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I’m crying on a bus. I’ve been on this bus for 15 hours and I’m tired, achy, and emotional. Possibly the worst place to cry, but I’m so frustrated.
I’m crying because I’ve just read “Bamboo Ceiling TV", Eddie Huang’s piece in Vulture about the slow erosion of his book, Fresh Off the Boat, as it became a network TV show. A friend posted it on his Facebook page, and I went on a bit of a rant. Here it is:
I just don't know how to feel about this, but I do feel completely powerless. And frightened. Because there is so much expectation for creators of colour to fix it. And it's just model minority shit all over again because if we are less than 100% perfect we aren't heard and if we are we're dismissed as not being relatable or forced to betray ourselves. I remember All American Girl in the '90s and KNOWING Margaret Cho was more than that because I’d seen her stand up before and felt that maybe she would finally make people who are like me even possible. And still no. And I know I'm not good enough to fix it, or even to talk about fixing it.
I can't stop crying and I'm on a bus and why do I have so much chocolate in my purse and no Kleenex?
What’s the word they use to describe Asian sangfroid? Inscrutable. Nope. Completely scrutable. I cannot keep my cool about this.
In the article, Huang’s asked to do the voiceover for the show and he refuses to say “America is great,” because the point of his book is that it’s not, or not always (confession: I am Canadian, but much of this applies here, too).
It’s seen as unpatriotic. You love your nation or you don’t. Sure. But you know, non-white people in North America see things that white people don’t, so it gets more complicated. We’re told that we should be happy just to be here — no surprise that Margaret Cho uses those words to describe her All-American Girl experience. Happy to be here; take what you can get. Here’s an opportunity, and yes, you’ll have to compromise, but it also has to be perfect.
Fresh Off the Boat was supposed to show America through the eyes of a Chinese-American kid. His observations of America. His point of view.
Huang says that the characters — based on people in his own life — have been flattened out. The reasoning was to provide a clearer context for white viewers. It makes me so mad that 20 years since Margaret Cho’s miserable network experience, things are still at square one: explaining that we exist and it’s not weird that we like the same things white people like but also like things they don’t even know about. Not foreigners. Real people.
I’ll likely die before that post-racial future shows up, and in the meantime I get to watch my little nephews and niece navigate the same bullshit I had to. Maybe less, maybe in different forms, but it’s still there buzzing around them telling them that using chopsticks is uncool. I deeply resent that I won't survive long enough to enjoy a world without racism (or misogyny, for that matter).
Issues of race are part of my life not because I want them to be. They’re there whether I like it or not. And believe me, I let A LOT go because it’s not worth the effort most of the time.
People complain about identity politics, and yeah sure, I’m political about it. But it's also my actual identity that’s shown, or not shown, or distorted. I’m really ticked that “Americans don’t know Asian-Americans” is even a thing. LEARN. And notice that one of the reasons why you don’t know is because you’re not shown what our lives are like. Maybe if non stereotypical depictions of any people of color were more prevalent, we wouldn’t have to make such a big deal out of ONE TV show.
A Kenyan-Canadian friend of mine suggested the casting of the Rush Hour films is proof that two PoC can pull off not just a hit, but a SERIES of blockbuster movies. Jackie Chan is awesome. But I don’t want to hear accents. No clowning. I want them to be the ones cracking the jokes, not be them. I want to see the code-switching that happens between cultures that we know happens and is actually really fun and interesting, and probably more common than we think. Relatable, even.
Cho Chang in Harry Potter. The films of Gregg Araki. Everything Margaret Cho. Boomer and all her iterations in Battlestar Galactica. Sandra Oh in pretty much everything she does, ’cause she’s a smart Canadian who doesn’t put up with bullshit. Harold and Kumar — in fact, everything John Cho. He just had his series cancelled. Let’s put John Cho in everything. Let’s Cumberbatch him. I WON’T MIND.
We can do this, people.
I want it to be able to show how conflicted his identity is, that there is a struggle, and that how that plays out matters. I wish that this show had the luxury of being mediocre, but it doesn't. I hate that so much is at stake here. All-American Girl wasn't great, but then again, how many seasons has Two and A Half Men been running? Uh huh.
The show premieres February 10. I'm holding my breath. I feel a mixture of hope and pride and certain disappointment — is something better than nothing? And what will it take to be good? A show about people of color. It has to work twice as hard to get half as far.