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Fresh off the boat- Why is this term “offensive?”

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

FOB or fresh off the boat is a terminology that became famous in the South Asian diaspora in the early 2000s. The term had been around for a while; however, the usage of the word was designed to demean someone who is new to the country. Basically, a bifurcation slur used for recent immigrants.

As a culture, one of the biggest (and easiest) tools of humor is insult or like we say in Hindi “Beizatti” (even though we are ready to #cancelculture anything these days). Below the belt insults (disguised as humor) has been a cultural norm and the most effective way of getting some cheap laughs. Even though we hail from a culture of respect we are also deeply ingrained with the need to make fun of people who are different from us and be disrespectful.

This can be related to any aspect of “normalcy” that society has created for us and we forget to consider empathy in this process.

A family has just landed on the shores of a country. There's a boat in the background and there's lugage
Fresh off the boat

What's the need for this term?

“Empathy in South Asian culture” is a completely different topic waiting to be explored, however today we will talk about, how people thought (still think?) it was funny to insult someone based on their timings of coming to the United States.

Recent immigrants were looked down upon because of their accent and dressing sense. Teenagers who were new to the country trying every day to just fit in and understand themselves were being tagged as “fob” added more weight and complexity to their personality.

People are far more woke now and gen Z comprehends human emotion at a much different and thankfully humane level.

The question still begs, why was it necessary to label them? Why do people who are either born or grow up in North America feel the need to call others out as someone different? And most importantly why do recent immigrants get offended and take it to their heart that they are called out for being different?

Millennials who grew up in 90s still utilize this term and it’s purely disgusting. We look at them like how we look at a racist in this country.

The reason behind bringing up this topic in this article is to create a dialogue between the two parties and understand both the sides. I have talked to various people and the reasons are usually related to normal human behavior.

Recent vs Old Immigrants

Let’s divide the group up between recent immigrants and old immigrants and get a closer look into the reasoning behind these emotions.

Most of the older immigrants came out and said that they were called similar names when they first landed here. As they entered this phase of their life at a tender age, the effect was more long lasting, and the only outcome was to either fit in or feel low. They felt the insecurity of not being one of them and while they were in the process of transforming, which comes naturally as you grow up, they became one of them and started using the same insults that once hurt them so deeply.

Secondly, they grew up conditioned that “Americans” are far more superior than us since they can speak fluent English and have a western way of living which is inadvertently considered better. South Asians are bought up (for lack of a better word) lusting the western culture and when they become part of it, they are automatically inclined to have a superiority complex as they have blended in.

It's Ok Yaar, We're just having fun

I also met a few who said “its ok yaar” we were just having fun at someone’s expense. This statement was not okay since they were insulting someone for no reason and in that case the intent was only to hurt.

Now, coming to the new immigrants, they are also at fault for getting offended, for being called a name that would define them as being different. A terminology is offensive in nature or not, is a subjective argument, but perception is personal. For years, it has been normalized to call someone names on their worst insecurity.

However, If you get called a name based on your immigration status or your timing of landing to the US, is it still offensive? As a culture, our moral compass gets rattled because we become very defensive when the idea talks about sensitive topics that are personal.

We want to play the judge on both the sides, but when it comes to advocating on “What is right” we conveniently take a back seat.

While saying that, I am not invalidating your point, if you ever felt inferior or offended, you are well in our rights to feel the way we feel.

Circling back to the reason new immigrants felt offended was also very similar. They don’t want to be called different as they too are having hard time with all the cultural shocks and adapting to the new way of living, thinking, and executing.

A tag that sets them apart makes them feel like they do not belong here and their efforts of blending in are a sham. Lastly, I want to reiterate the point of western culture lust, which is big part of South Asian conditioning. We always want to adapt everything from the west and be part of the “cool” gang. Being called a “fob” would hit a nerve that will make them feel opposite of their desired position.

The intention here was to create a healthy discussion by putting forward both the points.

Let's come together

To conclude, we are in a different world today. Communication is a lot more politically correct and we are learning from the next generation to be more mindful and empathetic towards nature and each other. Old immigrant Millennials who are still using the word “fob” with the intention of humor, let me break it to you, it is crass, hurtful and will be the first in line when “ok boomer” revolution will start for your generation. New immigrants, learn to have a new mindset and focus on the new opportunity this country brings to you and your future.

Name calling is part of an old American culture that is fading away and everyone wants new mind, new ideas and people with diverse background to further their cause. It will be tough in the beginning, but this country is blissful and in the long run very rewarding. If you feel differently, don’t worry, #itsokyaar we are all in this together and we will get through this and call this place our home one day. Together.


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