American actress, writer, and director Issa Rae may be one of the “sharpest” comedians today, but not everyone was laughing when an excerpt from her 2015 book, one in which she calls Filipinos “the blacks of Asians,” exploded onto the world of social media this week.
That’s right, the book has been out for three years. But this is the internet, so here we go.
In the book titled The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, Rae talked about how “educated black women” and Asian men supposedly both have a bad reputation on the dating scene, which is why they should just start dating each other.
So far so good. So what exactly did she say that has people so out of sorts? Maybe it’s the specific language, which many found disparaging, despite fans pointing out that it’s clearly meant as satire.
Rae wrote: “This is why I propose that black women and Asian men join forces in love, marriage, and procreation. Educated black women, what better intellectual match for you than Asian men?”
Many found this problematic (surprise!) for the simple reason that it seems to insult the intellect of black men.
But the problem for Filipinos came with what followed.
“And I’m not talking about Filipinos; they’re the blacks of Asians,” Rae says. “I’m talking Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, et cetera.”
Ouch. While — as you’ll see below — there are multiple ways to interpret that comment, the one that people seem to be jumping on is the idea that, just like black men, Filipinos must not be smart enough to make the cut.
Cue the angry comment brigade, some of whom felt the passage in question only widened the cultural gap between “white” East Asians and brown Asians.
The ugliest part of Issa Rae’s comments was her Filipino comments. Why is nobody talking about that? That shit was tasteless af.
— Kurt Angle (@kissmeQuan) April 30, 2018
There's nothing wrong with saying black women should date Asian men, but saying Filipinos are lesser-than Asians is trash.
— Daddy Tang (@KevChestnut) April 30, 2018
People are making these "Issa Rae" book quotes into a Black man VS Black woman thing when the real problem is her calling Filipinos the "Blacks of Asians". This feeds into harmful stereotypes about darker skinned Asians. She of all people should know better. #IssaRae
— Deep Green Philly (@deepgreenphilly) April 30, 2018
My problem with Issa Rae saying Filipinos are the blacks of Asians is how she’s feeding into the colorism and internalized hate of Filipinos within the Asian community that exists
— LY TOUR NEWARK (@Yoonginese) April 30, 2018
However, others jumped to Rae’s defense. Pointing out that her comments were meant to be sarcastic and, frankly, people just didn’t get it.
I'm thinking most of the folks criticizing Issa Rae can't comprehend satire. (And probably didn't even read that book) pic.twitter.com/lhHJqXgsoN
— Ebony Maw (@thomeography) April 30, 2018
Sees Issa Rae trending…1. That book has been out for a few YEARS. 2. It’s satire. 3. Please bring back critical thinking and reading comprehension (and reading more than a page).
— Brenda Carden (@brendadc) April 30, 2018
We’re guessing the comment struck a chord with so many because colorism is as much a part of Asian culture — both in the United States and in Asia — as it is in the black community.
Lighter-skinned Asians like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean are stereotypically portrayed as smarter while darker-skinned Southeast Asians and South Asians are seen as less refined. As another comedian, Ali Wong, put it in her Netflix stand-up special Baby Cobra, there are “fancy Asians” and “jungle Asians.”
This issue was also raised last week when the trailer for the film Crazy Rich Asians was released.
While the film, which is set in Singapore, has been praised for having Asian characters in a contemporary setting (as opposed to tired martial arts tropes), it was also criticized for only representing those of Chinese descent.
Notably missing from the film’s trailer are darker-skinned Asians like Malays, Indians, and Filipinos, of which there are many in Singapore.
Coconuts Manila has reached out to Rae for comment but has not received a response.
So what do you think? Was Rae’s comment culturally offensive or just irreverent comedy? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter @CoconutsManila.