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Tinderp Tale #6: Accidental White Dude

Over the past few years, I have garnered the reputation of being the anti-white bitch on social media. But let’s be clear: I am anti-whiteness, not anti-white people. I take issue with the oppressive structure that upholds whiteness as the superior racialized social construct, not with individual white people. (Why is this so hard to understand?! Oh wait.) Basically, if white supremacy didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have a problem with white people as a whole. Actually if white supremacy didn’t exist at all, white people wouldn’t exist either, come to think of it, but that’s an underdeveloped train of thought for another time/blog post.

Anyway, ever since my women’s college shook me out of my apolitical stupor and opened my eyes to the necessity of a liberatory social justice praxis, I’ve been doing my best to abide by the feminist mantra of the personal being political, and I decided no exception could be made when it came to dating. Well, I decided that no exception could be made when it came to race within the dating realm, which is a pretty huge factor. White supremacy is everywhere; it didn’t have to get all up in my vagina too. Which basically meant I was reverse racial profiling on Tinder. On occasion, I would stumble across a really cute white guy with a semi-interesting, allegedly progressive profile and be sorely tempted to swipe right. But then I’d do a check-in with myself–Are white supremacy and white privilege over with, Learkana? No? Then swipe the fuck left like the decolonized ho you wanna be–and the moment of temptation would pass.

Racial profiling is pretty hard. I’m not sure how racists do it so effortlessly (well, being ignorant hateful fucks kind of explains it). Whenever a racially ambiguous/maybe just white passing dude popped up on my screen, I had to quickly decide whether or not he was white enough to have unconditional racial privilege, and honestly, I erred more often on the side of caution than not in that split second of determination.

But there was this one dude. Let’s call him Antonio. He looked super white: fair skin, light brown hair, blue/green eyes. But! He didn’t have a typical white boy name! And I think he had international flag emojis in his bio! So maybe he was Latino or something and was just really white passing in which case it wouldn’t be fair to swipe left because he wasn’t necessarily like full-blown white or anything and I mean he is pretty cute and seems nice enough okay damnit I’ll swipe right!


You matched with Antonio on 8/23/15

Antonio

Hey! Good morning!


Me

Good afternoon lol [Was not actually trying to be clever with this comment, I’m just compulsive about taking things literally and by the time I responded it was no longer morning ok]


Antonio

Hehe! How are you? Rough night yesterday?


Me

I’m a little tired but otherwise doing all right. I stayed up late hanging out with friends *beige OK hand sign emoji* how are you?


Antonio

I’m good! Sunday off, sunny day! Took a walk around lake merrit [sic] and done a few other stuff! I’m feeling productive:) haha


 

We made more boring small talk. I learned Antonio was born in Brazil, moved to Italy  with his family when he was young, and came to the U.S. for work, which meant he spoke like 3 languages, which was cool considering I barely spoke 1.5 (I blame Amerikkka). While this conversation was kind of informative, it didn’t really help me figure out whether this dude was white or not, and this became kind of a burning question of sorts for me.

tinderp 6.1

I was pretty well-informed on racial politics in the United States, but shamefully didn’t have much of a clue of how race plays out in other countries and cultures. Well, Antonio was Brazilian, right? I mean I guess he was Italian, but Brazil was his national origin, right? So, Latin American. Right?

“How does race operate in Latin America?” I casually asked my friend Andrea.

“The fucking same,” she replied.

Goddamnit. So I had matched with a white dude. An international, “exotic” brand of white dude, but a white dude nonetheless. Oh well. I wasn’t literally a bigot, so when Antonio asked if I wanted to meet up and get a drink with him, I said yes. He was probably a somewhat decent guy. (Maybe.) When I tested the sociopolitical waters by mentioning to him that I had recently attended a trans rights rally addressing the recent killings of transwomen of color, he took no issue with it and just made a weird joke about transwomen liking karaoke. Maybe his sense of humor didn’t translate very well. (Was that somehow racist? Oh, I give up.)

I remember feeling completely unexcited about this date. The novelty of using Tinder had worn off at this point. I was tired of going on disappointing dates, and my past record was strongly suggesting that this one wasn’t going to be any different. The only thing that stopped me from giving up altogether was this theory my roommate Mackenzie had mentioned to me one night when I was griping to her about my mediocre dating life. “So the theory is, somewhere between the 38th and 100th person you make a connection with will be the one person who is the most suitable for you to end up with.”

