As my black and brown friends on Facebook express grief and horror at the recorded murders of #AltonSterling and #PhilandoCastile, the majority of my Asian/Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) friends’ statuses are about the latest Pokemon Go release and basketball players. Don’t get me wrong — not posting about #BlackLivesMatter doesn’t mean you are somehow anti-black or racist. The opposite is also not true; a #BlackLivesMatter status does not give you a badge of progressive honor indicating you are not anti-black. Everyone has a right to post whatever they want and how often they want on Facebook. But we must recognize that the ability to post about Pokemon Go or basketball players in the wake of assaults on black lives is a luxury and privilege AAPIs have because of our (social and phenotypical) proximity to whiteness. The luxury to think about anything else at this time but the murders of black lives, fear for your own mortality, and systemic racism is a privilege.
The police officer who shot 32-year old Philando Castile is allegedly of Asian ethnicity, according to Philando’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting.
“It was a Chinese police officer that shot him,” Reynolds narrates on the video. “He asked him for his license and registration, which was in the back of his pocket, ’cause he keeps his wallet in his pocket. As he went to reach, he let the officer know that he had a firearm on him and before he could let the officer know anything, the officer took off shots. About 4 or 5 rounds were shot.”
The officer still has his gun pointing into the car. “I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his hands up!” the cop yells, breathing heavily. Castile lies in the driver’s seat with one side of his body drenched in blood.
Rachel Dolezal, Vijay Chokalingam (Mindy Kaling’s brother, who became known after pretending to be black on medical school applications), and now Michael Hudson.
Running through these racial disguises is a common, disturbing thread: the notion that racial identity — composed of all the nuanced struggles and complex interactions that come with navigating America as a racialized person — consists of nothing more than a name or skin tone change.
Like, I’m sure, many others, I’ve been trying to articulate why precisely white woman Rachel Dolezal’s claim to black identity is so problematic, particularly in the context of many people’s ignorant comparison of the Rachel Dolezal story to that of Caitlyn Jenner’s. I’ve read many thought pieces and seen videos, and though each have enlightening points, none have really summed up succinctly for me why “trans-racial” (as it has been used in the Dolezal story) should not be a thing.
Many have correctly claimed that race and gender are both social constructs. If gender can be fluid, why can’t race? they ask. But while race and gender are both social constructs, they operate in very different ways.
Note: SPOILERS COMING. Also, I refer to the actual Eddie Huang as “Real Eddie” to differentiate him from the young Eddie Huang played in the ABC show by the remarkable Hudson Yang.
Let me preface this reflection with the fact that I am extremely appreciative and grateful for the long-overdue airing of a show like Fresh Off the Boat. Seeing an Asian American family on TV for the first time in my 21 years of life is cathartic, surreal, and validating in so many ways. In particular, ostensibly throwaway details like the patterned bowls (Ep. 1-2), Jessica Huang hand-peeling an apple (Ep. 2), attempts to impress mom with getting the “better” bargain (Ep. 4), hilariously accurate family drama and need to “one-up” one another (Ep. 4), rice sacks as pillows (Ep. 4), and subtitled Mandarin shock me in how gratifying I find it to see such details portrayed on television. All of the actors are fantastic, especially the main family members — Constance Wu, Ian Chen, Forrest Wheeler, Randall Park, and last but not least, Hudson Yang.
However, I want to reflect on the show’s handling thus far (as in, up until Episode 4) of hip hop, blackness, and black culture.