The racism of Fresh Off the Boat

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Asians are cheap, right????

I watched FOTB faithfully for the first season. While I personally didn’t relate to many aspects of the show, I was very happy that any show that portrayed an Asian-American family existed at all. I hoped my views would count on ABC’s website to show networks that people wanted to watch shows featuring Asian people. Sure, they drew on some stereotypes about Asians–tiger mom, restaurant owners, accented English.

And cheap. So, so cheap.

I chose to overlook the show’s use of these race-based tropes in that first season. Like as the creators of the show repeatedly emphasized in interviews, it was acceptable for the actors to use a fake accent or otherwise be portrayed using certain stereotypes because they weren’t making fun of them for having those features. So it was totally okay for a Korean-American actor who normally speaks accentless English to fake a generically Asian accent (while he slips out of it half of the time). Yes, no problems! I still side-eyed that because it would have been perfectly fine to portray the parents without accents–it’s not inconceivable they might have learned very good English in Taiwan, or lost their accents in America as plenty of people do.

But then they did cross the line and made an Asian stereotype the butt of the joke of an entire episode, in the first Season 2 episode, “Family Business Trip”. It’s about a business trip/vacation the family takes together. The running joke of the episode is that the mom, Jessica, is cheap. Super super cheap. She take absurd measures and goes crazy the entirety of the episode trying to maximize what they can get out of a hotel stay, while trying to cut down on the hotel bill by refusing to pay various standard charges like tax. As Jessica’s actions grew more and more extreme, it became downright offensive and I had to stop watching.

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The problem with FOTB is that it’s essentially a whitewashed version of an Asian family. A version that white people can be comfortable laughing at. The creators and writers of the show have taken pains to assure white people it’s okay to laugh, because their intent is not to make fun of these Asians–we’re not laughing AT them, but ABOUT them (?).

But in the end my discomfort comes from my fear. I’m afraid that white people WILL make fun of the accents. I’m afraid white people DO think we are all like that, and the show just reinforces their stereotypes. Comedy is not made for nuance. The creators of the show may not intend for the Huangs’ accents or stereotypically Asian behavior to be the butt of the joke, but that’s not under their control. People will pick what they laugh at. It’s kind of like how Chappelle stopped making his show in large part because of how white people picked up and ran with the jokes on his show in a direction that he never, ever intended (I can’t imagine what people did with the Ni**er Family sketch). He discussed in an interview how he realized this when a white crew member laughed at the wrong part of a race joke they were filming:

Success, however, by creating a bigger and different audience than they ever expected, left them unable to control what people were laughing at. This is what he meant when Time interviewed him in Africa and he kept on repeating, “I’ve got to check my intentions. The example he brought up often after quitting came when shooting a sketch in which, in an attempt to skewer racism, Chappelle was performing in blackface. Chappelle says a white crew member laughed at the “wrong” part of the joke. As he explained on Oprah, it was the fundamental difference between an audience laughing with him and an audience laughing at him. This is a big difference for a comedian who famously will laugh at his own jokes.

There’s probably at least one white person who probably heard Jessica’s accented tiger mom act and laughed AT her. White people probably took away from that season two episode that wow, Asians will go to crazy lengths to save money, because they are so damn cheap! Ugh, those immigrants.

For a while I assumed that most if not all of the writers must have been white. I looked it up and there are a few Asians. I tried to think about how this show still ended up the way it has. One theory I came up with was, most of the writers, to get far enough in their comedy careers to get this writing gig, they had to advance and be considered funny as defined by mainstream comedy, which is white male comedy–not known for their racial sensitivity. They likely developed a good deal of their creative notions while being surrounded by mostly young white guys. This isn’t their fault, but it’s pretty much inevitable that such a circumstance did influence their comedy–maybe they even made fun of Asians themselves, like how Margaret Cho is famous for her bit making fun of her mom’s accent.

I also presume that most of the writers grew up in the US, so probably lack a really good understanding of the people they are writing about. For example, I was confused by Jessica’s accent because her way of speaking would be quite unusual for a Taiwanese woman–Taiwanese people are known for having a very soft, mellow way of speaking, while Jessica’s accent (and spoken Mandarin) is a much louder, assertive version:

In comparison, look at how different the below girls are, and who does Jessica sound more like? (It’s really funny and you should watch anyway)

Obviously not all Taiwanese women are the same, but my point is that the show seems to draw into the loud Asian woman stereotype to poke fun at Jessica, whether the writers intend it or not, and quite possibly without an understanding of what actual Taiwanese people are like.

