it, but we obviously weren’t looking to offend anybody and the majority of the feedback about it has been positive.”
Still, yesterday it was announced that the fortune cookie would be substituted for bits of waffle cones.
The move immediately set off a firestorm of internet debate, much of it accusing Ben & Jerry’s of being too politically correct. Yahoo Sports’ Chris Chase writes:
There’s a difference between being color/race blind and completely ignoring a person’s heritage. The über-PC police got all worked up about the inclusion of fortune cookies but surely their anger was misplaced. Lin’s family is of Chinese descent. Fortune cookies are associated with Chinese food.
Leaving aside the fact that fortune cookies don’t even come from China (they’re an American invention), what Chase fails to realize is that everyone’s heritage doesn’t come with equal treatment. Lin’s Chinese heritage in his chosen profession resulted in years of racist heckling at college games (he was called everything from “Wanton Soup” to “Sweet and Sour Pork”) as well as being overlooked for Division I scholarships and NBA drafts. He only got his chance to play in 2012 when Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni reached a point of desperation. Before he surprised everyone by winning over New York’s heart, Lin’s heritage carried a painful stigma that followed him everywhere: Asians can’t play ball.
If Lin had been a white player of Italian heritage and Ben & Jerry’s sought to celebrate him with a tiramisu ice cream it would be different, because his heritage would not have played a part in oppressing him throughout his career.
I get that Chase and the anti-PC crowd aren’t racist and probably just want to live in a world where we can celebrate our diversity without hurting each other’s feelings. To think that we actually live in this world is naive.
Ben & Jerry’s seemed to be hedging its bets against looking too politically correct: Chase reports that the company says it’s making the move simply because the fortune cookies were getting too soggy. Ben & Jerry’s has a history of taking admirable stances—supporting Occupy Wall Street, starting a petition to overturn Citizens United. Being realistic about the subtle racism that still impacts many Americans and pulling the fortune cookie ice cream was a good move, and they should stand by it.