Racism in our food?

This article was published in Slate about a slew of friend chicken restaurants using Obama’s name to advertise:

“President Obama has found himself embroiled in one fried-chicken row after another. First there was the “Obama Fried Chicken” incident of 2009, in which a Bangladeshi immigrant who claimed to be naïve to the racist stereotype of African-Americans’ consumption of fried chicken decided to rebrand his poultry restaurant in homage to our nation’s commander in chief. He couldn’t have asked for a more effective advertising campaign, once the media caught wind of this fowl scandal. Even the Rev. Al Sharpton got involved in the street protests outside the Brooklyn eatery, pressuring for a return to the restaurant’s original name, Royal Fried Chicken. The owner refused to budge, and Obama Fried Chicken is still serving (apparently mediocre) hot wings and biscuits in Remsen Village today.”

In addition, KFC’s Chinese subsidiary aired a commercial in Hong Kong with an Obama look-alike “campaigning that ‘change is good’ for the KFC menu,” and last month, a Chinese student opened “’OFC’ (short for ‘Obama Fried Chicken’).”

This article got me thinking (tangentially) about the Asian American community for two reasons:

  1. All the offending businesses were run by Asians who claimed to be ignorant of the black-people-fried-chicken-taboo.  I don’t expect everyone who comes from another country to be familiar with the convoluted situation that is race in the United States, but it did make me realize how entrenched the Asian American community is in this country’s racial politics.  Yes, the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Movement may have happened before many (but not all) of our families arrived in the US, but that doesn’t make us separate from it—even if we didn’t mean to come off as a foreigner, ignorant (or feigning ignorance) of the ways of the US, who inadvertently offended one of the country’s most long-injured minority groups, it happens.  We’re better off accepting our place in the web of race relations.
  2. The article cited experiments that linked what we think people eat and the social judgments we make about them, and I couldn’t help but think about all the food events the Asian American community at Yale.  The article speculates, “A bucket of fried chicken may suggest nasty racial stereotypes by virtue of its unwholesome image…as much as by its particular history as a plantation staple.”  It makes me wonder what people outside the Asian American community perceive us since we seem to be representing ourselves largely by foods because while these foods may be an extremely important to us and our respective cultures, they might just seem exotic to people who show up at our events, eat, and leave.

2 thoughts on “Racism in our food?

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