I guess what it really comes down to is, especially in light of what Chapelle experienced, that your intentions don’t matter. People are going to read into what you create however they like, based on their already-formed perspective about the people you’re portraying. The writers might then conclude that, oh well, nothing you can do, racists will be racists so just do whatever we want with the race things. But I think that’s a lazy view, and using the Huangs’ stereotypically Asian features for humor is lazy, and in a way makes it a minstrel show.

It’s possible to create a show about Asian people or other POC and be funny without using stereotypes. I truly believe it. And I think the show still has the chance to do it. Maybe I was too harsh and even should give it another shot. But I’m still afraid of how this might be the way that a number of people will learn about Asians, and that’s what they will think of us. I don’t want people to see me and have the first thing they think be loud, cheap tiger mom. There’s enough in this world saying that I’m one-sided like that already.

 

 

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Why I don’t like Bernie

 

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Not buying the Gospel of Bernie

 

In 2015, Bernie Sanders was asked a question about gun control and answered as below:

Q: The parents of one of the 12 innocent people killed during the Aurora movie theater shooting, sued to hold ammunition sellers liable for the attack, but their lawsuit was dismissed. And one of the reasons was a law that you voted for which protects manufacturers of ammunition from being sued. Why did you vote that way?

SANDERS: We have been yelling and screaming at each other about guns for decades, with very little success. I come from a state that has virtually no gun control. But the people of my state understand, I think, pretty clearly, that guns in Vermont are not the same thing as guns in Chicago or guns in Los Angeles. In our state, guns are used for hunting. In Chicago, they’re used for kids in gangs killing other kids or people shooting at police officers, shooting down innocent people. We need a sensible debate about gun control which overcomes the cultural divide that exists in this country. And I think I can play an important role in this. [emphasis mine]

What the fuck.

So he’s saying that in Vermont, guns aren’t used for violence, only for hunting, while in Chicago they’re only used for “shooting down innocent people” and not for legal self-protection like in Vermont. There’s a problem with each facet of his statement, which a) ignores both inevitable violence when people have guns and b) assumes guns are only used for bad purposes in Chicago–really implying that it’s black/brown criminals who use guns for bad purposes there. Addressing each more in full:

a) Obviously crime happens in Vermont, and guns play no small part. For example, with regard to the number of women murdered by men, Vermont has the eighth highest rate of any state. Of the women killed by men they knew, three-quarters were intimate partners (wives, ex-wives, or girlfriends) and a full two-thirds were shot to death. So yeah, guns are used for “bad reasons” in Vermont, not just for hunting. These numbers get ignored since who cares about violence against women? They probably did something to deserve it.

b) Presumably a great deal of gun ownership in Chicago is for the same reason that Vermonters are obsessed with guns–self-protection. And I imagine a lot of those people, maybe gasp, even black and other colored people, own guns to protect themselves, not to commit crimes! Or people who live in Chicago might like to go hunting too! But who cares, black and brown people are all criminals, they shouldn’t be allowed to have guns. There’s no gangs in Vermont, no no.

This kind of attitude is why a lot of POC don’t like Sanders. He puts us into broadly generalized, usually negative categories and in the process, glosses over tremendously important issues that affect POC and/or women. As a WOC, this infuriates me. When push comes to shove, he is really going after blue-collared white male votes, and if we’re being honest, I don’t think they really care about my right to bodily integrity or wage equality or being murdered by a man whose advances I rejected, at least not in the place of unattainable unicorns like single-payer and free college.

Sanders supporters insist that this kind of attitude is confined to a few bad apple Berniebros, but I don’t believe it. And as much as people insist Sanders is ideologically pure and all that, he’s still a politician in a democratic system–and in such a system, it is his job as the representative of the people to do the will of the people. And whatever he personally believes about gun control, through his record Sanders has indicated that he bends to the will of his constituents. Which he should have done, since that’s what this system is supposed to do–have elected official represent the will of the people.

I get that things are messed up. But as Clinton haters like to say, “I just don’t trust him.” Unlike Clinton haters, I actually have an articulated reason. I know I won’t convince any Sanders supporters to instead support Clinton for this kind of thing, but I hope some Sanders supporters can understand why people like me haven’t jumped on the Sanders ship.

 

In defense of quiet Asian American women

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It’s okay to be shy

There was an article on The Toast a couple months ago about an AA woman, married to a white man, who was at her husband’s family gathering when a white woman made a racist remark at her. She eloquently discussed her experience, about how as much as she wanted to speak up, in that moment she completely froze. Everyone else at the table was white, and she felt pressured to not cause a scene by calling the woman out. She was also feeling baffled and disappointed that none of the white people there, especially her husband, had stood up for her. So she stayed quiet and said nothing.

