What's Very Wrong with "How Not to Be a Restaurant Racist"


I absolutely disagree with your definition of racism, and that reverse racism can, and often does, exist. Here is the actual definition of racism: prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior. Does dropping a fork off for a white diner count as racism? Probably not. But there are definitely racists of all colors and cultures. Power is NOT part of the equation; it's simply a belief and acting on that flawed belief.
If she used the word bigotry instead of racism would you have been more happy? Because the example is a form of bigotry not consideration. it begins with an assumption that a "white" person cant use chopsticks.
I'm sure the animals murdered for your dining pleasure don't give a shit how "racist" somebody thinks someone is. Dumber than fucking dirt!
"While it’s easy for people of color like myself to point out these same problems, when white people do it, white readers, rather than feeling guilty and defensive, are often better able to see themselves in these situations and change their habits."

Oh, so white people only listen to other white people here huh? Because all white people are a monolith and we all are naturally just ignorant "food racists".

Would it be considered racist to drop a fork in front of a black or Hispanic person?

This is ridiculous shite.
It’s kind of racist of you to suggest that words have actual definitions and meanings…
I'd love to get a Porterhouse steak for $10.99 as the #2 lunch special.

@1, What you've described could be called bigotry or prejudice, but "racism" takes into account the cultural dynamics that make bigotry/prejudice more potent. It's most often discussed in more extreme circumstances (police brutality, applying for a job, etc), but it can manifest in the ways people order food at a restaurant, or whatever. Personally I'd rather pay good money for curry than a bowl of pasta I can make at home for less than a dollar, so I can't say I've given any of these points a moment's thought.
I read the article, and she doesn't ever make accusations of reverse racism. She said that when a waiter at a dim sum restaurant places a form instead of chopsticks in front of her, he "has assumed something based on the color of my skin, rather than wait for any signs of struggle with chopsticks".

She then distinguishes this from the types of racism perpetuated against "ethnic" restaurants, which impacts their bottom line and livelihood.

So I think she was making virtually the same point that you accused her of not making; that racism is prejudice plus power (i.e. in this case, depriving restaurants of revenue through arguably racist reviews).
Garbes's definition of racism is absolutely correct.

What I don't agree with is the idea that Mexican food or Chinese food are "ethnic" -- they are, simply, Mexican or Chinese. There's nothing similar about them. Though they are not really "Mexican" or "Chinese" but some variety of Mexican-American or Chinese-American (or Mexican-Korean-American, etc. etc.) In fact, even the signifier "Mexican" is becoming problematic, as more and more places are expressing their region, e.g., "Oaxacan", etc. "Mexican" increasingly means a 1980s snapshot of Mexican-American, which is useful as a generic category but less and less so as a description of the food.

This gets easier to understand if you grasp that the concept of "authenticity" is completely bogus in every regard, whether you're talking about Mexican, Chinese, Italian, etc.
I want to know what it is when Southeast Asian restaurants (other than Vietnamese) give their diners chopsticks. Or when diners at Southeast Asian restaurants other than Vietnamese (or I guess Singaporean) ask for them. Southeast Asians eat their food with a spoon and a fork, or with their hands. People eating Thai food, for example, with chopsticks is cringe inducing and -- sorry to say -- most Thais and Indonesians I know kind of secretly laugh at it (but acknowledge the whole customer-is-always-right deal). But... is it racist?
Most Italian should be far cheaper than what it is. I thought Ethiopian was considered to be expensive. And Brazilian steakhouses are pretty pricey.

That thumbsucker makes really dumb points.
I have a feeling this comment thread is going to be a total shitshow. I agree with like 99% of this article but I have to say that the assumption that the fork going to white customers is based on accommodation to dominant norms is likely only partially true. I've had many Asian friends' parents tell me that they are so impressed that I know how to use chopsticks since they assumed most Americans are usually too stupid or lazy to learn how in this really paternalistic sort of way. It's not that big of a deal since I can just scowl and move on with controlling capital and politics, but yeah. Must reiterate that this is a perfect example of discrimination w/o power.
Of all the wonderful things in the culinary universe to be passionate about, this is really a tragic waste of your time, Ms. Tomky.
Giving fork in Chinese restaurant is not racist.

