Wednesday, February 24, 2010

seek authenticity

A reader who signed her email "K" writes,

I've been following your blog for a while, and I really appreciate your efforts to interrogate and deconstruct racism, racial identity and racial reflexes. Although a lot of the discussions in the comments are kind of over my head, I do diligently try to think about them in order to help me articulate racial incidents in my own everyday life. Just a bit of background -- I'm a mixed-race Asian who has lived in both America and the UK for the last nine years, and majored in English and related literatures as well as writing during university.

I have a white friend who I'm very fond of, and who is very interested in Arabic culture, as an evangelical Christian. As a Muslim myself, we're used to having clashes of opinion -- sometimes not pretty ones -- and so we are also used to working through these disagreements, agreeing to disagree, and doing so in a respectful manner (hopefully), although obviously the initial clash is always jarring and rife with emotion. She recently moved to Egypt, and this has brought to the forefront -- although I have always been aware of it -- the issue of authenticity, which always triggers a somewhat annoyed reaction in me. I was wondering if I was being too sensitive, or if I have other motivations for being annoyed, or if it genuinely is a reaction which others share.

While in America, I remember a time when she went to a Chinese restaurant and told me about it (she's always been interested in international cultures and cuisines), and mentioned, "It was so good, because it was 'authentic.'"

As someone who is half-Chinese (or of Chinese descent, if the "half" is too politically charged), I asked her, "What makes you think it was authentic?"

My own previous experience with Chinese food in America had led me to deduce, that, much like all franchises attempting to make international cuisines more appealing, said cuisine had been tweaked in order to suit local palates. Which didn't mean they were any less delicious, only that they were not necessarily traditionally Chinese.

She said, "Well, the waiters were all Asian, you know."

I attempted to interrogate this a little bit -- just because the waiters were all Asian, I argued, didn't mean that they were all Chinese, for one, or all from the same part of China, or had any more knowledge of Chinese cuisine than say a white chef who had trained in China under Chinese chefs. But she remained adamant that it was more authentic because "of course they would know more about it."

I left it at that, simply because I wasn't sure myself what I was trying to get at by that point. I suppose perhaps I was annoyed that she was passing judgement on authenticity when she simply didn't have the resources to determine that it WAS authentic?  (Not that I did, either.)

So she likes to travel, and something that has always been important to her is fitting in to the local culture (I remember her being fully pleased that someone had remarked that her Russian accent held no American), and part of what encompasses that for her is not seeing any other tourists. It occurs to me that this is something that has come up on, but it wasn't fully unpacked, I believe. Recently she went to Jordan, and remarked that she wanted to see something off the beaten track, and that the guide delivered -- they went to see Bedouins, etc., and "only saw one other tourist the entire time."

This drove me crazy! And I'm not sure why!

Am I justified? Is it that she's treating the experience and "authenticity" as a commodity? Is it a sense of infiltration,  of "ah, I have been accepted?"

Or am I being entirely ridiculous and simply seeing a smug obnoxiousness -- which, while irritating -- has no racial or imperial underpinnings (and which says more about my selfishness and pettiness than it does anything else)?


  1. You're not being ridiculous. To me, it seems like she's a white person who wants what I've seen some commenters here call "Special snowflake status."

    She's NOT like those other white folks! She's special because she's after the REAL POC animal - er, I mean, "experience."

    I've seen white people like her - white people who think they know more about my own culture than I do. The only thing is, their standards, like your friend's standards, are crappy.

    "Because it has more Asian people and they would know?" (Paraphasing) What if they were adopted Asian waiters? Or Asian waiters who don't eat Asian foods at home?

    She's reinforcing the idea that if we look a certain way, we'll act a certain way. Cause you know, ALL Asians know about other Asian people's food and culture. Even if they're from 2 different countries.

  2. I think what's irritating is that the way she does this has an element of "spectacle" to it. In other words, it's as if she wants to see the "real" (enter foreign city here) with all of those foreigners in their "natural" habitat. (Cue National Geographic).

    The Chinese restaurant thing... That's annoying. Her whole reasoning is faulty and ridiculous and it's a shame she doesn't see it.

  3. they went to see Bedouins, etc., and "only saw one other tourist the entire time."