“Connection? Like, just messaging with them counts? Or do you have to meet up?” I asked.

“I don’t know, whatever falls under the definition of connection,” she replied, shrugging.

Keep in mind, this was one late night conversation I had a while back, so the details are a bit fuzzy and obviously I just paraphrased what I thought my roommate had said. But my takeaway was that I wasn’t meeting up with enough dudes to find someone to be in mutual like with. It was all just a numbers game. (A point that had been reiterated to me by my former boss–I rant about my mediocre dating life to everyone, okay.) So all I had to do, in spite of my anxiety and impatience and insecurities and uncertainty and judgments, was keep trying. I mean, there are so many fucking assholes in this world who are happily married! Didn’t I deserve the bare minimum of actually dating someone, at the very least?

So far on Tinder, I had met up with 5 dudes. Factoring in my numbers from OKCupid created a combined total of 21 dudes who hadn’t worked out. Which meant I needed to meet up with at least 17 more dudes to hit that window of possibility for meeting Mr. Good Enough. Antonio couldn’t be him, but he was #22 and therefore a necessary stepping stone, which meant I shouldn’t cancel on him even though I was kind of tempted to. (I know, I know, I’m a terrible person. But, like, we’ve already established this! Also Pottermore Sorted me into Slytherin, just FYI.)

Antonio and I met up at Beer Revolution, a divey sort of bar in the Jack London Square neighborhood of Oakland. Damnit. I was less attracted to him in person. He had a really big head on top of a slender body. And unfortunately, his bodily proportions would go on to bother me throughout the rest of the night. “Hi! I’m Antonio,” he said cheerfully. “Is it okay if I kiss you? I’m Italian, it’s how we greet people.”

“Uh–okay,” I said, and let him plant a kiss on each of my cheeks. I didn’t kiss him back. I was wearing lipstick so I didn’t want to leave marks on his face, but even if I wasn’t wearing any lipstick, I wouldn’t have kissed him anyway because ugh, that’s weird. I was even weirded out by him just kissing my cheeks. I hadn’t had a guy’s mouth touch me in over a year because I was too physically awkward for that (among other things).

We sat down, got a couple of beers, and talked. Blah, blah, blah, the usual stuff. He told me he worked at a pizza shop. I tried really hard to remove my internalized classist lens and not make a silent judgment on that, because whatever! It’s not like we were getting married and his income would determine the quality of life for our imaginary children, or something. He also talked about how Bay Area public transit sucked and how Australians were racist (although my guess was that he meant xenophobic in his particular case). I distinctly recall my conversation with him not feeling very datelike. It was almost like we had gone into that bar separately, happened to have sat next to each other, and struck up a conversation just for the hell of it. We were simply two polite, emotionally detached strangers passing time, trying to keep loneliness and awkwardness at bay and failing at it.

After finishing our beers, Antonio asked if I wanted to take a walk. I agreed, mainly because I needed more time to sober up. We left the bar and strolled up and down a few blocks. Some part of me was waiting for him to become attractive to me. Like maybe if the night went on long enough, and he talked long enough, and he smiled and said some of the right things, I would feel something. It never happened. He was still an uninteresting scrawny white dude with a big head to me by the time we called it a night. I wasn’t sure what was going on in his head. He probably felt a similar way, right? Or else he would have made a move by now. Ugh. I hated this so much. The ambiguity and nonchalance, the reification of gender roles. Was this really the only viable channel through which I could get laid? (In my situation, yes.)

tinderp 6.2

Antonio walked me to my car. He respectfully asked to kiss me goodnight. I let his lips touch my cheeks for the last time, got into my car, and drove away feeling empty.

We never hit each other up again. The usual mutual apathy and disinterest, as I suspected.

