Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Eddie Huang Scandal

Reactivism For Its Own Sake

A wave of internet reaction has swept the Asian-American online disgruntled-o-sphere, not, as one might fancifully imagine because of reports that anti-Asian sentiment had seemingly crept into the riots in Baltimore, but because of something that Eddie Huang - of Fresh Of The Boat notoriety - said on Twitter.

I don't know much about Huang, except that he is some kind of celebrity chef/media personality who published a well-received memoir (Fresh Off The Boat), which has been turned into a sit-com. The sit-com has been met with huge support from Asian-Americans who seem happy that we are finally the main characters on an Asian-American-centric show. All that came crashing down over the past few days.

It began with Huang's interview on the Bill Maher show, in which - as you can see in the video linked to below, starting at around 5:20 - he stated that....... 
Asian men have been so emasculated in America that we are basically treated like black women......when I sit on OKCupid no one wants to talk to me either..........
Granted, there is a presupposition on Huang's part that the audience will be savvy to those references, but I see no churlish intent on his part. In fact, the comment is vague - too vague to really draw any conclusions about intent or significance unless one is familiar with Asian-American debate subjects. Huang's comment unleashed a Twitter-confrontation and a storm of condemnation from, initially, several black feminists and, subsequently, Asian-American progressives. The whole back and forth can be read here, at Storify, and was initiated by a black feminist blogger who goes by the moniker of Black Girl Dangerous (BGD). Here's the first few exchanges.....

*  Does Eddie Huang have a twitter account because I HAVE QUESTIONS.
*  When you say "Asian men are basically treated like black women" what are you  saying
*  If the point is that society says both groups are undesirable, you need to do a better job of making that clear.
* Otherwise, it sounds like you're just trashing black women for no reason at all. Which frankly, we've had enough of.
* To go on television and lament being "treated like black women" is misogynoir.
Huang replies.....
* in terms of OKCUPID which is what I was referring to, we are least desired, that's what I said
* no one is saying we have the same struggle. i was SPECIFICALLY talking about parallels re: the way we're
* But you didn't make it at all clear what you meant. Do you think that audience understood that?
* mentioned it because at a ton of my talks i speak about emasculation of asian men and black women in audience sound off too
* And right now, this black woman is sounding off. Black women sounding off is only okay if it doesn't challenge you?
* that's not what anyone said. you trying to argue or you trying to understand?or you trying to get followers
*they also didn't understand my big lebowski jokes. i'm not going to apologize because people aren't aware. i am.
My take is that both are right - Huang was very vague and even though his intent was benign, if he chooses to speak about issues that mainstream America may not be familiar with, he should be less vague. At the same time BGD did seem to be looking to start an argument regardless of what Huang said - it all turned sour after she (strangely) implied that Huang had an issue with her interrogation. Yet, as any reasonable person can read for themselves, Huang seemed pretty open about answering the questions and explaining himself until that point.

All this aside, what has been most interesting for me is the condemnation of Huang by Asian-American commentators. The general tone of these commentaries has been self-righteous condemnation both for Huang's twitter conduct but also for his actual comments on the Mahler show that led to the ensuing twitter scandal. Yet, Huang did seem to be doing the very thing that the progressives who are criticizing him insist that Asian-Americans do when they try to talk about Asian issues - which is to mention anti-blackness. Remember all those posts I've done on Asian-American progressives which criticize any Asian who focuses on Asian issues without mentioning anti-blackness? Well, Huang did just that - he drew a parallel between an Asian demographic's experience and a black one and now he is being called a racist for doing it by the very people who insist we do just that! It would be laughable except that these guys are serious.

As I have written elsewhere, this Asian-American progressive obsession with anti-anti-blackness reactivism itself seems like a lazy piggy-backing of Asian issues onto black suffering in lieu of taking the time to actually formulate an autonomous Asian-American worldview. In this sense, Huang has more integrity than those Asians who criticize him - he is being honest about his adoption of blackness to promote an Asian agenda, Asian progressives are surreptitiously (even if unintentionally or more likely obliviously) adopting blackness to allow themselves to remain racially invisible and avoid a direct confrontation of society's anti-Asianism.

Yet, if I was to criticize Huang, it would actually be because he, too, has fallen into the trap of trying to explain the Asian experience through anti-blackness, when, in truth, Asian emasculation was the essential spark for the genesis of white supremacy itself, and anti-blackness is a sad and sorry by-product of it. As I pointed out here, people have got things backwards - anti-blackness is ultimately the by-product of the feminization of Asia. This means that the emasculation of Asian men is a subject that need not reference the black experience since it precedes anti-blackness and forms the basis upon which European self-conceptions of superiority are based.