    Something about this bothered me too. It is very gorilla's in the mist, viewing the wild animals in their "natural" habitat to me. Yet she doesn't seem self aware enough to acknowledge that her very presence makes the situation "inauthentic". Any time an outside element is introduced it changes things and the fact that her tourist guide knew exactly where to take her is also a hint. Clearly the guide has had this request before.

  4. I am a Native American, I can totally see what your getting at. White people try to "authenticate" on me all the time. I just tell them crazy stuff like "the spirit winds of their mothers people are on a vision quest".

    I do feel better eating at an Asian restaurant if I see Asians eating there. I live in NM USA so not to many Asians here.

  5. I would say yes, she is being racist, and no, you're not being ridiculous.

    She's position non-white people, regardless of location, as objects for her consumption. That she wasn't the 'art-house' flick instead of the multiplex popcorn movie doesn't make her actions any less objectifying.

    Her claim to 'authentic' is a good example of this, namely the lives, experiences, presentations, culture of the people don't matter to her in the sense of their actual lives, rather they exist to her in what they can give her ... the "real Chinese experience" or the "real Middle-Eastern" experience. They're not existing as individuals and people in their own right.

    Moreover, it's dehumanising as well as objectifying, as the idea that there is one "authentic" Chinese life, or one "authentic" Middle-Eastern, makes invisible all the multitude of diversities within those areas. The everyday experiences of the majority of the population in such places aren't "real" to her, and she gets to determine, not them, what is such. And this is leaving aside the colonialisation aspect, whereby many of these divisions (such as 'asia'), have been imposed by western eyes and notions, doing nothing for the particulars of those that actually live there.

    You can be someone for whom being a tourist becomes less about you, and more about the people whose lives you are sharing, for however short a time. But you do so by doing it on THEIR terms, and realising that their experiences aren't something you have automatic right to, their lives aren't something you should be able to see. You wait, and if you're lucky, you get invited into their world ... if not, tough, and you will have to be happy with that which they are prepared to share with you, if anything.

    Tourism is always, to an extent, objectifying and a tad othering ... but there are huge ways you can work to minimise such, and this woman isn't doing such.

  6. Your story about the restaurant reminded me of something that happened to my family a while back.

    One day we all went out to an Indian restaurant (we're Indian ourselves) that came highly recommended to us. When we walked inside, my parents noted with some confusion that all of the waiters were east Asian. When it was time to order our food, my dad asked with concern: "Are the cooks Indian?" because he was worried the food wouldn't be authentic.

    In response, our waiter laughed and said: "We are all Indian!" Turned out that everyone at the restaurant was of east Asian ancestry but were second and third generation Indian. They even went back home every 6 months to see their families, when we hadn't visited India in 6 years. We had some great conversations with them and they had actually seen more of the motherland than my parents even had.

  7. You're not being ridiculous. It sounds a whole lot like this:
    SWPD: Go on ghetto tours

    And it calls to mind this issue that came up in my Advanced Exposition class. We had to look at this Family of Man 2 exhibit online. As I was looking, I noticed that all of the children of color came from under-developed countries - all the white kids were American or European. The children of color's photos were in this "natural habitat" crap setting which 98% of the time depicted them as sad, malnourished, or involved in child labor. The white children were ALL in idyllic play settings. If we're to take that site at face value, we'd think children of color in under-developed nations never have a moment of happiness in their lives. I think I saw 2 photos of them just playing like kids.

    We also had to look at a Year in Pictures series. All of the photos regarding the American economy had WP in them. If there was even a hint of PoC they were faceless members of a crowd of WP. But when I flipped to an album called "The World" there was not one WP to be found.

    This is a big clue about the way many WP view things. Whites are "authentic" Americans. We have already established that on this blog. But the rest of the world is, apparently, brown and impoverished. So if WP see other WP in another country that isn't western-European, they don't think they're having an authentic experience in that country.
    Because they couldn't Christopher Columbus their vacation.

    With your friend moving to Egypt, it also reminds me of SWPD: Wish they were ethnic. Now she's Egyptian by association!

  8. Oh my, that is very annoying indeed. I think though that there is a slight hint of; "she's trying to be like me", I am sure you've argued several times about who knows more about your culture, and she may say a few things you never knew, but pronouncing them wrong could just drive you crazy.

    It's a completely natural thing, and I cannot tell the exact reason why it is pissing you off, however, I would be the same in this situation.

