When it comes to Asian American representation, the conversation often touches upon Fresh Off the Boat, an ABC sitcom that premiered last year. Fresh Off the Boat is based on a memoir of the same name written by Eddie Huang that follows the story of Huang’s Chinese-American family living in Florida in the 1990s. For many Asian Americans, Fresh Off the Boat is something that is lauded as progressive and a step forward. It is the first time they are seeing themselves reflected on TV. Huang is idolized as a spokesperson and advocate for Asian American representation across media.
But as much as representation is important to Asian Americans, the community would benefit from reflecting on the attention and reputation received by the show’s (and Huang’s) anti-blackness and misogyny.
In season one, the episode “The Shunning” features a scene in which a young Eddie Huang fantasizes and objectifies women who dance around him and flirt with him in hyper-sexualized clothing. Misogyny and the violence it engenders in the Asian/Asian American community are problems that occur too often and need to be addressed: two studies conducted in 1999 and 2002 found that 41-61% of Asian American women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Fresh Off the Boat both reflects and perpetuates this violence by failing to engage in a meaningful discussion on how Asian American men are often responsible for this violence or fail to address it.
More importantly, Huang himself was quoted as saying, “I feel like Asian men have been emasculated so much in America that we’re basically treated like Black women.” When queer Black feminist Mia McKenzie questioned Huang about his statement over Twitter, Huang dismissed her by saying, “are we dating cause you wildin. lol,” invalidating McKenzie’s legitimate criticism and objectifying her.
On the subject of anti-blackness, it’s important for Asian Americans to remember that Huang is profiting from hip-hop culture while failing to acknowledge the roots of hip-hop culture; literally, Huang is earning money from his memoir about his relationship to Black culture. Ignoring this allows the anti-blackness in the Asian American community to continue unchecked. It’s also important to remember that some Asians are Black and that these issues affect people in the Asian American community too.
Looking at this lack of intersectionality through a larger framework, Huang attempts to challenge stereotypes about Asian men, but at the expense of other Asians who aren’t men, who aren’t monoracial, and who don’t have the same privileges (being upper-class, being cis, being heterosexual) as Huang. In other words, Huang tries to claim that Asian men can be masculine too, but does not recognize that the masculinity he subscribes to is toxic, racist, and violent.
I don’t mean to scapegoat Huang specifically; indeed, there are other Asian American celebrities who are not much better when it comes to issues of anti-blackness. Aziz Ansari of Parks and Recreations and Master of None often criticizes Black visibility, implying that Black people are somehow “better off” than Asians, while profiting off Black culture (part of his appeal is that he is Indian but talks in African American Vernacular English). Arden Cho from Teen Wolf once tweeted, “#AllLivesMatter” (though this tweet has since been deleted) following the news of police brutality against a Korean woman in which two police officers shoved the woman in question against her car and forced her into a submissive position on the ground to handcuff her. Cho also inaccurately compared (these tweets have since been deleted as well) Asian American struggles to the struggles of Black people to reduce the severity of Black oppression (though she did apologize later). And many Asian American male celebrities are still unaware of their own misogyny. In the end, this comes down to a larger community issue about the importance of intersectionality, and how Asian Americans can create an environment to encourage that intersectionality.
This isn’t to say we can’t enjoy Fresh Off the Boat or other media created by Huang, but that we should be more critical of the media we consume in general and aware of how it may perpetuate stereotypes for other marginalized identities. By inviting Huang to speak at Scripps College (an event for which all tickets are sold out), the colleges are saying that misogyny and anti-black racism are permissible. It’s important to remember who is and who isn’t represented by the media created not just by Huang, but also other Asian American creators and producers.
Rebecca Liu PZ ’20 is interested in double majoring in Media Studies and Asian American Studies.