You’ve probably heard a lot about Jeremy Lin lately. From sports writers with some terrible puns, sports fans, and from a lot of racial issues blogs who were annoyed with some terrible, skirting the edges of racist puns. However, someone at ESPN screwed up big time, and whether it was an accident, or intentional, there are a few lessons we can all take away from this.

From ESPN:

Last night, ESPN.com’s mobile web site posted an offensive headline referencing Jeremy Lin at 2:30 am ET. The headline was removed at 3:05 am ET. We are conducting a complete review of our cross-platform editorial procedures and are determining appropriate disciplinary action to ensure this does not happen again. We regret and apologize for this mistake

You have got to call shit out. You might not be popular for it. It might bother people, because sometimes people really take offense when power structures are challenged. But if you don’t speak up, a lot of really racist (or homophobic or misogynistic) stuff gets to slide and that makes the world a much less pleasant place to exist in. This isn’t about being PC, it’s about acknowledging that your actions AND your words matter, and if you’re careless with them, you can inflict a lot of damage.

Sometimes it’s just someone telling a “joke,” and I learned this online somewhere, but the most effective technique is to play dumb. “I don’t get it.” “Why is that funny?” When someone has to explain the inherent racism that is the source of the humor, the joke breaks down.

It is a big deal. It might not seem like a big deal. It’s just a word. But the privilege that saying “it’s not a big deal” represents is a big deal. It’s not just about ESPN (or other sports writers/fans) feeling free to use literally any Asian reference whatsoever in referring to Lin. It’s not just about GOP candidates feeling free to conflate “black people” with “welfare.” It’s not just about any person of color being mistaken for the help. It’s all of those things. Because when you add it all up, it doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture for America.

For some inexplicable reason, calling out racism has somehow become equated with “playing the race card.” That’s patently ridiculous. Acknowledging that there’s a problem is not the same as creating a problem. And acknowledging that there’s a problem is the first step in correcting it. If you don’t call this shit out, if you don’t actively work to point out the bias in pop culture and the racist jokes your friends (or parents) tell, suddenly it’s okay to let bigger and bigger stuff slide. Nobody learns that their behavior is unacceptable, and nobody changes. It’s exhausting to explain these things what feels like every single day, over and over, and why it’s important that we watch our words, that we don’t just let society consider “white, male, heterosexual” as the default and everything else as the other. But if we’re not active, and intentional, we lose.

We lose rights, we lose friends, we lose the opportunity to learn something from other people–these are all important things. Every time someone (a politician) argues for a “return to the good old days,” question what they mean. When they say they want to “take America back”, who precisely are they taking it back from? It’s important to think critically about this, even when it’s hard, even when it seems like it doesn’t really matter, or that it will never impact you, and I literally cannot stress this enough. It does matter. And we can only succeed (or fail) together.

ESPN has dismissed the employee responsible for the headline on their mobile application and has suspended the ESPNEWS Anchor for 30 days.

We again apologize, especially to Mr. Lin. His accomplishments are a source of great pride to the Asian-American community, including the Asian-American employees at ESPN. Through self-examination, improved editorial practices and controls, and response to constructive criticism, we will be better in the future.We again apologize, especially to Mr. Lin. His accomplishments are a source of great pride to the Asian-American community, including the Asian-American employees at ESPN. Through self-examination, improved editorial practices and controls, and response to constructive criticism, we will be better in the future.

An apology only goes so far–what will really make a difference is if they make good on that statement. Self-examination, improved editorial practices and controls, and response to constructive criticism can help avoid “incidents” but getting to the point in our society where that’s not a concern is an entirely different thing, and one that we have to take personaly responsibility for, ourselves.