    Your friend seems quite content to be ignorant, the reasons she gives sound so delusional "well because they're all asian you know". This makes it seem like ethnic people are one-dimensional. A less worldly person with her mindset might believe that all Chinese people eat with chopsticks and know Kong-Fu, obviously it is all ridiculous. What about the Chinese mothers who don't know how to cook - are their make-shift meals "authentic".

    I don't think anyone can judge authenticity when it comes to food, there are so many ways of doing things, to try and label it is to try and flatten the experience.

    I couldn't care less if the chef in a restaurant was a completel different race, as long as the food is good, who am I boasting to after all??

    Me:"I went to that Indian restaurant yesterday it was fantastic, the food was beautiful."
    B:"Which one, "Name here"?"
    Me:"Yes, that one."
    B:"You know that the Chef is Canadian right?"
    Me:"No I didn't."
    B:"That means the food probably isn't what real Indian food tastes like, I'm sure he/she would have substituted some ingredients."
    (Knowing that there is a potential for this, I would still reply):
    Me:"Oh, well the food was great anyway, I'm definitely going there again."
    (And not a second thought!!)

  9. this is probably going to sound silly to most of you, but some white people (myself included) are actually envious of the cultures of POC. we kind of feel like we don't have a culture that binds us, or we do, but it's not something we can be proud of or celebrate because it's like rubbing our privilege in everyones face, like we want our cake and eat it too. but as group identity is something that all humans desperately need we have this drive to experience what it's like to feel that. most of us sense this is totally lame of us for some reason so we disguise our culture borrowing with the whole seeking authenticity thing. or we join some lame white subculture like goth too feel like we're part of something REAL MAN.

    also, like sonic said we don't want to be like those other white people who go to panda express and think their eating real chinese food, because isn't learning to appreciate and respect other cultures something we're supposed to do? usually we try to show POC how much we know about their culture not to prove we know more than them but to earn acceptance hoping your going to say "ok by proving your extensive knowledge of my culture you are now an honorary member". it's like the merit badge we earned in boy/girl scouts for learning to fish like the native americans did. it's basically condescending/putting you on a pedestal at the same time.

  10. She is treating foreign lands and peoples like a zoo, objects designed for her entertainment and so she can pat herself on the back and feel sooo post-racial.

    If she lived in Texas, she'd notice that all the waiters may be Asian, but the cooks will be Mexican and the food still delicious.

    Every cook in almost every ethnic restaurant in Houston is Mexican/Latin American. And many of these places are pretty 'authentic,' in that they use the same recipes used in the country of origin, etc.

    Also, as far as Chinese food goes, there is different cuisine from different parts of China. That is why there are also different dialects of Chinese, which are not mutually intelligible.

    Lastly, Asian people who work in Asian establishments will not always be from said establishment's country of origin. You may have Chinese waiters working in a Viet restaurant, or a Korean grill, etc.

  11. Man, some of y'all have REALLY annoying friends. I suggest it's time to cut them off for the sake of your sanity :P

    But yeah, that's fucking annoying. And you're not overreacting at all -- "seeking an 'authentic' cultural experience, if that culture is not their own" should be an entry in Stuff White People Like.

  12. X: Your friend is shallow. That's all there is to it. She acted like she knew something about Chinese cuisine, you called her on it, and she tried to justify the pretense of expertise she hasn't earned by muttering something about the waiters being asian. What's the big mystery?

  13. jas0nburns,

    I agree -- that common white envy for POC "culture" is silly, as well as pathetic and delusional. Restructure! has a good post on that. A lot of the comments there are worthwhile too, such as these by Lxy:

    While White people may whine nostalgically for some kind of “ethnic heritage,” they apparently haven’t figured out that they do have a heritage that defines them above all else: Western neo-colonialism and the subjugation of indiginous and colored peoples.

    After all, the reality is that nations like the USA, Canada, and Australia are one thing and one thing alone: White colonizer nations. Past and present.

    This is the fundamental social, cultural, and political basis of these self-styled Anglo liberal democracies –- when their pretense and propaganda are stripped away. . . . European Americans in general in comprise a colonizer class in the USA. Past and present.

    The very idea of Whiteness is a coalition identity to get ethnic Europeans of all stripes –- including subsequent latecomers Irish and Italians –- to identify with this White racist system.