What would be racist is asking honky if he prefers fork or fingers.
@11: And sushi! Sushi is some of the most expensive food there is, and people pay way more for more authentic stuff. But yeah, just a bunch of racist crackers unwilling to pay more for "ethnic" food.
God. I read that article. It was so filled with Strawmen arguments it was ridiculous. Like "nobody ever complains about the prices of Italian food but they do about high end asian noodles" and all sorts of "nobody does this...." and "everybody does that..." bullshit.

People complain about conventional restaurant food prices EVERY FUCKING DAY!

And I hate to tell her this but, yes, outside Italy Italian food is called ethnic food all the time.

Had that writer ever been anywhere outside the US? In India and Vietnam Italian food is basically ethnic food. the whole article is so fucking stupid I expect her next critique will be about how non-indus doing Yoga are racists.
@12 "Asian friends" are impressed with your chopstick usage?

You know India is "Asia" right? So is Thailand. And they don't use chop sticks in either place. RACIST!

God, I hope you can see how identity politics leaking into something as mundane as eating food is so fucking absurd.
"Many cities, such as New York, assign sanitation grades based on restaurant inspection data. A quick perusal doesn’t show any significant differences between Chinese, Mexican, and American restaurants."

Looks like a lot of in-depth analysis went into that article....
Ah, the left.
I disagree with the author's claim that "reverse racism" doesn't exist. Or, more accurately, I disagree with the reasons why she doesn't that. I also believe it doesn't exist, but for the opposite reason - I think that racism is racism regardless of who it is against or held by. The "prejudice plus power" definition is misguided at best and dangerous at worst, despite its increasing acceptance. I think the most common definition of racism, one that still makes sense is "prejudice on the basis of race". And that still makes more sense to me. I think people of color can be racist against whites, because racism is a personal characteristic. To argue the contrary denies personal responsibility, and that argument could be furthered to imply that members of the KKK aren't racist either - it's just "the system" that is racist. To me, that doesn't make sense. I personally don't think that my opinion goes against the idea that white people are privileged (which I believe), and I am a huge believer that context and history are absolutely crucial to any conversation about race. I definitely would not equate the ill feelings and prejudice of a black person (especially one old enough to live in the pre civil rights era) towards white people with the prejudice of someone in the KKK. They are categorically different. But I think saying that black people can't be racist against whites denies their ability to overcome the difficulties they have faced and rise to a higher plane. Something that so many amazing civil rights activists were able to do - I would say moreso those who took MLK's nonviolent approach than Malcom X's more militant approach, though even Malcolm X's views softened in his later years. Of course, we can't hold everyone to MLK's standards of greatness - that would be unfair - but when we say "black people can't be racist towards white people by definition", I think most people hear it is "black people can't be prejudiced towards white people", and so it gives them a free pass to be as prejudiced as they want. I am all for giving people who have been historically oppressed and abused much broader leigh weigh in how they feel about the group that oppressed them. But I think that telling black people that they can't be racist seems paternalistic, kind of like telling a child that they can't be evil because they just don't have the capacity at their age. I think a better message is MLK's message of trying to move our society to a place where people can be judged on the basis of their character, not the color of their skin. MLK didn't limit this just to one race.

I would love to hear some feedback on my views, as I am open to the possibility of being wrong. If that is the case, I would like to correct myself. To be transparent, I am a white guy, so I definitely have all the privilege that comes with that. I can't change that, but I try to be aware of it and sensitive to the experiences of others who don't have that privilege. I also try to fight against it as best I can, though I'm sure I could do more. In particular, I would appreciate how people of color feel about what I said, if possible. Again, I don't see my position as antithetical to the position that systemic racism is a huge problem that needs to be addressed, a position I also hold. Others might feel differently, though. Thoughts?
"Ethnic" food just means something other than the food of your own country. As such, it's a meaningless term.
sarah91 - except that European food is often not considered ethnic (pizza, for example), and even food that was created here (burritos, chop suey for example) is considered ethnic. It seems more like "food created by people of color" is what many Americans consider ethnic, which doesn't sit quite right to me.
Reverse racism exists. Anyone can use your race against you, no matter what color you are. Anyone can be treated poorly, simply because of their color. This is racism....we just call it reverse racism when it happens to white people. I was the only white person in my graduating class from a technical school as well as the only white worker in my division at two jobs after school and at times I was treated horribly. For no reason other than my color. I'm glad now that I had those experiences as I am now able to call upon them to try to better understand what minorities go through (not just here but around the world). Racism exists and so does reverse racism. I hate it no matter who it is happening to.
Dealing in absolutes is a huge problem:

