The other night, at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, host Hasan Minhaj finished his remarks by saying, “Only in America can a first-generation Indian-American Muslim kid get on this stage and make fun of the president. It’s a sign to the rest of the world, it’s this amazing tradition, that even the president is not beyond the reach of the First Amendment.”
For the first time since Reagan was in the hospital recovering from being shot, the president wasn’t there. Trump was in Harrisburg, PA, because he’s a pathetic coward and dangerously thin-skinned narcissist who can’t take a joke. And because, unlike Minhaj, he doesn’t respect the First Amendment at all, as it apparently allows people to disagree with him publicly. He spent the evening leading chants of “Lock Her Up”, asserting that all news (except FoxNews) is fake, that coal mining jobs are coming back, that the first hundred days of his presidency were much better than anyone else’s, and so on.
But today’s blog isn’t about Trump. It’s about Asian Salad, or should I say “Asian” salad. There was an opinion piece in the Rapidly Failing New York Times (the “rapidly” is new, just added in Harrisburg!) a few days ago by author Bonnie Tsui, complaining about the casual racism of the word “Asian” in this context.
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.
Most of the RFNYT readers who commented on the piece thought that, yes, she was taking this too seriously, though some agreed vehemently that these sorts of “micro-aggressions” must not be tolerated. Quite a few noted that it was just this sort of over-sensitivity and identity politics that invites the backlash that ultimately leads to Trump getting elected.
I don’t have a strong opinion about this controversy, except to celebrate that at least it is someone with “Asian” roots complaining here, unlike, say, the concern trolls who want Chief Wahoo banished from baseball. The minute Native Americans complain about him, as they well might, Wahoo has to go. But they haven’t yet, at least as far as I’m aware.
But what struck me most from the “Asian Salad” article was this sentence:
“To a white audience, it reads as diverse. To actual Asian-Americans, it reads as ridiculous.”
I started thinking, is there a corollary to “Asian Americans” anywhere in Asia, or anywhere else? In other words, is there a sizeable population of second-generation “North American-Koreans” living in Seoul, say, who are offended by some local fast food joint selling American Bar-B-Q or whatever? I don’t think so.
Yes, there are pockets of American ex-pats and conscientious objectors who have established a beach-head elsewhere, but in general they attempt to assimilate and become like everyone around them. If they move to France, they aspire to become French, not to sit around Les Deux Magots complaining that they’re insulted by the American Hamburger on the menu. More likely, they’d join in the criticism of America from their new home. And if, against all odds, Le Figaro published some complaint along these lines, does anyone imagine Parisians chastising themselves for their own insensitivity?
Our country is really the only one in the world founded on the idea of accepting everyone from everywhere else, and turning them into “Americans” (again apologies to indigenous peoples here). Or letting them retain their own culture and respecting that, if they want, though you’ll be hearing from my cousin, Screwie Generis, on the subject of multiculturalism soon enough.
It’s galling to hear other people elsewhere in the world (I’m looking at you, Germany), criticizing us for racism, cultural insensitivity, and intolerance. Do we have a lot of work to do and a lot of room for improvement before every last citizen is treated as they’d like? Yes, of course.
But only in America has this goal been enshrined in the founding documents. That’s why so many people want to come here (or to escape here, if you prefer), and so few want to leave.
And if a new arrival or one of their descendants wants to point out that the rest of us are a bunch a racists for putting Asian Salad on the menu, the New York Times is ready to give them a platform to fire away. The rest of us will give it serious consideration.