Asian Americans are conventionally described as “middle-man minorities,” outside of dominant racial paradigms of white and Black, adjunct to white privilege and exempt from the brunt of systemic violence directed against Black people. Historical accounts trace the origins of the in-betweenness of Asian Americans to the ways in which Asian coolie labor has served to triangulate white capital and African slavery over the course of European modernity. If this is the material history of in-betweenness, what is the psychic corollary of the middle-man thesis? Through an analysis of the Netflix dark comedy series Beef, as well as case histories of Asian American patients and students, Eng argues that the psychic effects of occupying a racially intermediate position implicate an unexplored terrain of racial rage and racial guilt that Asian Americans are insistently socialized to hold on behalf of others.
David L. Eng is the Richard L. Fisher Professor of English and faculty director of the Program in Asian American Studies, and professor in the Program in Comparative Literature & Literary Theory and Program in Gender, Sexuality & Women's Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Racial Melancholia, Racial Dissociation: On the Social and Psychic Lives of Asian Americans (Duke 2019), The Feeling of Kinship: Queer Liberalism and the Racialization of Intimacy (Duke, 2010), and Racial Castration: Managing Masculinity in Asian America (Duke, 2001). He is co-editor with David Kazanjian of Loss: The Politics of Mourning (California, 2003) and with Alice Y. Hom of Q & A: Queer in Asian America (Temple, 1998). His current book project, "Reparations and the Human" (Duke, forthcoming) investigates the relationship between political and psychic genealogies of reparation in Cold War Asia.
- Department of English
- Humanities Council