"In America, where white people have systematically and violently subjugated and oppressed people of color for hundreds of years in order to maintain their dominance, it is impossible for a person of color to be racist toward them."

Maybe you should talk to the white spouse of a minority how being introduced to minority friends and family goes. Or maybe you should ask the non-white partner of a minority living in a largely homgenious ethnic-minority neighborhood if it is impossible for people of color to be racist toward them.

Your point is valid, reverse racism is largely a made-up thing. But it is no where near impossible.
prices are driven by rent and décor rather than the cuisine or racism.

look at sichuanese cuisine on 12 & Jackson. the place is a fucking dump. I'm not paying $20 an entrée to look at a broken refrigerator under fluorescent lights.

literally around the corner is tamarind tree. they fetch a premium for Vietnamese food because it is a pleasant room to be in, despite the rats that scurry about that massive rockery outside.

is the food better than sichuanese cuisine? not significantly.
I totally agree with Naomi. Leaving a fork for white diners is pretty racist. Seriously, what kind of shitstorm would ensue if the Olive Garden started dropping off pairs of chopsticks for asian diners?
@10, why do you care? You're not Thai, you're not in Thailand. The Thai food you're eating is not "really" Thai food at all; it's an idealized representation of certain kinds of food ideas found in parts of Thailand, modified for Western palates and ingredients. The whole construct of any "ethnic" food is a touristic, thrice-removed, Disneyland experience -- and is none the worse for that, as long as the food is good. Who cares what you eat it with? If you eat McDonald's french fries with chopsticks, are you "doing it wrong"? If you eat sushi with chopsticks (very inauthentic, that), are you a Philistine? Why?

Eating Japanese or Thai or Mexican or Italian food is both a flavor and cultural experience, but it is not an authentic one. It has been interpreted for you. It is impossible for it not to have been interpreted for you. The notion that eating out is an opportunity to display your knowledge of the exotic life practices of alien cultures ("they use/don't use chopsticks") is a harkening back to colonialism and the American obsession with oneupsmanship and appropriation (which latter is one of our best features). When you correct your dining partners's practices, you are not being "more Thai"; you are being "more American".

Was this article written in 1972? Seriously, who calls it 'ethnic' food anymore? When I order a burrito, a slice of pizza, or phad thai I don't think 'ethnic' for any of those. I don't know anyone under the age of 60 who would either. Plus, Japanese restaurants and Brazilian steakhouses are often really expensive places to eat, but McDonalds is really cheap, so what exactly does that prove?

Additionally, there is a lot of stuff everyone does in the realm of the white-people-don't-get-chopsticks thing and it's, at most, mildly inconsiderate, so deal. What I hate is that the author thinks that when a white person is clueless and inconsiderate it's racism, but for everyone else it's a hardly worth mentioning faux pas. Race is a terrible predictor of personal good and evil.
Racist? huh. Wait, don't stereotypes save time?!