I inexplicably found myself on a semi-hiatus after this date. I chatted with a few guys, but never met up with any of them. There was one good-looking dude who expressed interest in devirginizing me, but we got into a huge fight about whether or not some John Mayer song was sexist (IT WAS AND IS) and we never talked to each other again. Story of my life. (Much later down the road, I would stumble across his Facebook profile and see a public Valentine’s Day post in which he sweetly referred to his mother as his Valentine and thanked her for raising him. I experienced some weird cognitive dissonance, reading his status. I couldn’t quite reconcile the sentimental mama’s boy on social media with the horny fuckboy who wanted to send me dick pics and got aroused at a picture I sent him of just my bare legs. Yeah I know, people are complex or whatever. But like, do cishet guys not get how hilariously fucked it is to act like fucking saints to the women whose vaginas they exited, then turn around and be fucking dickholes to the women whose vaginas they’re always trying to enter? Like, is this an Oedipal thing where they’re just mad that they can’t return to the safety of the womb because that would mean fucking their mothers and society makes that unacceptable so they displace that pent up sexual frustration and anger onto the hapless women they try to get it in with, whose vaginas don’t and will never compare to their original home? #FREUDIANFUCKBOYTHEORY #LongestParentheticalEver)

Anyway, a few months passed without a single date scheduled in my calendar. I hung out with friends, worked on creative writing endeavors, worried about the state of the world. I holed up in my room, my primary source of freedom and comfort. I went to bed alone, except on the rare occasion when a friend or family member spent the night. Sometimes I’d long for someone to curl up under the covers with. A cuddle buddy who wasn’t my plush Olaf from Frozen. A guy who could just come over on weekend nights and hold me until the ache went away. (You know, like that Sam Smith song, except hopefully like way less needy-sounding.) Why was it so hard to name that desire? To ask for it? To put it out into the universe in some way and wait for someone to answer?

You’re okay, I would tell myself. You are way better at being alone than most people. So what, you might potentially be unlaid and perpetually single for the rest of your life. These aren’t things that take away your self-worth. The ache will come, and it will go. You have learned to live with it. You’re okay. You’re okay. And for the most part, I believed it.

tl;dr Learkana is not racist! Learkana meets up with her first white dude in a while! Learkana survives another cold and bitter virgin winter by hibernating in her premature spinster cave! (Oh, and masturbating)

Now it’s time for…

RATE THAT DATE VENUE!
Venue: Beer Revolution
Rating: **
Review: Too noisy and not enough seating. A good place to kick back with a good friend or two, but definitely not an ideal place to meet up with strange men from Tinder who want to put their penises inside of you.

 

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OKBye Story #12: Bitch in Berkeley

My retelling of previous OKCupid dates might make it sound like I was done with white boys. But I wasn’t done with them just yet.

What’s with this fixation on white boys anyway, you might be wondering. Well, living in a white supremacist world helps a lot, quite frankly.

And to be further honest, I don’t think I cared for white boys much until I got to high school. Probably because I didn’t see very many of them. Once I was a teenager, however, those messages from the media about eurocentric beauty standards started sinking in, reinforced by seeing a plethora of cute white boys at my school. It was ugly and awful internalized racism, of course, but it didn’t really register as such at the time. Ironically, white boys were a foreign species to me. Except for my next door neighbors, I knew little of the ways of my white male peers, except for what I saw on TV. So perhaps that was the appeal for me: a nice and wholesome, good looking white boy whom I could project all my heteronormative, vanilla fantasies onto. (I know, I make myself want to vomit.)

Online dating had unfortunately become an entry point into better understanding the white male as an identity, an identity deeply entrenched in privilege and entitlement. The more I interacted with white dudes, the more I wondered why I was interacting with them to begin with. I guess I didn’t want to come off as “racist.” (Social Justice 101: you cannot be racist against a people who benefit from structural racism, aka white people.) But if a guy was cute, kind, sociopolitically aware, laughed at my jokes and just so happened to be white, would I really hold his race against him?

Well, no, I grudgingly admitted. I just had to really make sure that this elusive white boy was actually sociopolitically aware though.

Which was why when a seemingly cute, kind, sociopolitically aware white boy messaged me, I decided to respond.

connor1

Our conversation went exactly like this:

RandomDude12 Hey, just wanted to say that I found your profile entertaining to read. What do you find fun about writing an OKC profile? Most people seem to hate it. Sent 9/13/2014

CrumpleHSnorkack I think the fun is in being able to create an impression of myself that isn’t totally restricted by standard social norms. I’ve noticed other people (friends included) who treat their profiles like a resume and write to impress, but who am I trying to impress on here, really? I figure if I’m going to go on and on about myself I might as well try to make it kind of entertaining, even if I’m the only one being entertained.

