Q & A With Eddie Huang + Watch Episode 2 and 3 of Fresh Off The Boat L.A. Installment
BR: Has there ever been one of those YouTube comments that made you reconsider something? Or made you think about something in a different way or affected you more than just pissed you off?
EH: Yeah. When people call me black-aping or call me a chigger, that really really bothers me. There's a ton of comments that are like, "why does a chink talk this way, why does a Chinaman talk this way?" And my thing is, look man, there's nothing more offensive than someone telling me I ought to talk, look or act a certain way because of my skin. I'm like, do you realize how ridiculous this is? White people get to be anyone they wanna be, I have to be this chinky-eyed delivery boy? It just upsets me. It's like, Asians can't be dangerous, and black people can't be upstanding. It's so ridiculous to me. I don't think people in America understand race, and how deep the hooks of whiteness there are in our consciousness. So I love to read YouTube comments to remind me of the temperature of our country and the world. But it really upsets me.
BR: You've obviously waded into these conversations that are happening now, some of them for the first time publicly. You say America doesn't understand race but America is also a racial experiment that has never been done before, right? There's all this stuff that is still developing. I think that's the thing that people find the most interesting about you in general is that, A) You're willing to have those conversations, and B) You're willing to be fairly controversial about it and not care what the repercussions are. When you wrote about Marcus Samuelsson and his Harlem restaurant Red Rooster, for instance, it must have been a double edged sword because it obviously made you more famous than you were. And a lot of people were talking about it. But I feel like you weren't expecting the backlash and I wonder if you regret it at all, or if you feel like you were misunderstood?
EH: I definitely don't regret that article in the least bit. I think it's one of the best things I ever wrote, I think it's one of the most important things I ever wrote. And I think that, love me or hate me, I just hope that people appreciate that there's someone who risks, for lack of a better term, their fanbase and respect in the industry ... I don't benefit in any way bringing Marcus Samuelsson down. I don't benefit monetarily, in fact it hurt me in some ways. A lot of people make a lot of money with Marcus Samuelsson, and those people will not do business with me. I knew going into it it would hurt me financially but I didn't care because I had something I felt was very important to say.
I always say, you should not let your race limit who you are. And Marcus does all these things and he kind of in many ways transcends race, but ... I don't want to misrepresent what I was saying in the article because the point I was making was very very nuanced, and any time you try to shorten or condense it, it comes off wrong. But my girl lives in Harlem, I stay up there a lot, my first neighborhood I lived in when I moved to New York was up there. I was running around, hanging out with those guys selling mixtapes on the street. In a lot of ways Marcus doesn't acknowledge enough the difference between the global black experience and the American black experience. And I also think that you're on very very shaky ground when you make yourself the speaker for an entire neighborhood or race and be like, "I'm reviving Harlem." He was very very presumptuous in doing that.
People don't realize -- these writers, these food writers, they don't want to go into the 'hood. Unless it's going somewhere you already know it's white acceptable and the Food Network has already been there, these food writers don't really want to be the pioneer and go in there. For the most part, Marcus makes these food writers' jobs easier. Like, here's a guy with a publicist and a smart phone. A lot of these people, the real people selling food in Harlem, they're not media savvy, and it's much harder to get the story. It's much harder to understand it. And these food writers, they're lazy.
You look at the quality of this internet food journalism, and the quality is not there. It's not well researched, it's a lot of borrowing and he-said-she-said. So that article I think had to be written. I'm sure you've been in meetings before where you're talking about some article and your editor will be like, "So we've got three chefs, they're all white. We need a black person, let's call Marcus." Marcus made everyone's job easier. And there's not enough black voices. There's not enough writers of color in this industry, people of color are not represented well.
When I was sitting in [Red Rooster] it was literally, all the people sitting around me had watched Top Chef and came as tourists to Harlem. It was like, "I'm so happy to be in Harlem, this is so amazing!" And I'm like, I'm telling you, this is not Harlem. That's what I really got upset about.
People were like, "You brought a rapper with you, you're trying to say that Harlem is just about rappers," but I'm like, No, the guy that I brought, he grew up on 116th, his dad is like an accountant for Colombia, he grew up down the block and I brought him, he just happens to be a rapper. And people tried to discredit me for that. And it just showed the racism that a rapper could not be a credible source for that article. And someone else in the article was hip-hop affiliated and people were like "You need to find someone not hip-hop affiliated," and I'm like, why? Does being hip-hop affiliated mean they're like, mouth-breathers? I don't know what you're trying to tell me.
So, no, I loved that article, I loved how people got mad, I loved how people thought I was trying to take down a black man and not support him when in actuality I was calling for people to look deeper, dig deeper and find the other voices in Harlem that are cooking and that are serving the community. Who pays for $28 fried chicken? You already know who pays for that. When I went to the restaurant, too, they asked me if I was the DJ. It was ridiculous. They were stereotyping me because I didn't look like the other people in that restaurant. It was hilarious.