For example, contemplate the musings of such influential thinkers like Aristotle....
The power possessed by all of these [non-Greek Kingships] resembles that of tyrannies, but they govern according to law and are hereditary; [20] for because the barbarians are more servile in their nature than the Greeks, and the Asiatics than the Europeans, they endure despotic rule without any resentment. ....[LINK]
The peoples of Asia on the other hand are intelligent and skillful in temperament, but lack spirit, so that they are in continuous subjection and slavery. But the Greek race participates in both characters, just as it occupies the middle position geographically, for it is both spirited and intelligent......[LINK]
...and Hippocrates....
I say, then, that Asia differs very much from Europe as to the nature of all things, both With regard to the productions of the earth and the inhabitants, for everything is produced much more beautiful and large in Asia; the country is milder, and the dispositions of the inhabitants also are more gentle and affectionate..... Manly courage, endurance of suffering, laborious enterprise, and high spirit, could not be produced in such a state of things either among the native inhabitants [of Asia].....[LINK] 
with regard to the pusillanimity and cowardice of the inhabitants, the principal reason the Asiatics are more unwarlike and of gentler disposition than the Europeans is ......the Asiatic race is feeble, and further, owing to their laws; for monarchy prevails in the greater part of Asia, and where men are not their own masters nor independent, but are the slaves of others.....[LINK]
From an Asian-American perspective, it is almost impossible not to notice just how contemporary these stereotypes of "Asiatics" seem to be. Note the feminization of the Asian character? Or the representation of Asians as servile and submissive to authority? How about the cowardly and "feeble" nature of Asiatics' masculinity as reflected in their non-aggressive predisposition? How anti-anti-blackness reactivism can address these philosophically ingrained modes of thinking about Asia that emerged as the very foundation of white supremacist thinking which informed European self-conceptions about their right and necessity to rule throughout the centuries is yet to be explained.

How these ideas have survived and been handed down throughout the generations is a subject of ongoing investigation for me, but it is almost self-evident that these archaic notions of European exceptionalism through the feminization of Asia have persisted over the centuries. The emasculation of Asia has been both the by-product and driving force of white supremacy's proclaimed right to rule and the subsequent wars and colonial endeavours that this ideology has prompted and justified. This means that the question of Asian emasculation must be at the forefront of the struggle against white supremacy, not a mere footnote in Asian-American progressives' convoluted agenda.

Consider this; in Aristotle's age, the Greek states looked out across the Aegean Sea in both fear and awe at the sheer diversity and size of the unknowable Asiatic masses within the Persian empire that stood poised to engulf Greece's way of life. Racial stereotypes arose describing Asiatics' subservient and submissive nature that seemed to serve as both a reinforcement of the superiority of Greek values and a justification for Greece's right to rule and conquer.

Now, over twenty-five centuries later, we in America, look out across the Pacific at the frighteningly vast and unknowable Asiatic masses, content in the superiority of "our" values and way of life which has justified, and continues to justify, our involvement or interference in their societies. We decry their lack of democratic thinking and subservience to authority and dehumanize the enemy by reminding ourselves of their femininity, all the while contemplating and expecting the inevitable war (with China these days) that will once and for all put them in their place. The deja vu is disquieting. 

Clearly, the biggest problem with Huang's conceptualization of Asian emasculation is not that it inappropriately found intersectionality with the black female experience. Rather, Huang simply failed to relate the sheer vastness of the scope of this emasculation and the terrible effects it has had on the world throughout history. The world we inherited today - the existentially grave East/West ideological divide of our modern world is a testament to the vast scope of this issue.

It has to be acknowledged that these lofty concepts are extremely difficult to convey in a seven-minute segment on live television, and really deserves an inquiry that is integral to, and focused on, Asian-American identity itself. But to do this one would have to acknowledge that there exists a fundamental aspect of white supremacy that cannot possibly be informed by anti-blackness. Sadly, we are not allowed to do this because such an Asian focused approach is (inanely) labeled anti-black by our own reactivists.

So we are stuck in a Catch 22 situation; in order to truly understand white supremacy and the feminization of Asia that lies at its deepest root, we have to accept that emasculation of Asian men must become the fundamental concern for Asian-American discourse. Yet, our friends in the world of Asian progressiveness discourage this thinking which not only contextualizes white supremacy throughout history but also anti-blackness itself.

For these reasons it simply makes no sense to criticize Huang's version of masculinity as lacking credibility because it appropriates "blackness" or it tries too hard in other ways, since these same critics insist on avoiding the philosophical and historical evidence that would re-acquaint Asian-Americans with the historical experiences that could form the basis of an autonomous Asian identity that doesn't justify itself by feeding off black suffering.


  1. Interesting. Oh, and I have to say, that Storify site isn't biased at all. rolls eyes
    i actually got angry reading it because everybody just gangs up and mocks the guy,
    including the OP. Oh, and did you notice Black Girl Dangerous' avatar is a white guy?


    1. Yeah, the Storify article sounded like it was written by someone with a personal beef with Huang.

    2. And, no I did not notice the white guy avatar, although I did notice some sexual objectification in the title of one of her posts on her blog.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Eddie's comment may be vague if you've never heard about Asian men being at the bottom of the male dating ladder, but that's something I would doubt for black and Asian feminists. Maybe I'm just expecting far too much? I feel like any Asian guy would immediately get what Eddie was saying.

    1. I think that the dating situation of Asian guys is probably not high on many people's agendas - what we in Asian-America take for granted as central themes in our experiences are not really subjects that get disseminated beyond our community.

    2. Which is funny considering we are always supposed to be in the know about other communities. Solidarity never seems to be a two way street.