Also I’m a writer and a social media narcissist so the OKC profile is both a good exercise in character development and an excuse to talk about myself without actually talking to anyone about myself.

Do you hate it? Sent from the OkCupid app  9/14/2014

RandomDude12 I don’t hate it. It stresses me out, but it’s an interesting challenge. I tend to post very little on social media, but since OKC doesn’t really work that way, it gives me an opportunity to go out of my comfort zone and try to differentiate myself from the hordes of other users. It’s a balance, I suppose, of writing to impress (shameful, I know), and trying to express the unfiltered me.

I find exchanging messages to be trickier, since I’m not only attempting to express myself, but also trying to emulate conversation in the absence of social cues. So to follow up on that, would you be interested in meeting up and continuing this conversation over coffee, maybe this Thursday? Sent 9/14/2014

CrumpleHSnorkack Okay maybe I’m interpreting your invitation too literally, but I don’t drink coffee lol. How bout drinks Sent from the OkCupid app  9/14/2014

RandomDude12 Sounds good! I’m less familiar with drink places in Oakland, how does Jupiter in Berkeley sound? Say at 6:00? Sent 9/14/2014

CrumpleHSnorkack Okie dokie. See you then! Sent from the OkCupid app  9/15/2014

RandomDude12 Cool, see you Thursday! I’m Connor*, by the way. Sent 9/15/2014
CrumpleHSnorkack Cool, I’m Learkana. Sent 9/15/2014

*name changed to hide true identity of generic white guy you are unlikely to successfully cyberstalk even if I had revealed his actual name, which is only slightly less generic than “Connor”–presuming you would even care to cyberstalk him, which you probably don’t, so whatever idk

I headed over straight after work. I ended up being kind of late because traffic was a bitch, trying to find parking was a bitch, and trying to find the damn pub was also a bitch (ugh, fuck Berkeley). Connor seemed pretty nonchalant about it however. In person, he was pretty cute. His voice was a little too squeaky, I noted. (I have this thing about voices. Don’t ask.) We briefly hugged, sat down at the table he had secured for us, ordered our drinks, and commenced with the awkward small talk.

God, what did we talk about? I think we went all over the place. We talked about all the boring stuff: work, family, school, interests. The more alcohol that went in me, the more I was willing to say whatever the fuck came to my mind.

“I really hate awkward pauses,” I told him. “Don’t you hate having pauses in the conversation?”

“I don’t mind them,” Connor said.

“Oh. Well, I just think they’re really awkward.” Thus making it all the more awkward, of course.

I wish I could blame it all on the alcohol, but all I had was a hard cider.

“So…can you define what rape culture is?” I asked. This had been my go-to first date question for a while now. A very straightforward approach to screening dating candidates. A method by which I have separated the decent guys from the rest. A litmus test for sociopolitical awareness and feminism (or a lack thereof).

Which was why I was completely thrown off when Connor pursed his lips and said, “I would rather not.”

“Wait, what?” I said. “Are you serious?”

“I don’t want to talk about rape culture,” he replied.

“But…why?” My mind was spinning. Obviously it’s an awkward subject to bring up on a first date, but it’s totally relevant! And if a guy knows what rape culture is, he’s less likely to be a thoughtless perpetrator of it, right? And if he was a feminist, he would totally be down to talk about it, right? Right??

“I just don’t want to,” he insisted.

I dropped the subject. For now.

We finished our drinks and a waiter came by with the check.

“Wanna split it?” I asked.

He said sure. He put down his card. I pulled out all the cash I had, but was short a couple of bucks. That was when I started counting out change for him.

“You don’t need to do that,” Connor said. “It’s fine.”

Still, I kept pulling out more change from my wallet. For some reason I was fixated on paying him the exact amount I owed him. It took a few minutes of him watching me helplessly as I very meticulously counted out pennies and dimes and nickels before I realized that I was being weird and should stop, immediately. “Uh. I’ll buy you a drink next time if you want,” I said.

