Why it's okay to watch 'Fresh Off The Boat' without feeling racist

by - Wednesday, February 25, 2015

currently: listening to 'Kelsey' by Metro Station.

Name the last time you saw an Asian family as the centre of an American sitcom.

In my lifetime (of 23 years), I've never been able to think of one show until Fresh Off The Boat debuted on NZ TV this month. And whether or not you are someone of Asian decent, you should still be aware why this is an iconic point for diversity in western television.

The appearance of Asian characters on western TV has always been minimal, and they're usually delegated minor roles like the strict teacher, or comedic uneducated foreigner. But for once, this show focuses outside those stereotypes onto an actual family, and it's why so many Asians are quick to watch Fresh Off The Boat. Finally there is a show relatable for Asians.

But of course, while it's a funny show, I have heard of people feeling unsure about watching it or laughing at it at the risk of 'appearing racist' to enjoy a comedy based on Asians. But there is honestly no need to worry about that. I don't find it racist, but if you do, consider these following points from someone who relates to this show in more ways you can imagine.

Fresh Off The Boat doesn't represent every single Asian family
If you were to believe that, then that would mean The Simpsons represents every white-American family, that Everybody Hates Chris represents every African-American family, that Ugly Betty represents every Mexican/Latino family, or that Warner family from Shortland Street represents every Kiwi family. Which of course is far from true. And while the Huangs are based off real people, it isn't accurately representing them either. Like every other TV sitcom on television - they're characters, not stereotypes.

Accents are accents. Everyone has them.
If you think accents are a way of humour and making fun of a race or culture, then you are doing it wrong. Accents are a way of representing people and cultures - it is what differentiates us and there's nothing wrong with the parents in Fresh Off the Boat using them, in the same way British actors act American with American accents. It's a portrayal of the race and culture.

Fitting in is the struggle of all people
Everyone at some point has felt new, or like a minority. So while this theme on Fresh Off The Boat may be based upon the difference of race, is doesn't make it an unrelatable theme in general.

"We need to have a picture of Asian Americans. We have a unique experience that has myriad opportunities for storytelling, if other people are willing to tell those stories." - Constance Wu, TIME Magazine

The references aren't just "Asian references". They're a reference of the times from an Asian American family perspective.
While there may be references to jade necklaces and Chinese dishware, the show also focuses on the 90s decade - when OJ Simpson was on trial, when MC Hammer was big, and when computers had a dial-up tone. You don't have to know what it's like to grow up in a Western based Asian household to get jokes around that.

Cultural awkwardness is funny, because awkwardness in general is funny.
One of my favourite quotes from Australian Vietnamese YouTuber, Natalie Tran, is this talk from Idea City 10 where she accurately states "awkwardness transcends cultures...When your parents are different to other parents, it's hilarious." Sometimes you need a different perspective to see the funny side of life, in the same way when you look back at awkward incidences and laugh. And even in your own race, there will be moments you think "why do we even do this?" Awkwardness is funny whether or not it's a cultural thing.

The things that are racist in that show are treated to be serious and unfunny.
The scene where Eddie gets called a "chink" was a serious moment in the first episode. No one laughed, and the tone was clearly made to be a serious moment (you heard the reaction from that room that stopped and gasped.)

Asian representation taking the lead in a sitcom is not intended to make people feel uncomfortable. 
I'm not generalising that if you think this you are racist, but in a society where white middle class American families have been the norm, it is different, and may be uncomfortable, to see the roles of minority and majority swapped. If you've found other TV shows relatable, and Fresh Off The Boat not - then you've probably felt a glimpse of what it has been like for the minorities of Western society being under-represented in the media for the past 20 years.

And finally, this show is funny because of the comedy in its writing. Which isn't racist.
Basically Constance Wu who plays Jessica Huang (the mum on the show) is the funniest woman on TV right now.
http://shorten.tumblr.com/post/110881458020/i-was-going-to-gif-this-but-sound-does-this-scene


Don't be quick to fob off Fresh Off The Boat without giving the first few episodes a try. If you enjoy The Middle, Everybody Hates Chris or The Goldbergs TV shows, you may find a new love with this new American family.

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