  14. jas0nburns,

    I get what you're saying and have commented on that a few times before. But at the end of the day, essentializing is still essentializing. One of my greatest pet peeves when I was young was when people asked me about Chinese culture. The hell if I know! I went to school in America! That is one of the great annoyances felt by Asian Americans- thinking they are somehow fundamentally different when most of them are probably as American as the next person. Add some slight variation if their parents are immigrants. Occasionally, you might get one of those hardcore "born again Asians" who are all about being Asian. In reality, they're probably as in the dark about the culture as you are.

    On a slightly off-topic note, besides grouping all Asians together as one monolithic group, I'm beginning to realize that even "Chinese" is not really an identity that everybody is comfortable with. Taiwanese, for example, do not think of themselves as "Chinese" in the "from Mainland China" sense. Even when people ask me where I'm from (or rather what they mean to say is what my ethnicity is), I never say China. I say Hong Kong- one country, two systems, and all that other crap.

  15. Just like oyu all are saying, I don't get why the white chick feels she is special. Like she has a free pass and she got in. Then she makes the ignorant comments as if she had some type of "ah-ha" moment that made her special. Like some of you are saying she makes it sound like she's a National Geographic reporter, who found a tribe and is the first outsider to be let in. Problem is she isn't.


  16. saying your ethnic heritage defines you above all else is an evil idea. you support that macon?

  17. i used to have a web page about sushi and would occasionally get e-mail about it. here was one such mail that made me laugh and cry:

    My wife is Japanese (from Japan not some American born here...) and we make the best sushi that we eat at home with store bought slabs of ahi, etc.


    it sounds snobby but I'm pretty much Tskigi in Japan or homemade...

    note, the correct spelling is "Tsukiji". also note, "store-bought slabs" are not necessarily higher quality than restaurant-slabs. but i guess some people really need their fish cut by a not-born-here japanese woman...?

  18. saying your ethnic heritage defines you above all else is an evil idea. you support that macon?

    What's "evil" about it?

    Anyway, I don't think you're reading Lxy's comment the way I am; I read it as a (correct) statement that what defines white people above all else as "white" people is "Western neo-colonialism and the subjugation of indiginous and colored peoples." That has been, after all, the whole point of making supposedly superior racial whiteness such a big deal in the first place.

    I do think THAT'S "evil," and I also think it's evil for today's white people to pretend it's not true, and that it has nothing to do with them.

  19. I'm part Chinese and grew up with Chinese food (as well as other food), but was very surprised when I went to Shanghai and couldn't find my favorite dishes, chasiu rice or Hainanese chicken rice. That's when I realized there's a reason why it's called 'Hainanese' because it's from the Hainan island. And for the first time in my life I realized that what I was used to was Southeast Asian Chinese food & Cantonese food. Shanghai had all sorts of Chinese food I had never seen. Then I went to Shangdong province further north and their food was different from Shanghai, and I saw quite a few women who looked almost exactly like Gong Li, who is from that province. Point is, China is a huge country and what I thought was 'Chinese' food was foreign to many of the Chinese in China, but it was good just the same. (And the people look different too.)

    It occurs to me that this is something that has come up on, but it wasn't fully unpacked, I believe.

    I've been unpacking white backpackers in my mind for years now coz their type of whiteness annoy me like no other type does. Your friend's comment would've driven me up the wall too because it's basically hypocritical ('oh, i'm so international and openminded' when she's exoticizing people).

    @Jade - awesome story. It reminds me of a time when I didn't know India was multiracial too, and I saw a bunch of Korean looking women who were all dressed in saris. I was fully confused as can be.

  20. @jas0nburns: "sonic said we don't want to be like those other white people who go to panda express and think their eating real chinese food, because isn't learning to appreciate and respect other cultures something we're supposed to do?"

    That's NOT what I was saying. I was saying she just wants to be seen as a "cool white person" who is "different" (when she's just perpetuating racism in a different way). And to her "authentic" means seeing an Asian waiter???

    A white English chef can make Viet food just as "authentic" as a Viet chef. What if the English chef trained in Vietnam or grew up there?

    Her friend just assumes there's something "magical" about Asian waiters (who don't even COOK the food!) that will affect the food, infuse it with their "authentic AZN sweat" or something.