He agreed to that. I got up. “I need to use the bathroom,” I announced. “Um. Feel free to leave if you want, I promise I won’t get offended.” Oh my God what the hell was I saying. Truth be told, I was kind of freaking out because this date seemed to be going terribly and I wanted to give him an exit if he needed one.

So I went to the bathroom, came out and couldn’t find him. Oh shit, he really did leave me, I thought. But then I spotted him waiting just outside the venue. Whew.

He asked if I wanted to take a walk and I said sure. We wandered through the streets of downtown Berkeley, talking about dating and relationships. Things quickly went downhill from there–figuratively speaking.connor2

I started ranting about how awful online dating was, and how I would go on dates with guys, make awkward small talk, then never see them again. All my pent up frustrations with being a heteronormative intersectional feminist came pouring out. I told him I was too awkward and neurotic and blunt to be doing this, then apologized for doing this while being awkward and neurotic and blunt. Nothing I said was charming, sweet, or alluring. Everything that came out of my mouth was enough to shrink the boners of the most sexually deviant and easily aroused men, and ward off any guy with even the slightest propensity for romance: just 100% unfiltered, self-sabotaging word vomit.

Connor kept reassuring me that he was having a good time, though, and that he was happy I was being perfectly honest with him. I was not convinced.

“You’re very interesting,” he said.

“Well thank you,” I said, somewhat gratified. “But it’s probably because I’m slightly inebriated right now. Although you did think my profile was interesting and I was sober when I wrote that, so actually I guess I am interesting without alcohol, so thanks.”

I started running out of things to say, so I brought up the subject of rape culture again. “Would you be okay with defining rape culture now?” I asked.

He didn’t seem upset that I asked again, and did a decent job of defining it (uh, don’t remember the decent definition he provided, but I would have definitely remembered if it was shitty).

After walking up and down and around several blocks for the umpteenth time, I offered to walk Connor to his car. On our way there, a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk looked up at us and remarked, “Cute couple.”

Awkwarddddd.

We ended the night with the lighthearted conversation topic of racism (he talked about racist microaggressions experienced by a friend of his). We finally reached the parking garage where his car was. Again, a brief hug. No sparks. My bitter feminist monologue had ensured there was nothing to ignite. Then I walked away as fast as I could before realizing oh fuck I don’t remember where I parked my car fuckkkk.

By the time I got home, it was late and I had already revisited the night a hundred times in my head. Every time I thought back to all the things I said to Connor, I cringed and groaned and facepalmed and probably smacked myself a few times as a reflex. But there was nothing I could do now.

Except apologize, specifically for nagging him about rape culture when he had explicitly stated he didn’t want to talk about it to begin with.

So the next day, I wrote him the following message:

Hey! I just want to apologize for being so pushy about talking about rape culture when you were clearly uncomfortable with it. I can be a pushy person in general but that’s no excuse. I usually bring up the topic as a way of screening out dudes who are ignorant/apathetic/disinterested in feminist issues, but I guess I’ve never really thought about other reasons why someone wouldn’t want to discuss it (aside from general awkwardness). So yeah, sorry for being a jackass.

To my relief, he responded soon after:

Hey, I totally get that if there’s a dealbreaker issue, you’d want to know as soon as possible. Honestly, I found it refreshing to have a completely honest conversation with someone, it made me happy. So you shouldn’t focus on the negative (says the eternal optimist).

Evidently our conversation didn’t make him that happy, because I never heard from him again.

Not that I was surprised or anything.

This may have been one of the worst dates I’ve been on. And the worst part of it is, ~I~ was the reason it was one of the worst dates I’ve been on. I wondered if Connor had secretly thought the same thing.

Then I wondered, is it possible to be even worse at dating than you were to begin with?

tl;dr Boy messages girl, girl and boy meet for drinks, girl word vomits all over boy, girl and boy never see each other again

0

Aw Hell Yes: Why Fresh Off The Boat is Fresher Than Youuu

The Huang family on their way to Orlando.

The Huang family on their way to Orlando.

[5/8/15 update: I wrote this blog post before the Eddie Huang Twitter debacle occurred. As of now I am no longer a fan of Eddie Huang. Any expression of admiration and awe displayed below was during a brief, blissfully unaware time.]