@25, I agree with your assessment and your comparing Tamarind Tree to Sichuanese Cuisine is spot on. TT is pretty and nice and fancier whereas SC is a dump. A delicious, affordable dump that rarely disappoints.
@22, not all burritos were not created here. There are a number of burro or burrito styles originating in Mexico: Juarez, Zacatecas, Sonora, etc. The "Mission Burrito", containing a mountain of dry, flavorless rice in addition to the good stuff, is an American creation, but far from the only American burrito.
"Racism is prejudice plus power"? Excuse me, Ms. Garbes, I didn't realize you were cribbing from the dumbest thing ever said by Kat Blaque. Racial prejudice IS racism; racist thought doesn't need to have societal and/or legal institutions backing it up to be exactly that. Prejudice plus power is INSTITUTIONALIZED DISCRIMINATION. This is not a difficult concept, and yet some number of racial justice activists seem to feel compelled to make up new meanings for words for no better reason than to smugly tell white people that they're using the language incorrectly. I'm all for changing language when there's a good reason for it (such as avoiding use of the word "denigrate"), but the best explanation for this new definition is that white people wrote the dictionary and therefore their words are racially charged or something, with no real argument advanced as to why these particular words need to be altered. The people doing the explaining, by the way, tend to use their ethnicity as a weapon, insisting that because I'm not black I can't possibly know the meaning of the word "racism". (The persecution and suffering of my own people apparently doesn't count, because we're a DIFFERENT racial minority.)

By staking out racism as something exclusive to white people, you align yourself with the actual racists talking about the invented menace of "reverse discrimination".

More troubling still, it's dangerously close to sanctioning racism of POC against white people. The aforementioned Ms. Blaque claimed that anti-white prejudice is not only understandable (as a survival mechanism in a society where blacks are often treated as second-class citizens) but indeed admirable. From this I gathered that on some level, Ms. Blaque is too bought into black victimhood (not to minimize the very real suffering and oppression inflicted on African-Americans) to really work towards changing things. What is the end goal of racial justice? To change society and eliminate societally ingrained prejudices and discrimination. But if you're giving a thumbs up to anti-white racism on the grounds that "well, we need to protect ourselves against a racist society" (paraphrasing), what you're saying is that you have no hope of society ever changing, that you do not expect society to ever get any less racist than it is today. Such an outlook is ignorant of history, of the great strides that have been made towards equality. I daresay Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would turn in his grave at the notion of his successors despairing in society's capacity to improve.
I believe that society can and will change; I believe in tikkun olam, literally "repairing the world". And I say that when it does, black activists need to be ready for a better world, to no longer assume that every pale face has a racist mind behind it. Otherwise racial strife will be unnaturally prolonged by the very ones seeking to end it.

And to come back to the topic at hand: if you don't believe that setting certain utensils in front of someone based on an assumption from their skin color can be hurtful and exclusionary, I urge you to read the story of Ms. Ariana Miyamoto.
In my experience people who spent their time worrying about every petty alleged slight--a fork? "ethnic" food?--are generally miserable people who conclude the world is out to get them.
I've found that people who claim that racism applies to only whites and their feelings about POC haven't experienced much of the rest of the world. The Japanese, for instance, if you're not Japanese and of all-Japanese descent you can be born there, grow up there speaking the language as a native, and die there, but you will never ever ever be Nihonji. Ask anyone who has Korean blood. I'm not claiming they're the only culture with deep-rooted racism either, just using them as a single example.

Closer to home, if you moved into a new city and people routinely glared at you, hassled you on the street, overcharged you in the stores, and turned their backs to ignore you when you spoke, because of the color of your skin, would you feel like you were in the mid-20th-century South?

Or would you just be a few (white) art students trying to convert a warehouse loft space in 80s West Oakland? We weren't gentrifiers, we were way too poor for that. We ended up leaving penniless 4 months later after 2 roomies bailed and no others would move in. Spent the next 1 1/2 years living in an SRO hotel. So I got a pretty fair taste of the receiving end of racism.
Oh white people... you really think being treated bad equates to racism. Seattle, one of the top 3 whitest cities of the nation...

From people trying to whine about that bogus reverse racism (and inadverdantly admitting that most racism is perpetrated by white people), to people who want to quote a whitewashed MLK (obviously who had to cherrypick his history to make them feel better).

I'll end this with a laughable example of fragility and pure silliness:

"Or would you just be a few (white) art students trying to convert a warehouse loft space in 80s West Oakland? We weren't gentrifiers, we were way too poor for that. We ended up leaving penniless 4 months later after 2 roomies bailed and no others would move in. Spent the next 1 1/2 years living in an SRO hotel. So I got a pretty fair taste of the receiving end of racism. "

To note: This sad soul still haven't had a fair taste of racism. not even close.

