Yes, We Need to Trot Out This Old Issa Rae Book Excerpt
The general complaint when we trot out a (usually male) celebrity’s past transgressions is that we shouldn’t because “it was a long time ago,” and “people change.” Well yes, we reply, it was a long time ago, and people do change, but it’s important to talk about them, especially if they haven’t been publicly discussed before, in order to learn from their actions and work toward them never happening again. In the case of Issa Rae, we have to do this with someone we really like a whole lot.
As reported by Newsweek, a chapter from Rae’s book, The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl (2015), has been making the rounds lately in this new climate of cultural sensitivity and awareness, because of some dating advice that she gives to black women while throwing Asian men under the bus for a laugh.
Rae writes that educated black women should “join forces in love, marriage and procreation” with Asian men. She writes:
“Educated black women what better intellectual match for you than an Asian man? And I’m not talking about Filipino’s, they’re like the Blacks of Asians. I’m talking Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, et cetera.”
She then goes on to say that Filipino men weren’t “intelligent and hard workers” like other Asian men. What?
Now, she may have thought she could get away with calling Filipinos “the blacks of Asians” because she’s black (Hey! I’m making fun of my own group too, so this is cool, right?), but you know what she’s not? Filipino, or in any way Asian. (unless there’s something I don’t know)
You don’t get to take liberties with self-deprecating humor about any group other than your own. That is not your place, and being a person of color doesn’t change that. This is something that’s been bugging me a lot lately. There’s a lot of (well-deserved) focus on white privilege these days, but that doesn’t mean that white people are the only source of discrimination, or cultural appropriation.
In my post about the white high school senior who wore a qipao to prom, I talked briefly about the fact that people of color appropriate or are culturally insensitive to each other all the time. Black people do it to Asians. Asians do it to black people. Non-black Latinx do it to black people. Black and Asian people do it to Latinx. Seemingly everyone does it to Jewish people.
Just because we are all marginalized by whiteness, and just because we often fight against racism on the same side, doesn’t mean our communities are all the same, or that we have the right to take from each other’s cultures however we want, or make punchlines out of each other’s cultures. The same rules apply to us.
It’s been three years since Rae’s book, and I hope that in the intervening time she’s come to recognize that disparaging or making a punchline of a marginalized group’s men, particularly a group whose men have historically been stereotyped as asexual or “unattractive,” just isn’t cool. Not only isn’t it cool, it’s harmful.
Being “of color” isn’t a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card.
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