The long awaited ABC sitcom starring the first Asian American family in 20 years has finally arrived, and it’s so cool yeah, it’s totally awesome~! I will admit, I had my doubts when I first heard about it via social media. The name itself made me wary: Fresh Off The Boat. F.O.B. This particular racial slur has been somewhat triggering for me. It never meant anything good as I was growing up–just a harsh reminder that in other people’s eyes, I was just a chinky-eyed outsider who talked funny. At some point it became my personal goal to put some distance between me and the F.O.B. label, so much so that the possibility of reclaiming it is personally unfathomable to me. I projected that shame onto those in my family who spoke accented English: my mother, my cousin, my aunt. They were the ones who talked funny, not me, I thought rather defensively. I was an American born citizen, and knew how to speak proper English, goddamnit. This anxiety around being perceived as a F.O.B. is still something I struggle with today. So learning that this show would be named after a word I associate with my childhood trauma didn’t exactly leave me brimming with enthusiasm and hope.

But watching the promo did. It was a bit cheesy, but showed a lot of promise–in large part because of the mom, Jessica, played by the talented and gorgeous Constance Wu. More than once, a joke that had been perfectly delivered made me laugh out loud. At last! I was finally, finally, finally going to see a show starring Asian people on mainstream television. (Yeah yeah, there was All American Girl, but I was 3 years old when it aired and it looked pretty mediocre anyway from what I watched of it on Youtube–I blame white supremacy.) But would the white gaze fuck this shit up too?

According to Eddie Huang, author of the memoir from which the TV show was adapted, it was all sorts of fucked up. My friend Laura wasn’t particularly enthused by the upcoming premiere of the show, either, given Huang’s criticisms. But the complexity of Huang’s article intrigued me further. He refused to say “America is great,” swore a lot, and used phrases like “reverse-yellowface” and “monoculture.” His article conveyed someone who was way more fucking awesome than I had initially imagined. Clearly Huang is too awesome for network TV, but instead of making me cynical it made me optimistic for the show. In my eyes, even a diluted version of his radical racial politics would make for great, conciousness-raising TV.

Seven episodes into the season, and I’m already a huge fan. In the first episode alone, white people/white supremacy are the butt of at least five different jokes. I loved it! While I can’t relate to every single instance of the Huang family’s shenanigans (which is fine), a lot resonated with me: being raised by a mother who is the epitome of frugality, expressing love through actions and not words, being perceived as an outsider, navigating white culture with caution and confusion. Through the specificity of Eddie Huang’s experiences on the show, I connected to something universal that isn’t coded as white. And it’s not just me: I’ve seen people of all races, ages, and genders commenting online that they love the show, think it’s hilarious, and could relate to it in all sorts of ways–proof that whiteness doesn’t and shouldn’t have to be our sociocultural default, our only reference point in American culture.

There are questions raised around authenticity–for example, that Eddie’s parents speak in accents that don’t sound quite right. While I understand those critiques, I would say poorly done Taiwanese accents don’t detract from the overall quality of the show. (I, personally, haven’t noticed anything wrong with the accents, but that’s because I grew up Cambodian American. We don’t all talk the same or know the particular nuances of other Asians’ fobbiness, okay.) I actually think the show is pretty subversive for a family sitcom on network television. What I especially enjoy about the show is how it challenges the Model Minority Myth: the idea that Asians have it just as good as (if not better than) white people. That is not true to my lived experience as an Asian American, and I know it’s not true for many other fellow Asian Americans. If it really needs to be racialized within the black-white binary, I would say that, just like Eddie’s, my childhood can be more readily associated with black culture than white culture. “If you were an outsider, hip hop was your anthem,” the real Eddie Huang narrates in the pilot. I grew up with the sounds of (admittedly mainstream) rap, hip hop, and R&B, never became close friends with anyone white until after college, and developed a no BS attitude and potty mouth that white people are generally uncomfortable with. So I appreciate that Fresh Off The Boat explores one Asian boy’s family and their exploration within this racial binary in America, and how it’s not as simple as, “Oh, Asian people and white people are one and the same.” When you’re not white and you’re not black, how do you fit into America’s cultural landscape? This is a question that I wrestle with all the time, and it’s refreshing to see it being reflected in mainstream media for once.