    THAT'S what's ridiculous.

  21. Btw, isn't this post very much related to what macon said here?

    Despite the higher regard I had for myself as a “traveler” rather than a “tourist,” it could well be that Indonesians in general were more welcoming of the restrained, contained package tourist than the Lonely Planet white guy like me, who felt entitled to enter their private spaces, and to turn their private lives into mere, exotic curiosities.

  22. so your essentially saying we should "own it"? i get why that is fair and right, "Western neo-colonialism and the subjugation of indiginous and colored peoples." IS what defines whiteness.

    but it twists and nullifies the purpose of cultural heritage which is to connect and bind individuals within a community. you can't hate your cultural heritage and identify with it at the same time.

  23. This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. That's NOT what I was saying. I was saying she just wants to be seen as a "cool white person" who is "different" (when she's just perpetuating racism in a different way). And to her "authentic" means seeing an Asian waiter???

    oh i thought you meant she thinks she's cool cause she's getting the real thing not some watered down version for white people. still confused but didn't mean to miss quote you.

  25. @k
    It's so dangerous when we start talking about authenticity as POCs also. I've encountered occasions where intra-POC identity politics derail any fruitful discussion within our respective groups. Example would be another Chinese person telling me I'm not "really" Chinese, or another one is requiring me to be a certain one to prove my Chineseness. It's messy indeed...

    "we kind of feel like we don't have a culture that binds us, or we do, but it's not something we can be proud of or celebrate because it's like rubbing our privilege in everyones face, like we want our cake and eat it too"

    Just because one accepts a culture/group, does not necessarily mean that they feel that it's all roses and sugar. Furthermore, that feeling that you don't have your own culture is so misleading. If nothing, that is the "super-glue" that holds the concept of whiteness together, the fact that you have a shared lack of culture (which is preposterous)...

  26. Ugh, her argument for authenticity. "Asian" is an umbrella term, not a specific one! And it doesn't even mean much. Almost all the sushi restaurants in Toronto have Korean waitresses, and I see plenty of servers at the local Chinese buffet that look a lot more like other types of Asian (Vietnamese and Korean, primarily) than Chinese. It doesn't make the food any less good, and honestly, I don't even consider the authenticity. If it's good, I don't care if it's not authentic. If it isn't, I don't care if it's authentic, I'm still not going to eat it again.

    As others have said, your friend is displaying a very white attitude: that she is at the center of her solipsistic universe, and everyone else exists as a way to give her the experiences she seeks. Unless an experience fits a standard that *she* determines as to its authenticity (see above re: "center of universe", and see also the common white tendency to make themselves the experts on everything), then that experience isn't worthwhile to her.

    @Victoria, who said If we're to take that site at face value, we'd think children of color in under-developed nations never have a moment of happiness in their lives. I think I saw 2 photos of them just playing like kids.:

    Like many white people in North America, I grew up with the concept that the lives of children of color in third world nations were always miserable and hungry, spending every moment searching for food (until they died of something preventable, which you could avoid by sending just $12 - less than a coffee a day! - to an organization that would do something about it).

    Then I saw a skit on Sesame Street ( ) where a bunch of kids in South Africa were making cars out of discarded wire. My husband and I watched in fascination. It was a revelation - kids are kids all over the world. They'll find ways to have fun and make toys, even if all they have is discarded wire.

    But it's appalling that it took me until adulthood to realize that the cultural perception that CoC's lives in impoverished nations are nothing but misery, is ridiculous.

    Although I understand why it continues to be perpetuated. A whole lot of people make a lot of money off that perception. And we get to feel good and feed our White Savior complexes by throwing money their way, and thinking that we're the one bright shining thing in their miserable little lives.

    Maybe this should be an SWPD post. ;) SWPD: think of CoC in impoverished nations as starving and miserable.

  27. @jas0nburns

    If you're looking for a cultural community, odds are you can find one that actually belongs to you. Sure, historically our ancestors have made a global nuisance of themselves, and generally behaved despicably, but that doesn't confer a right to try and get adopted by some culture with a less unpleasant past. You can acknoqledge your own culture without condoning colonialism and racism.

  28. Am I crazy, or wasn't there a chapter that dealt with this sort of phenomenon in Said's "Orientalism"? (I really need to unpack my books from their boxes so I can find it.)

