Though I was born in Chicago, Illinois, Asian people would call me a “FOB” (Fresh Off the Boat) because I enjoyed watching Korean dramas, listening to Korean music, and enjoyed eating Asian food. The term “FOB” is a term that only Asians use to refer to someone who may speak English with an accent, speaks in an Asian dialect with peers, dresses in an ethnic manner, and follows ethnic traditions. Though the term was given to me in a joking manner, it meant that the person thought I was not following American culture, had awkward social habits, and was comically ignorant in fashion.
The term “FOB,” categorizes an Asian person and distances him/her from others, so they are judged, and it brings up negative racial images that are anti-immigrant. If someone who is non-Asian calls an Asian person that term, it would be considered racist.
When I was called a “FOB,” it made me feel a sense of shame, embarrassment, and discomfort toward those who were labeling me. Yet, to me, it was better to be called a “FOB” than someone who was “whitewashed.” A “whitewashed” person was thought to be ashamed of his/her race and ethnicity. This type of person will try to fit into American culture because they want to be accepted and be popular. Hence, “FOBs” are geeks in society, but the “whitewashed” person is considered “cool” and accepted by non-Asians. A “whitewashed” person does things to be accepted and feels pride in being someone who is “whitewashed” because he/she feels that non-Asians see the person as part of the group.
Though a “whitewashed” person feels pride in being assimilated and distancing himself from his ethnic group, some Asian peers see the actions as shameful because that person can never fully assimilate into American culture. In addition, someone who is “whitewashed” is considered a ‘wannabe” who has sold out to the white world.
Terms like these are problematic because it causes racial oppression within an ethnic group that reproduces inequality among that group. Even though the “whitewashed” person believes it means assimilation and acceptance into the American society, and feels a sense of progress over peers who are “FOBs” or more traditional peers, this issue is something that signifies resistance and internalized oppression for Asians. It is internalized oppression because it questions whether it is possible for an Asian person to be seen as just “American?” For aren’t Asians and Americans always going to be separate and distinct?
Throughout history, exclusion and marginalization has affected racial groups. Asians have been given disparaging labels to distinguish them as foreigners. Although the term “FOB” is given to Asians by other Asians, and is suppose to be taken in a lighthearted manner, it in actuality continues the marginalization of Asians. Personally, I have been called this term often and always felt like a victim because I knew it was not a compliment. So the next time that you or someone wants to use this word, I hope that you will stop and think about the effects of what it means. To use the words of “FOB” or “whitewashing” is to continue the subordination of Asians in America.