Well, Eddie Huang finally did it. He did it big this time on Twitter. He did it so big that no less than the //
“>Angry Asian Man had denounced his rap-like misogynistic language. An article written by an Asian feminist graciously criticizes Eddie, and Asian rejoinders are dime a dozen. Here’re some of Eddie’s offenses, according to his critics.
1) His overtly sexualized names for dishes in his restaurant raise plenty of eyebrows because they don’t only objectify women but also stereotype Asian American women.
2) He refers to black women as less desirable in the same way the stereotypical emasculated Asian males are undesirable.
3) He jests with several black feminists on Twitter who took exception to his alleged portrait of the undesirable black women. He does so by asking them out (in jest of course).
I’m going to read Eddie as an exegete via rhetorical criticism. Don’t let my fancy term scare you. What I mean is this. I’m going to look at Eddie not only as a person but his text (his book, his conversations, and his twitter) as a rhetorical device not just to see what he said, but to see what he did with what he said.
I suggest that many of my Asian American critics aren’t reading Eddie correctly. I’m not saying this as an apologist of Eddie. I don’t know him. I’ve voiced my dissatisfaction and praise for the show FOTB in equal measure in the past blogs. I just want to look at the recent controversy by exegeting what Eddie said simply because I exegete texts for my academic vocation. I read (not just biblical texts but non-biblical texts also) and write for a living. I also exegete people in my former ministerial vocation. Interpretation is important. This present post is an exercise in interpretation. Interpretations have implications for our ethics as Asian Americans, especially Christian Asian Americans.
I think we need to now look at Eddie from a Christian’s point of view (any non-Christian, you can look at him from a different point of view). I want to look at him beyond his symbolic role as a person and how his rhetoric reflects that person. We often mistakenly read public figures only in terms of their ideologies or what they represent to US instead of seeing the whole picture of how they represent themselves (via various posts and books written by such figures).
Now, I have no problem saying that Eddie’s rap personality is a bit bigger than life, and there’re times when his rhetoric crosses the line in rocking the boat. I’m not at all in favor of misogynistic language in either music or in our daily conversation (especially in our Chinese food menu’s). I appreciate the concern of all those who lovingly or not so lovingly admonish Eddie’s vocabulary usage. However, in this blog, I want to step back just a tiny bit to look at this whole outcry from a bigger picture. I’m going to look at this from only one way of how Asians react to this situation.
A question intrigues me. Why are so many Asians so eager to distance themselves from Eddie in the fallout from his recent social media faux pas, besides not wanting to appear misogynistic and racist? Eddie simply doesn’t fit. He uses hyperbole and sarcasm. He uses over-the-top exaggerations in order to make his point. Here’s the problem. Many Asians aren’t comfortable with this kind of crazy usage of language. Instead, they read him literally (I mean, read him only one way).
Many who criticize him surely are well meaning. At the same time, Eddie’s hyper masculine persona doesn’t blend well with our perceived (and sometimes self-imposed) hypo masculinity. Eddie is no girly man! He’s wilding (to use his vocabulary) all the time. Sure, he overstated his case many times over. Let’s face it, Asians don’t use hip hop language because we sure play real nice. We are, after all, a model minority. A model minority doesn’t incite; we harmonize. Let’s interpret Eddie just a little bit though, not so much on what he says, but how he says it. He compares undesirable Asian males to the stereotypical undesirable black women. What many miss is his irony because he isn’t saying that black women aren’t desirable. He’s making a comparison between two stereotypes (i.e., the desirable black woman and the even less desirable Asian girly men). Was his representation of black women and Asian men accurate? No, I think Alicia Keys and Halle Berry etc. are very attractive (well, okay, I think my wife is MORE attractive).
Whether you think Asian men are attractive, ladies, is up to you. I can’t comment on that. Was his representation of black women and Asian mane stereotype accurate? Absolutely! Just look at how many leading black women and Asian male are in Hollywood romantic drama in comparison to the predominantly white list of leading roles. Case closed! We hate being the perpetual foreigners and being strangers from a foreign shore. The bamboo ceiling in Hollywood is really low. Eddie just points that out using the most outrageous (but definitely true) rhetoric, and that brings horrible discomfort to our cultural wound.
Granted, Eddie’s analogy is unfortunate because it is made at the expense of black woman stereotype (but not necessarily black women themselves), but he does so to move the conversation along on stereotyping. What Eddie is saying however isn’t that the stereotype is good. He seems to be saying the opposite, that the stereotype is bad. His very jest of asking those black feminists out signals to me that he doesn’t find black women unattractive per se, but I think the irony is lost in cyber space knee jerk blog sphere. Why else would anyone ask someone else for a date unless that person feels that someone belongs to an attractive group rather than an unattractive group?