I recognized that–she felt like she should stay quiet and not create a conflict, and was generally in shock for several reasons. I have been in that situation. I have felt that way, and lots of other AA women and other WOC have.

Not everyone was empathetic to her, though. I saw numerous internet comments about how “Ugh, I would have yelled at her!” or “AA women need to stop being so subservient!” and other variations about how she should grow a pair. They completely ignored this woman’s experience and complex, conflicting emotions, which all happened within a few seconds. that resulted in her reactions (or, non-action). I also noticed that the people making these comments were almost all other AA women.

Look, I get it. I’m also tired of the stereotypes of how Asian women are meek, quiet, unassertive. You’re afraid actually shy, quiet AA women just enforce the stereotype. But it’s not their fault that these stereotypes exist, and it’s not their responsibility to act inapposite of these notions just to prove to white people that Asian women aren’t all obedient modest mice. It’s the responsibility of the people who hold these preconceived notions to personally analyze and dispel their biases. Stereotypes exist in the minds of the people who hold them, and nothing AA women actually do can dispel these notions from their minds.

Besides, even if they are normally assertive, strong women, it can be very challenging for many people to speak up, especially when you’re at work or with in-laws or otherwise in a setting that puts you under pressure not to cause a scene.

This kind of attitude also smells more than a little like respectability politics, which we all know doesn’t work.

Stereotypes really are not about you, and have nothing to do with how you, as an individual, act. It doesn’t help to blame other AA women for other people holding preconceived notions and stereotypes about us. Blame the media, imperialism, poverty, the patriarchy, or any number of actual causes of the awful stereotypes many westerners hold of us. But let’s not cut each other down.

 

Asian men who only date white women

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A certain type of Asian person only dates white people. This goes for both Asian women and Asian men. I want to talk about the latter first, from an AA woman’s perspective, since I have personally been deeply hurt by it over and over and am sick of it.

Let’s jump right into this phenomenon in pop culture. Master of None, starring Aziz Ansari, is groundbreaking for a lot of reasons. But one trope that stayed the same as almost every other TV show is how only white women are desirable, complex individuals worth having serious relationships (or serious flings) with–as opposed to Asian women, who are boring and uninteresting. And cheap.

In case you don’t know what I mean, Ansari’s character only dates white women. Sure, he goes on that one internet date with the nameless Asian woman (Some people insist she has a name, but it must’ve been mentioned only off-hand). But she is portrayed as quiet, emotionless, and just uses him as a meal ticket. Cause, you know, she’s a cheap, rude Asian woman.

Few people have called out Ansari and co-creator Alan Yang on their portrayal of the one AA female character in this show not related to either of them. Most people rave about how fresh the show is, how amazing it is to finally see an AA man in the leading role, blah blah we have overcome racism blah blah. Most people ignore the problematic ways they use the few WOC on their show.

I’m calling them out now. That was a shitty thing to do, you giant tools. You keep saying how important it is to represent Asian people on your show, and you willingly screwed this up and threw AA women under the bus. That bit wasn’t even funny or interesting, it could’ve just not been in the show–it portrayed AA women negatively while adding nothing to the show. Yet another reinforcement of the cheap, quiet AA woman stereotype. Thanks, you self-hating losers.

So I’m definitely bitter about this issue, no point in denying it. Coming back to real life, I’ve been frustrated by being completely ignored by men of all colors who don’t think Asian women are worth dating. I don’t really care about the WASPs, etc. since I’m not interested in them either. But it is very painful when AA men ignore me and other AA women, and instead go for white women just because they’re blonde or whatever.

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Internet says they’re broken up but anyway this gal was his irl gf for a while

There’s an additional twist. As AA men make strides and achieve achievements, they seek to collect various trophies, like many other men–cars, a nice house, and often, a pretty blonde wife. (I get the impression this happens for many POC men, not just Asians). At this point in my life, I can tell immediately when I meet an AA guy if he’s the kind who only dates white girls–often they’re successful guys who are cool and have nice hair and dress well in a slightly hipsterish way, me being in NYC. And then when I get proven right, they have a super white gf, I cringe a little inside. Even though I already knew. Jill Scott describes this feeling as the wince. I know where she’s coming from and I bet a lot of WOC understand this feeling.

Of course people should date whoever they want. I’m not saying AA men should only date AA women. Obviously that’s not true, you should be with the person you love. But, why shit on AA women or other WOC in the process? If you’ve internalized white supremacy in beauty standards to that extent and don’t want to address it, fine, whatever, you do you. But you don’t have to run around town justifying your “preferences” by putting us down, ranting about how AA women are lame and boring and too shy and quiet and cheap or some other BS reason for not dating us. It’s fine. Don’t date AA women. But don’t insult us. Just leave us alone.