And Stranger: keep posting these kind of articles... you'll find out how unbelievably racist Seattleites are...
You hipster foodies sure are racist.

Look, you're eating feast food, not everyday food, but you're so clueless you want to tell us "how" to eat it.

And how much it should cost.
I didn't say it compared to a lifetime of it, I said it was a taste of it. Our other roomies left because they were robbed & beaten, but I only spoke for what I personally experienced.

I'm not going to argue that I'm this or not that or whether my racism is intentional or not, because that wasn't what my post was about, and it wouldn't matter what I said anyway. My main intent was to demonstrate that there's racism in many other cultures and it's not just white vs. POC.

Are people really doing this disproportionately to Asian and Mexican places, though? I see complaints about overpriced food all the time. My co-workers and I make these complaints about the stupidly overpriced burger places in our neighborhood. Look at comments about Cheese Wizzards ( the grilled cheese truck) or most of the sandwich shops that have popped up in the last few years. I think it has more to do with the particular food item being sold based on what people are used to paying. There is so much good, cheap Pho in Seattle, I think it's a stretch to assume racism accounts for this complaint.

The author of the original piece mentioned an Italian place (which she conveniently neglected to name) that serves pasta with sage and butter. People are most likely just not ordering that dish. And I've known many people who have commented that they won't pay $12 for a plate of spaghetti.
Or $4 artisanal toast!
@27 Yeah! Fnarf! How do you know I'm not Thai? And are you really stating that there is no "authentic" Thai or Indian or Ethiopian food in the US because... it's in the US? Or do you think food served in restaurants isn't authentic? What about Thai food at a Thai restaurant in Thailand? You miss the point, and miss my sarcasm as well. But it is funny to see people eat Thai food with chopsticks -- because the underlying assumption is -- and has to be -- it's Asian, it's rice or noodles, so "They" must eat with chopsticks and so will I. Southeast Asians (and South Asians, and many Chinese and Vietnamese) long ago discovered that it's a hell of a lot easier to eat most kinds of rice with a spoon. That's why it's funny. They are making it harder for themselves.

This, however, is funny:
"The notion that eating out is an opportunity to display your knowledge of the exotic life practices of alien cultures ("they use/don't use chopsticks") is a harkening back to colonialism and the American obsession with oneupsmanship and appropriation (which latter is one of our best features). When you correct your dining partners's practices, you are not being "more Thai"; you are being "more American"."

Talk about some crazy/lazy assumptions! Laughing at farang isn't the same as correcting my dining partners's (sic) practices. You keep eating, we'll keep laughing, and nothing really has to change or be considered important. Win/win.
@27 I should add: I'm having a bit of a chuckle imagining you eating at a Bangladeshi restaurant and using chopsticks thinking to yourself "I'm showing them..." but I'm just not sure what you're showing "them".
why would it be racist to make a joke about a korean restaurant serving dog? or cats? it could be offensive, or not funny. but why racist? dog is a delicacy and eaten in korea and china. ive heard its delicious, and would try it if i had the opportunity. just like whale or puffin in iceland, or bull testicles in texas, or snails in france, or haggis in scotland. there are very funny jokes inherent in all of those dishes. humorless is not a quality i desire in a dinner partner.
@31: For some reason, it is important to some people that no nonwhite person ever be technically racist according to their own personal made up dictionary.

Not sure what this changes, but everyone has the right to make up their own nonsense, I guess.