A more serious issue still is Eddie’s ambiguous role as the Asian American representative. The critic who calls Eddie out in a blog points to Eddie’s enjoyment of seeing himself as a representative of Asian Americans while saying that he really can’t speak for all of us. Well, does he represent all of us or not? I saw the Bill Mahr show on which Eddie made those remarks. He seems to be saying, “You make me some kind of representative and I enjoy that, but I really don’t speak for all Asian Americans.” Fair enough. We MAKE Eddie into this ideal and we want our unwilling Eddie to stay at that ideal, but Eddie is just being his sarcastic self. He’s the wilding Eddie. He isn’t just an angry Asian dude; he’s a wilding Asian dude. He’s the Asian hip-hop dude! To get a fuller picture of Eddie, we should read his book carefully. The Eddie of the book, the relative real Eddie (at least on paper), is quite different from our ideal. When Eddie complained that the show didn’t represent his life fairly and that there were some family problems, many Asians automatically pointed to the issue Eddie with his parents (the word “abusive” came up several times).
Many AA’s have a love-hate relationship with their family, especially with the first generation immigrant parents. Whether Eddie’s parents were problematic parents is quite a different issue, but many second generation clearly want to read their own experience into Eddie’s complex family relationship. Sure, there were some first generation and second generation tension in the book. Eddie’s dad’s real old school and didn’t hesitate to put the fear of authority into Eddie when Eddie stepped out of line. But there were also happy moments when Eddie was incredibly proud of his dad for being the guy who had swag and proud of his mom for being intelligent and strong in her own immigrant parenting experience. Parenting is a complex thing. So is the Asian family. Yet, many second generation AA’s focus on the negatives. Why? We love to stereotype our parents (who obviously lack understanding of the “American” culture which we love so much) because sometimes such a move is therapeutic. The only problem is, Eddie’s memoir isn’t simplistic. Neither is it a caricature or a stereotype. It has more flesh than the bony sound bite popular media allows Eddie. Most who haven’t read the entire memoir shouldn’t really go into judging Eddie’s parents so that they can feel better about themselves. An autobiography isn’t the best therapy tool.
IF we say that Eddie doesn’t represent us, why do we get on his case like he does? IF we say that Eddie represents us, aren’t we going against the whole idea of “we don’t want the model minority stereotype”? Perhaps, in making him represent us originally, he has brought us “shame” (well, shame is such a sensitive and important concept in Asian America). Eddie sure broke the model minority mode. We get on his case because we can’t have Eddie representing us and say these things. Because the FOTB show somehow represents our very best effort at prime time TV, we need to get on the case of Eddie who inspired the show. We only have a slight problem. Eddie clearly doesn’t want to represent us Asians. In fact, we have two problems. We can’t hang on to our anti-model-minority cause while forcing our unwilling representative Eddie to conform to the model minority stereotype. What do we want? Clearly, we can’t have your cake and eat it too. We can’t make Eddie represent us when he fits our model minority mode, but when he doesn’t or when he fails our model minority stereotype, we throw him under the bus. The problem is that in the Asian culture, representative politics are deeply ingrained. How many times do we grow up hearing our elders telling us that our self-identity is in our 5000 years of history? Probably more times than we care to admit.
As human beings, we often see things in terms of ideologies. We see wars between one ideology against another. We see the black versus the white in conflicts. Life is full of grey however. Human factor often cause this shade of grey. Rhetorical moves are greyer still. Eddie is going to be what Eddie claims to be. He doesn’t want to represent us though he loves to use his voice for the causes of racial equality and AA’s. In seeing this case, we have to understand the importance of treating people as human beings instead of ideologues. People and ideals are two different things. As Christians, we need to break out of our own racial ideological bubble. We need to think pastorally. How do we see things pastorally? Instead of trying to deny our overseas Asian culture having no impact in our present Asian America, we need to call out when we make those representative political moves. We need to own up to our deeply ingrained cultural knee jerk reactions as uniquely ours.
In reality, representative politics are dead, but we simply don’t know it. The objections against Eddie come from a very overseas Asian reading of Huang’s work. Our desperate attempt to be “Americans” can’t save us from our blind spots that originated from our ancestral culture (namely, representation politics). We need to examine whether such a way of reading reality is healthy or Christian for AA Christians.
Where does Christianity fit in this whole mess because obviously just radical and self-hating detachment isn’t an option? A simpler lesson we can gather from Eddie’s recent episode is the way rhetoric works both in our public speaking and in social media. Sarcasm is best served sparingly. Irony is often lost on many who lack the cultural navigation tools. Instead, many can easily misread irony. I know this advice is strange coming from me because I’m a terribly sarcastic person in my public speaking, but I’m working on it. Some of us who read this blog are preachers. We’re still constrained by our PC culture to avoid certain analogies, however valid or clever the analogies are. This would impact the way we use illustrations and the kind of illustrations we choose. Sarcasm and irony are hard to control. They wild! The wild beast of rhetoric can break out of the cage unexpectedly and the aftermath isn’t worth our cleverness. Once the beast gets out, it’s hard to rein it back in.