    This is exotification, plain and simple. It's subtle, and passes itself off (in the mind of the white person who's seeking that sort of "authentic" experience) as some sort of reverence or respect...

    but it's the type of "reverence" and "respect" one has for--and at least a few other commenters have said this--an animal in a zoo. Or perhaps the NatGeo analogy is more apt: a rather voyeuristic approach to people that is more about the tourist experience than about the people themselves.

    She's likely not aware of most of the underlying problems with her attitude, but one of the things at the heart of her search for an "authentic" experience is a belief in her own neutrality--that her whiteness is somehow a nonfactor in her cross-cultural interactions. That she's somehow able to "get" (or consume) something authentic, because she's just an invisible observer.

    And there's a lot of danger in that.

  29. Question, though. If you were looking for a vacation, and you wanted to get out of your comfort zone and go out of the country, what would be the best thing to do? Do you look for the off-the-beaten-path things in an attempt to make your vacation unique from others', or do you take the road more traveled and take the elevator up the Eiffel Tower (if you know what I mean)?

    That's what my motive has always been for doing that sort of thing; is it still Othering?

  30. @jas0nburns re: "but it twists and nullifies the purpose of cultural heritage which is to connect and bind individuals within a community. you can't hate your cultural heritage and identify with it at the same time."

    I do believe jas0nburns has been thinking about this, and really apologized for misquoting. I'm heartened to read this. Yes, it's a difficult cultural heritage to deal with, but it's what we got. So one thing we can explore as white people is how it feels to face up to that colonialist, white suprmacist heritage and not deny it.

    We have the opportunity to help shape what white culture becomes for those who will follow us. What I think it shouldn't claim is a false standard of neutrality, as if it has no actual cultural identity when in fact it does.

  31. I find the mention of traveling and being a tourist as "othering" interesting and pretty spot on. As much as I'd like to go to new places, traveling has always left me with a kind of emptiness. I saw some sights, talked to some people, ate some food, but I never feel like I walked away really knowing more about the people's lives or their history or anything. I wonder if this is something that being a 1.5 generation Chinese American immigrant has created. An understanding of how deeply you can be attached to a place and how it can become a part of your identity, and how being a tourist no matter how off the beaten road you go just doesn't compare. I think there is this perception that you're more worldly, more cultured, and more intelligent if you're well traveled. It seems as though if you've been to a place, and you had the "authentic" experience, you now have permission to speak intelligently about it.

    It seems to me that this whole white people envying other people's culture thing is a symptom of the privilege of being seen as an individual. Because white people are more often seen as individuals than minorities, they feel as though there isn't a unifying thing which characterizes them as a group.

    I find this more than a little ridiculous. If nothing else, there is definitely an American culture with the way we celebrate our weddings, our holidays, etc and if the image of average American which pops into people's minds is a blond haired blue eyed white person, why would they not embrace this as their culture? Just because a Chinese American like me also happens to celebrate Christmas and Fourth of July and adopt American traditions doesn't make it any less of an American culture. Just because white people decided to celebrate Lunar New Year doesn't make the holiday any less a part of my culture.

  32. I'm wrestling with some of the points made in this post, particularly about "authentic" restaurants. Because I'm very guilty of that search for authenticity as well when it comes to my food.

    Now I know that in theory, anyone of any background can cook food of a particular background, if they've had the training and experience of it. Hell, I'm no slouch in the kitchen and can cook some pretty good food myself, from places I've never been.

    But I won't eat Asian food in any restaurant unless it's made by an Asian. I've had too many bad experience with "Asian" food prepared by white chefs that tasted "inauthentic" that, rightly or wrongly, I have given up on them.

    However, when it comes to Western food, I scarcely give a thought to who made it. If a bunch of Indian people cooked me pasta in an Italian restaurant, I would not have the same scepticism as I would if some Italians make me Indian food.

    Now, I don't know what this says about me. Partly it's due to the particular aspects of Eastern and Western cuisines, and how knowledge of Western culinary styles has become far more commonplace than the Eastern.

    I haven't been to the US, but the idea of Chinese food cooked by Mexicans is a mind-blowing one for me, and I find it hard to imagine it really being that good.

    So yes, it's a prejudice, but one that is based in experience. I have a cultural heritage based in a part of the world (SE Asia) that is obsessed with food and its authenticity, so I'm struggling to admit that this quest for it is a bad thing.

