Monday, April 05, 2010

weird people eating part 2

so a few months back, i posted a link to james mcbride's blog, a seattle pi blogger , where he recounted his visit to the local Lao store. then i went on to make a quick review of his review. (click on the links to catch yourself up.) well, he received some negative comments about his article - some people who stumbled across my blog went on to comment on his article - to which the white blogger offered his defense, which i copy and paste here, without his permission. (but since i know people that look like extras in a john woo film, i think i'm okay.)

I appreciate your comments, unregistered user. I'll respond.

It's hard to make observations about another culture without seeming racist. Many believe we shouldn't generalize, but can a culture exist if there were not common characteristics to define that culture? It seems like some people want to tell us which generalizations are the right ones. Even if you say one society is "very family-oriented," you're making an assumption that may not be true of every member. Someone might be offended.

You say, "Your blog [is] the definition of why people hate Americans." You're implying there is some negative characteristic present in Americans that has surfaced in my blog. Isn't this also a generalization?

In a civil society, I understand that we must be tactful in order to get along. I try to respect people. I also try to entertain. Occasionally, I fail in both respects.
I can understand your objection to my John Woo comparison. On the surface, it seems ignorant. However, look at the context of my blog. Look at all the different foods I've tried. I've lived in Southeast Asia. I've been to China. Obviously, I know all Asians aren't Chinese. But honestly, the guy reminded me of a stock character in a John Woo movie. That's what popped into my head. If I were a better writer, maybe I would have come up with something more original.

Keep in mind that every character in a John Woo may not be of the same ethnicity. They could be Han, Uighur, Mongolian, Montagnard, Tibetan... and even within an ethnic group, they won't all look the same. Maybe the guy in the store shared enough features with someone in a Chinese movie to remind me of that, I don't remember. But I think it was mostly his clothes and hairstyle.

As far as how I judged the store, it is true I went in with all my preconceptions about how a store should be set up. I grew up in the United States. It's hard to shake those notions. But guess what? I shop in the "immigrant stores" regularly. I go to the International District almost every week, and not just to Uwajimaya. Read more of my blog, you'll see. I give those businesses my money, and not just for my blog.

I'm white, and I know a lot of white people. None of them spend as much time in the ID as I do. But I'm human. I'm going to see things through the lens of my "whiteness." I grew up in a rural white state. I have my own cultural walls to fight through. Anyone who says their background doesn't affect how they view the world hasn't spent much time around cultures besides their own. They're naive. Culture forms our identities and our beliefs. The trick is to understand this is all window-dressing and see past it. But it's not always easy.

ok... that's his comment. and while reading it, i was already penning my rebuttal in my head - i would start with comparing his claims of "i shop at immigrant stores!" and "i've been to china!" and listing off all the ethnic minorities living in china, and his "i give them my money, read my blog!" to what we used to say back home in louisiana growing up: "i'm not racist, three of my best friends are black." and at that point we may even list off their names... (i could always list dwight guillory, because he even wrote in my 8th grade yearbook that we were best friends. btw, where are you dwight?)

but alas, i didn't need to pen in a thing. i scrolled down a bit and found that maly had already done just that, and way better than i ever could. maly, where is your blog? with writing like that, you should be blogging for the pi, or somebody - or let me guess, you're on the staff of a famous monthly magazine.? i can't even begin to tell you how much i enjoyment i got out of your response!

but anyway, i'll post maly's response here, without permission, but i don't think maly would mind.

Posted by unregistered user at 3/30/2010 3:49 a.m.

"But guess what? I shop in the "immigrant stores" regularly. I go to the International District almost every week, and not just to Uwajimaya. "

I'm sorry but I had to have a big, fat ROTFLMAO at this. Why don't you just bust out the old 'I'm not racist; I have an Asian friend!' defense already? I grant you, actually having experience living in Asia is a credit to you but, come on, it isn't some sort of a 'get out of racism free' card. You are incredibly unaware of the latent overtones of privilege and entitlement that lace your piece. (Can I bust out my "I have white friends so I don't hate white people" badge before I continue my post? No, I won't because I do have white friends and I love them like I love all my friends but I KNOW I have a problem with and prejudice about white privilege. I'm not going to pretend I'm not prejudiced.)

Jason, the other commenter suggested you read up on cultural competency because of, at least through your writing, what seems like an unawareness your sense of white privilege and entitlement. The narrative strain of this whole piece reads like a leitmotif of 'White Dude Saunters into a Community of Color for an Evening of Cultural Tourism and Mocking. Fun! Hurrah!'. You squeal at the ooky food and then exert indignation at your privilege being challenged ("I was little put off when he told me not to take pictures. Legally, I could have." Ooh, you couldn't take pictures . .how dare he oppress you like that! Why don't you just respect his request? You're on his turf. It is a simple request.

Do you really not see why people are incensed by the tone of this piece? There are lines that are completely condescending and reek of superficial and flippant judgment. You spent two paragraphs defending your John Woo comment. I found that comment banal and direly unfunny (I appreciated the "Laap Dance" pun MUCH more) but I was much more offended by the glib stereotypes of these lines instead:

"with all the metal bars you would expect from the type of business that might attract after-hours robberies."

"A Lao at the counter, whose gelled head of hair and unbuttoned polo shirt made him look like he should have been selling his merchandise out of the back of a trunk"

oh my! this place is just laced with danger and vaguely criminal seeming underpinnings! Way to further grind in the underlying stereotypes that plague a low income, underprivileged community. Is there anything else you'd like to do to help contribute to the class oppression? Did you forget to mention the litter outside the store or the roving homeless nearby?

You say, "It's hard to make observations about another culture without seeming racist."

NO, IT ISN'T. Just own up to your own personal experiences and biases and don't project your sociocultural judgments on other communities. And this doesn't come naturally to anybody so we all have to work on it and not just blast our crap on other people just because we think there'll always be at least one person who'll be offended so why even try? That's how lazy people avoid being anti-racist (or anti-sexist or anti-homophobic or just anti-a%*hole) and, morally, that's not sound.

I read your long rebuttal to the other commenter and tried to give you the benefit of the doubt so I read your other blog entries. I enjoyed them much more because you keep the condescending, ethnocentric comments and sociocultural judgments more to a minimum and focus more on actual observations on the food. Stick to that style, please. And as much as I and other commenters have ripped you to shreds for this piece, it seems that you, ironically, are the harshest critic of yourself: "this is the kind of prose that keeps me from getting the good writing jobs"

Wow, BURN! Look, honestly, I hope you keep working on your writing (like I said, I enjoyed your other forays into food blogging) and on your cultural competency. Here is a decent place to start:

Please check them out. Thanks.

-Maly, who is too lazy to register as a user

p.s. I had a second big LOL at the gentle reader who entreated you to "have positive non racist sounding experience in the future".


Anonymous said...

i am surprised that he is out there eating all this asian food, but he doesn't know how to be sensitive to other cultures.


Dude, you really do LOVE that food, I can tell. I need a burger, stat!