In a Thursday opinion piece at New York Times, that self-described guardian of “Real Journalism,” Bonnie Tsui devoted over 1,200 words to the racist term “Asian salad.” What, you didn’t know that the term is racist? Ms. Tsui, whose piece will appear in print in the paper’s “Sunday Review” section this weekend, is here to set you straight.
The writer got graphic help for her enterprise from Tracy Ma, who presented a collage of ingredients one apparently typically sees in an “Asian salad,” accompanied on the left by six Chinese characters, as seen below (reproduced for fair use and discussion purposes):
An astute commenter at the Times story observed that those Chinese characters translate to “racial prejudice salad.”
Leaving no room for uncertainty and as a pubic service to readers, yours truly verified that the term translated in Google Translate looks virtually identical in Simplified Chinese to the term presented in the Times’s graphic:
I further consulted an expert in these matters who told me that the characters in Google Translate are identical to those seen in the Times except that they are presented in a different font.
So yes, Tracy Ma and the Times really went to the trouble of showing readers what the term “racial prejudice salad” looks like in Simplified Chinese.
The commenter who reported the translation further observed: “That makes even less sense than the stuff Ms. Tsui wrote in English!”
I’d say it’s a close call.
Why Is Asian Salad Still on the Menu?
One Friday night at a bar in San Francisco, I took a look at the menu and found myself face to face once again with the curious modern-day ubiquity of the Asian salad. The “Asian Emperor Salad,” with its “31 ingredients representing the tastes, textures and flavors of Asia,” stirred something other than hunger in me.
I tried to identify exactly what that was. I made a halfhearted joke to my husband about just which Asian emperor this salad was honoring. I thought about its grand imprecision, which irritated me as a Chinese-American. And I wondered, who cooked up this thing?
… the Asian salad is often the one that comes with a winky, jokey name: Oriental Chop Chop. Mr. Mao’s. Secret Asian Man. Asian Emperor. China Island. Chicken Asian Chop Chop. Chinese-y Chicken.
In the weird cultural geography of the casual-restaurant menu, half-century-old jokes about Asians and long-discarded terminology jostle up against chicken tenders and nacho plates.
The persistence of these names — let’s at least call them “questionable” — on the American restaurant menu underscores how non-Asian-Americans have been making up their own version of Asianness for a long time now. While the Greek salad has some integrity — by this I mean that in Greece you will actually find a salad that looks like this — and the Caesar is a creation attributed to the 1920s-era restaurateur Caesar Cardini, the Asian salad stands apart as a strange kind of fiction.
… So what’s my problem with Asian salad? It’s not the salad itself, though it’s not my favorite. It’s the words — which, I think, matter. In many ways, the broad, generic terminology used to refer to an entire continent is the heart of it.
… Am I taking this too seriously? The casual racism of the Asian salad stems from the idea of the exotic — who is and isn’t American is caught up wholesale in its creation. This use of “Oriental” and “Asian” is rooted in the wide-ranging, “all look same” stereotypes of Asian culture that most people don’t really perceive as being racist. It creates a kind of blind spot.
… the language of the Asian salad is revealing of the dangers of bland, disembodied generalization: When you fail to see countries and cultures as discrete entities, what kind of consideration could you be expected to give to individual people?
Thanks to Bonnie Tsui, we know that must be on the lookout for the next restaurant which promotes its “Mediterranean cuisine” so we can criticize its owners for failing to name the countries which produced its various “Mediterranean” items — because if we don’t, that must mean that we can’t give appropriate “consideration” to individual Greeks, Italians, and those living in other countries in the region. (Yes, that’s sarcasm.)
Tsui’s column is so bad that the overwhelming majority of commenters at the arch-liberal Times are letting the author have it, while very few have even tried to defend or excuse her. Here are a few of those critical comments out of so many very good ones:
“If this rises to the level that it actually bothers a real human being, that human being should get on their knees and thank God every day that the problems in their lives are so meaningless.”
“This is the silliest thing I’ve read in the Times so far this year, and that’s saying a lot. What could have been an interesting and amusing article about culinary and cultural history is wrecked by the writers’ urge to go all ‘social justice warrior’ on us.”
“Thank-you. I have long suspected that something wrong with salads, and now I know it’s the racism. Please do a follow-up on Asian pears and the like.”
“‘The casual racism of the Asian salad …’ Honest to God, is there nothing the identity politicians of the New York Times won’t whine about?”
“Funny how it is OK to rail against the phrase ‘Asian salad’ as being overbroad and disrespectful but in the same piece multiple references to a ‘Jewish deli’ seems OK.” (That reference was in unexcerpted verbiage. — Ed.)
“As an American living in China, I have to tell you that I encounter ‘Western’ restaurants and ‘Western’ food here all the time, so it works both ways.”
“So much for the Paper of Record. It’s become the Paper of the Ridiculous.”
Several commenters also observed that “This insanity is how you get more (Donald) Trump.”
Well, maybe. But there’s little doubt that insanities such as Tsui’s do severe and discrediting damage to the cause of liberalism and the political correctness which forms its foundation.
Thus, my suggestion to the Times would be: “Please give us more of this nonsense.”
Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.