Stop congratulating yourselves for supporting Black people

 

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I just don’t think Grace Lee Boggs would’ve gone around bragging about it

As someone in the liberal sphere, I occasionally encounter people who seem oddly proud of the fact that they believe in #BlackLivesMatter. Often, these people are Asian American women. One AA woman I went to school with constantly posts about BLM in a condescending, chastising way, in between photos of herself with black men tagged with captions bragging about how she is “down with the people”. I saw another AA woman on the subway wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt as she walked up and down the subway car repeating, “We want to change the world.” She was alone, and everyone on the car was left really confused.

Obviously, it’s great that these women believe in the cause. Of course Black Lives Matter. But I’m a little suspicious of the motives of these women, because of how ostentatious and showy they are about their support. In such cases, I tend to think there is something self-serving about why these women support the BLM movement, especially because these women often share certain traits–one major trait/red flag being that they refuse to befriend or date or otherwise voluntarily interact with other AAs. They complain about how other Asians are racist, Asian men are so patriarchal, and come up with other various excuses about why they don’t like other Asians. Traits and opinions common to self-hating Asians.

So I’m very suspicious of these types of AA women. They seem to think they are very special and cool for being outspoken. “I’m not like THOSE Asians”, they insist, and are so unique for supporting black people, apparently ignoring Grace Lee Boggs and other activists who have long supported various civil rights and other similar movements. I have the inkling suspicion that for these women, at least a part of their motivation is to want to be seen as cool, and this is almost like a phase for them, kind of like how some non-black women date black people to be rebellious. Obviously that’s not always the case, but I’ve encountered this kind of attitude enough times that I suspect their motives.

To these women, I want to say this. Look, I get that it might seem like most other AAs don’t care about these issues, and again, it’s great that you believe black people’s lives matter, but that doesn’t make you particularly commendable or special. You should believe all of that if you are a decent human being who is not a racist. Most importantly, this is not about you, and it shouldn’t be a platform you use to prove to the world or yourself or your family how down you are.

In the book Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, there is a minor character, an outspoken AA woman who is an African-American Studies professor. The character was so oddly specific that I would venture to guess Ms. Adichie also met similar AA women in real life, and this was her small way of calling them out. I could also be totally off base, but this portrayal certainly piqued my interest. And obviously I’m not in any way qualified to comment on how actual black people feel about these kinds of AA women–maybe I’m even being too harsh on them. But I am puzzled by the attitudes of these AA women, who seem to collect non-Asian POC friends and act like they have something to prove.

If you’re really woke, great. But there’s no need to pat yourself on the back or shout about this from the mountains.

 

 

Why do Asian women want to look white?

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As much as people insist Asian beauty ideals aren’t based on desiring white features, it’s just not true in 2016.

The above picture is of Taeyeon, a very famous, popular k-pop star. She’s wearing blue colored contacts and has bleached blonde hair. These features obviously aren’t natural for her. And lots of regular, non-celebrity Asian women also chemically alter their hair and wear medically unnecessary contacts to look like her.
Why?
Because lots of Asians are obsessed with looking white.
Many people insist, “That’s not true! Asians have valued large eyes and pale skin for millenia–it has nothing to do with white people!” Maybe they would’ve been right 30, 40 years ago. But today, globalization and constant exposure to white beauty standards in the media, especially in Hollywood movies, have affected what people all over the world believe is beautiful. Now many women also want light hair, blue or green eyes, a narrow jawline, a high, defined nose bridge–features that rarely occur naturally in Asians.
“They just want to look different!” some protest. I don’t see many girls running around getting lavender hair and orange contacts, though, which would make you look way, way more *unique*. And while the old standards like pale skin could be considered desirable because it’s a proxy for wealth (e.g. not having to labor outside), there’s nothing inherently attractive about light hair or a tall nose, other than making you look more like a white person.
We have to admit that these new standards come from wanting to look white. No one is immune to internalizing these Hollywood beauty standards, that blonde is beautiful, blue eyes are beautiful, white is beautiful. You can’t see something over and over without it affecting your perspective. Seeing something repeatedly makes you want it–that’s how advertising works. We have to stop denying the fact that Asians and many others in the world have internalized these standards, and that this hurts us and all POC.
It’s funny because in Asia, people straight up admit they want to look white. A Korean makeup tutorial girl I like kept saying, while contouring her nose, “this makes me look more like a foreigner” (read: white). Another girl was being interviewed by a white girl and told her, “I want to look just like you.” K-pop videos of male artists cast white women as the love interests, while Asian women are relegated to being backup dancers. Asians state their preference for white features overtly. It’s time to realize this and recognize it as a problem, so we can figure out how to stop this nonsense.