Oh, and the fact that your minority experience does not "count," is because to these people, the only reality and the only thing that matters is someone's skin color.
@41 Dog's really not that good, but it does kind of warm you up from the inside out.
People of color like me, not myself. Why are you afraid of "me"?
Americans have turned into the biggest load of pussies. I've been gone 11 years now and when I read this kind of ever-more-prevalent horse shit my skin wants to crawl off my body. A restaurant racist? Really, that's a thing now? Oh, Seattle.
@42: Dog is not really a 'delicacy' here in Korea. It's almost exclusively eaten by rough older men who somehow believe it will give them 'stamina' and make their dicks hard. Most younger Koreans shudder at the practice. And if any of you folks want to see racism first hand and experience daily 'microaggressions,' come to Korea. As a white guy I generally benefit from it, despite the fact I am complemented on my chopstick skills at least twice a week.
@46, yes, i used the word 'delicacy' a bit too loosely...was using it more in the context of 'rarity' or 'curiosity'. i'm glad to hear that the practice is fading away. i do admit i am a bit of a hypocrite by favoring the eating of certain animals over others. there's nothing more cute and sweet and cuddly than a lamb or calf, and i've eaten my share of those. so why should dogs be so taboo?
This, coming from the same person that called out Eric Donnelly for playing rap music at a Sunday hip hop brunch. For chrissakes - how did you ever become a food writer and expert on racism at the same time? GMAFB.
The navel
so deep
the gaze cannot escape
The idea that white people cannot be victims of racism is just plain stupid. The error in the argument is inherent in the author's definition of racism. Power is not monolithic. There are many kinds of power. Power is multifaceted and exercised in contexts as diverse as the power of an individual to treat another with disregard to the power of a the elite to oppress the Other. And everyone has some power to some degree or another - even the racist waiter.

White people can in fact be subjected to racism - even by other white people. The difference is one of degree. For instance, racist policing is far more important and destructive than being given the wrong kind of utensil at a restaurant - which points out the real problem with protestations of reverse racism. They don't matter nearly as much, nor should they. That doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Trying to pretend that it doesn't distracted from the important arguments that must be won for justice to prevail.
But seriously, who calls it "ethnic" food? And who here is ok paying $18 for a plate of noodles with butter and sage?
If a server sits all the people of one color together on one side of the restaurant under the assumption that people will be more comfortable if they are empowered by not having to deal with the cultural uncertainty of heterogeneity, is the server being considerate, or is he being a clueless dick? Does it matter what color the server is in this example? Racism is racism, no matter what the color of the culprit. I don't know if power has anything to do with the definition, but if it does, then the well meaning fork giving server in the Asian restaurant has the power to provide a good or a poor experience for the diner, so is at least capable of racism from the power perspective. It's a very minor slight, and people with all the cultural confidence in the world will simply laugh at it, but it is a presumption based on the color of one's skin, and therefore racist.
@26 I was about to make a point about eating Italian food with chopsticks because when it comes to pasta/noodles this honky wants to use them. But no, I don't use any term that uses "ethnic". . .

Just that you should try it. Give it a go. A college try. I tried to get my family to go out for Ethiopian last week. Um, no go. And that definitely wasn't the first time people have said no way to Ethiopian Cuisine. But thinking back on it through the years, Teriyaki was something my parents wouldn't let me get at the FOOD COURT when I was a lad.
@31: there is nothing racist about the word 'denigrate', unless you want to ban the word 'blacklist' too in the process. Nothing to do with skin color!
Everyone involved with this article, the linked article, and this comment section should end it. Let's just walk into traffic because we've reached critical mass.

And $18 is too much for pho.
Am I wrong, or does it seem that every article that even comes close to discussing white racism results in a comment section that is 75% defensive white people comments. So, apparently, there IS such a thing as reverse racism, racism happens in different countries, and it is basically mockable to even bring up topics of race. These are the salient points to be gleaned from this article? Huh.

For me, this article actually brought some thoughts to the forefront that had been lurking in the background, but I had never really actively considered. Like I'm very familiar with discussions of certain "ethnic" restaurants and their supposed "authenticity." These white claims of authenticity are usually buttressed by referencing the race of the people cooking and serving the food, and also the number of people from the target ethnic group who actually eat there. These discussions have always given me a mild feeling of heebies, but I hadn't really pinpointed what that was about.

So, kudos to the author. Opposite of kudos to most of the comment section.
@30 I did not know that about burritos, thanks for the info. I still think people consider mission burritos ethnic. But good info nonetheless. And sweet tan, by the way. Very Boehner-esque