Eddie’s father, Louis, believes in the American Dream (TM), yet his race and class become obstacles in his path to fulfill it. In the very first episode, he comes to the tragically funny conclusion that his business isn’t doing well because there isn’t a white host to greet customers, leading him to propose to a skeptical Jessica that they hire one: “Instead of people coming in and seeing a Chinese face and saying, ‘Huh? I thought this was an Old West steakhouse,’ they see a white face and say, ‘Oh! Hello white friend, I am comfortable.'” Louis ends up hiring a predominantly white staff. The business starts generating a lot of buzz and income. Then in the most recent episode (Episode 7, “Showdown at the Golden Saddle”), we see a flashback to how Eddie’s father comes up with the idea of the restaurant in the first place: he stole the manual for the Golden Saddle franchise to create a similarly-themed steakhouse of his own. The most pivotal moment as I see it is when Louis is told by the owner that he must pay $50,000 up front in order to buy a Golden Saddle.

Louis finds out the franchise fee is $50k. Oh fuck.

Louis finds out the franchise fee is $50k. Oh fuck.

The look on his face is heartbreaking, especially as the others (notably, two white men) come up and fork up the cash they have, and he doesn’t. Louis’s struggles with running a successful business is a great example of how there are many minorities in America whose dreams are hindered by racial and class barriers (both of which are not mutually exclusive, of course).

Eddie, our protagonist, has his own battle with white America. He is one of only two kids of color at his new school. In the pilot episode and on his first day at school, the white kids make fun of him for his “nasty-smelling” noodles, which propels him to beg his mom for “white people lunch.” Here, we see that the desire to fit in is rooted in a desire to not be ostracized, which complicates the idea that Asians want to be like white people: Eddie isn’t so much embracing whiteness as he is trying to use it as a cover to hide his otherness. The flawless Jessica tells her son, “Well those kids, they just don’t know, that’s all. It just takes time to get used to something different,” but he refuses to listen. He ends up getting his socially acceptable Lunchable, but butts heads with the only other kid of color, Edgar, who is black. Edgar shoves him aside in line for the microwave, telling Eddie, “Get used to it! You’re the one at the bottom now!”

“No, I’m not!” cries Eddie.

“Yeah, you are! My turn, chink!”

This is a moment that makes me cringe, but also one I can appreciate: a heated exchange between two kids that is complicated by their races. We often center our discussions of racism on white people vs. one minority, which is incredibly important, but racial prejudices exist between minorities as well, and this scene is a perfect example of that. A black kid and an Asian kid, duking it out in front of staring white kids: the perfect allegorical Hallmark card for American racism.

The allegorical Hallmark card of American racism

The allegorical Hallmark card of American racism

The minorities can senselessly hate each other all they want, but in the end, it’s white people and white supremacy who benefit from the clash between them. This all just goes to show that racial prejudice transcends race. Black people can be prejudiced against Asians, and vice versa. Black people can be prejudiced against themselves, and so can Asian people–otherwise known as internalized racism. As depicted in this moment–Edgar’s argument that Eddie is “at the bottom now” presupposes he was already at the bottom, a deeply sad and implicit admission of being inferior on the basis of race.

Here’s the one thing about the show I’ve been disappointed by: way before the fight occurs between Eddie and Edgar, Eddie asks if he can sit with him at lunch, only to turn around and jump at the chance to sit with the white kids (another fine allegory for American racism). This is precisely where I am concerned: Eddie idolizes all of these black male rappers, yet he’s going to diss the one black boy in favor of the honkies who made fun of his mom’s food? Oh hell no. It seems the irony is not lost on the show, however. “A white dude and an Asian dude bonding over a black dude?” Edgar says aloud to himself before scoffing. “This cafeteria is ridiculous!” While I appreciate some level of awareness on part of the show of the racial politics at play, I’m hoping that Eddie and Edgar will ultimately become best friends and fellow underdogs at a school that’s blindingly white. But several episodes have gone by and it seems Eddie’s social circle has only gotten whiter and more male, so I’m feeling cynical about the prospects. Damn. I can’t deny this dynamic parallels the reality of racism however. It’s true that many non-black people parodoxically have a love for black culture, yet a total disregard for black people. It’s true that anti-blackness/colorism is a thing in many Asian cultures. And it’s true that white people see Asians as more ethnically palatable than black people (which is NOT the same thing as saying whites see us as equals–to use a racial hierarchy/gross metaphor, whites see us as the lapdogs and blacks as the yard dogs). Although I can appreciate the realistic portrayal, I still would prefer the happy ending.

