By Brennan Lowe
(Editor’s Note: This is the second of two opinion pieces by our staff writers on Eddie Huang. Together they compose the fifth installment of Kollaboration SF’s Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month series on prominent APA figures in media. Follow us on WordPress and FB, and check in every week of May for new profiles and features!)
“I didn’t know Eddie Huang was such a douchebag!” I heard countless APIs sigh upon witnessing the Chinkstronaut’s auto-defenestration on Twitter a few weeks ago. You could feel the anger simmering beneath the surface of shocked reactions; how can he call black feminists “bums” while sliding in and out of AAVE (“African American Vernacular English”)? How can he personally attack critics while simultaneously trashing his own ABC sitcom? “Buyer’s remorse” could explain the latter. Fresh Off The Boat is an unsurprisingly sanitized adaptation of Huang’s memoir and life, devoid of issues he considers integral to his life’s development (read: his father’s abuse of his mother and children), and Huang has immediately and outwardly regretted his decision to sell his story to television, often in destructive ways. Now, Eddie Huang’s case may be extreme, but I don’t think he’s the only buyer feeling some remorse here. Yup, I’m looking at you, national API community, loyal-to-a-fault fans of the first Asian American network show in decades. Your new generation poster boy isn’t the loveable character you’ve been watching on Tuesday nights.
I’ve got one question for you, and it’s the same one I’d ask Eddie: what did you expect?
I’ll say it: I feel bad for Eddie Huang, if only because he has become the whipping boy of Asian America by virtue of his having any visibility whatsoever in the American mainstream. He’s a flawed human being and should be dealt with as such, but I can’t help but think that the endless hopes and dreams of an entire people that were pinned (arguably unfairly) on him when FOB began have played a large role in his current mode of self-destruction. His attitudes toward women, black or not, aren’t new things; scroll back through the years on his twitter, or better yet, actually read his memoir, and you’d know his engagement with sexism runs much deeper than what’s being written about him now. It’s a shame, because I don’t think larger audiences, API and other, weren’t aware of who he is, and now that he has the opportunity and platform to be a dumbass on a larger scale people are being shocked into some sort of revelation about his unsavory tendencies. He’s ALWAYS been a misogynistic hip-hop “appropriating” (I use quotes because there’s many ways you can interpret the connotations of a term like that) SOB. He is virtually objectively morally in the wrong, but in a twisted way, I respect that he has always been transparent in who he is, or at least who he presents himself to be. Is it his fault that the masses didn’t realize this until now?
In case it wasn’t already clear: this is not a defense of Eddie Huang or his personality. When reading Fresh Off The Boat well before the show had materialized, I was extremely put off by Huang’s passing references to “bitches” or suggestions of sexual entitlement, especially when juxtaposed (and interspersed, even!) with his remarkably sharp insight into the intersections of food and race. I’m not cool with that, and I experienced the same gag reflex then as many APIs have in recent days. It would be easy to dismiss him from the pantheon of “APIs worth paying attention to” on these merits alone, but here is where I ask that you consider just how complicated his sexism is. Sure, you blame the individual for holding those views, but where does the individual get them from? Sure, you blame either/both white masculinity or/and black hip-hop culture, but where does that leave people not within the black-white binary that controls American popular culture? Of course it’s on us (primarily meaning API men) now to forge an ideal of masculinity without being racist, sexist dickholes, but for a child growing up in a time when that concept wasn’t even a concept, what recourse does he have? And if you answer, “Eddie should have blazed that trail as a kid,” then you must have forgotten how our formative years develop. Eddie Huang is who he is, and while it’s probably too late and not worth the effort to somehow reverse that, it’s okay. All efforts should be dedicated to the future, so that younger generations of APIs truly have a model to base their own conceptions of masculinity off of.
So what do you do with Eddie Huang now? While I’ve read plenty of views that are eager to excommunicate him from the API community (and yeah, I do feel some religious cult-like vibes coming from people on this), I’d like to be more constructive in moving forward. There is a middle ground in between blindly championing him and burning him at the stake, and for the sake of advancing a people in the national discourse, that middle ground needs to be taken. Be as measured in your praise of him as you are in your criticisms; he deserves no better or worse from the community he for better or worse represents. It’s clear he didn’t expect or was ready for the weight of so many people on his shoulders- even if he says otherwise on television interviews, and it’s clear that he’s not the ideal “face” of Asian America, but until we are at the point when we have the diverse and varied “faces” to properly represent ourselves, we have to do the best we can with what we’ve got. So, to those of you down in the dumps over a certain “Based FOB,” shake off your buyer’s remorse, enjoy Fresh Off The Boat when it returns next season, work with and around its flawed human source, and help the rest of us build what we want to see.
Brennan kind of misses eating at Baohaus and swapping Fabolous punchlines with the staff there. | @flawanddisorder