Focusing on the brighter side: what definitely makes the show is the one and only Jessica, the mother of the family, who is an all-around badass and breakout star. She praises her son for physiologically rejecting white culture, takes all the free samples at the overly excited grocery store, blames douchey white teenage boys for hitting her car with their bodies, and knows when a song she’s beautifully singing is NOT a duet. Better yet, the actress who plays her is also pretty kickass. Jessica is fearless, fierce, funny, and shamelessly herself. She was made even more perfect in Episode 5, “Persistent Romeo,” in which she teaches Eddie about consent and date rape by attacking him with a plush bunny.

Jessica:

Jessica: “LIKE THAT? YOU LIKE THAT?! NO? WELL GIRLS DON’T EITHER! NO MEANS NO! RESPECT GIRLS!”

YAAAAASSS. Not only is her character inherently feminist, but so is the dynamic she has with her family: they may fear and resent her at times, but through that is a deep respect for her as the matriarch. In Episode 6, “Shaq Fu,” Louis tells his family, “My father, your Ye-Ye [sp?], made me work hard for every penny. And that work ethic is how I’m able to keep the lights on.”

“But not the AC!” retorts Evan.

“That’s your mother’s thing, she runs the house, don’t pull me into that,” Louis quickly responds before returning to his lecture on work ethic–a one-liner that says a lot about the power and influence of Jessica as a stay-at-home mother and wife, power that everyone else in the household recognizes and acknowledges (okay, not too sure about the grandmother, but it’s significant that in a house primarily full of males, Jessica is the goddamn boss). Too often, the sitcom mother is portrayed as an uptight, controlling fun-sucker whose domestic labor and role in the house is often exploited, scorned, or taken for granted. Jessica subverts that trope through everyone’s deference to her, and of course, through unapologetically being herself. “That woman was tough. She could handle anything,” narrates Huang over the scene in Episode 6 where little Eddie ceases and desists with “phantom-flickering” Evan when Jessica threatens him by saying, “I could get by with only two sons. Think about that.” Through Jessica’s toughness, her dismissal of white culture, and her deep love for her family (and karaoke!), we are gifted with the opportunity to embrace an Asian American female character in all of her glorious complexity.

Fresh Off The Boat isn’t perfect. Huang’s concerns of course are completely valid. As the show progresses, there is the danger of reinforcing the status quo, of promoting white supremacy through assimilation, of giving up authenticity in favor of universality (white people love their binaries). I sincerely hope the show doesn’t go in that direction, even as the Huang family become upwardly mobile. The show will probably never reach the level of radicalness Huang envisioned, but I would be incredibly happy if it continues the way it has: questioning white culture, making jokes at the expense of white people, exploring race relations and API identity in America, challenging notions of gender within an API context, deepening and complicating its cast of well-rounded Asian American characters. The show is the first of its kind in two decades, which explains the pressure of it to be well received and successful, by both white and Asian audiences alike. That pressure is the age-old burden of representation that befalls all marginalized groups who can’t afford to be mediocre the way privileged groups can be. While this is unfair, the cast of Fresh Off The Boat is game. As Randall Park, who plays Louis, puts it perfectly in an interview with DisneyExaminer: “The hope is that, you know, the success of our show can lead to more doors being opened for Asian Americans to tell their stories.”

Picture perfect: The Huang Family

Picture perfect: The Huang Family

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Colorblind

black and white
is really
white or black
is really
white then black
is really
white on black
is really
trembling white hands silencing
crying black voices
trembling white hands silencing
crying black faces
trembling
then steadying
steady
steady now
ready now
these ready white hands
these steady white hands silencing
these black bodies black people
people
with black faces
silenced by
people
with white hands
silencing
people
with black bodies
bleeding them
bleeding black bodies black people
people
with white faces
bleeding people
with black bodies
bleeding black bodies dry
of hope
bleeding them dry
of promise
dry of tomorrow
dry of color
bleeding them
bleeding out color
white
silencing black
bleeding black
killing black
whites of eyes
fading to black
now I know why
they don’t see color.