  33. I'm white, and it's still one of my pet peeves when people do this.

  34. @bloglogger

    In this case, would identifying with my actual heritage be considered "shuttling ambivalently between whiteness and ethnicity" (since I am not actually descended from any colonialists)?

    My people's heritage is one of wandering. Does that mean I have a press pass to go wherever I am accepted? Discuss.

  35. @Eurasian Sensation - I dig what you mean. But for me it's not so much 'authenticity' or 'who made it' as to 'who's eating it' and whether or not it's good. If I go to a Chinese restaurant and 99% of the clients are white, and they have the decor to go with it, I hesitate. And there are so many Japanese restaurants here with 100% Japanese chefs and waitresses, but the food still sucks. It's 'authentic' but it doesn't taste any good.

    So I think the issue is the thought process that some people go through: 'cooked by a member of said ethnic group or race' = 'authentic' = 'must be good' = 'if I eat there I am "international" and "open minded". (The last bit is the most problematic part.) Whereas what it really should be is: 'I like the food the way they do it back in [insert country]' = 'I enjoy the food'. Period.

    Otherwise you end up looking silly. For example, last week a couple of (white) Aussies from another city were complaining about the Thai food in my city. They said it's not 'authentic' the way it is in their city. You could tell that they put a lot of emphasis on 'authentic' and a sense of pride in how they could tell the difference. They also said, "But the Japanese food here is really good and authentic." I couldn't be bothered to say anything, but they sounded awfully silly to me because my family has repeatedly complained about how the Japanese food here isn't that great. Plus, we know of a Thai restaurant with great food, regardless of their 'authenticity' (though they have the appearance of authenticity as they seem to be staffed 100% by Thais). I wouldn't have thought of them as silly if all they said was that the Thai food in their city was good, but they liked the Japanese food in my city instead of linking it to 'authenticity' and their knowledge of said authenticity.

  36. Does that mean I have a press pass to go wherever I am accepted? Discuss.

    Ben, I don't remember signing up for a tutorial/seminar with you. Why don't you start the discussion? If you have an opinion, share it, and if we feel so inclined, we'll respond.

  37. @Ben
    What is your ethnic/cultural/racial heritage?

    While I appreciate your appreciation for foods that you just like, I also wonder about what happens when the/a majority population enjoys something that is not what the people of targeted food culture enjoy usually? I just think that discussions of authenticity are fraught with problems (essentialization), but at the same time, is there a threshold of when something is authentic?

  38. I had a bad date a few years ago where the guy (white, English) wanted to go to a Japanese restaurant for dinner because I was Japanese (I'm ethnically Japanese, but British-born with white British adoptive parents.) He insisted on going round about four different restaurants because he wasn't convinced the staff were Japanese enough. He lectured me on why he didn't think third or fourth-generation Chinese and Korean people in Japan should be allowed to consider themselves Japanese - I don't think this guy had even ever been to Japan! And he got upset when I admitted that no, I don't know where every Japanese restaurant in London is and I don't know the ethnic background of all the staff. Some other things went wrong during the date that made me think he had real problems, and I put his insensitivity down to that. But I didn't know it was such a common thing :/

    I've also known quite a few white Brits who go on long trips abroad to India or North Africa because they want to have "spiritual experiences" and "get away from the pressure of western life" and stuff like that. Then they come back and complain that everywhere was too full of tourists and basically too much like being back at home. This is a bit of a stereotype now because it's pretty common among the middle classes, especially people having a mid-life crisis or kids taking a "gap year" before they go to uni. But it's a stereotype based on truth.

  39. I think of this as "authenticity tourism", and it's that not immediately obvious (to whitep people) racism that WP think isn't racism (as in "what? I'm respecting other cultures!"). It seems to be very much a middle-class phenomenon, adding in a strong classist element to the racism.

    The OP's friend seems to see the world as a performance put on for them, and she's trying like hell to get the backstage pass so she can claim special(snowflake) status and differentiate herself from the herd.

    In this mindset, the world is a commodity for them to sample, but they only deign to consume the most "authentic" (as they define it, which usually ends up being the most essentialist reduction of other cultures), because they're so much better than the general masses. The souvenirs they bring back are more "authentic", the food they eat is more "authentic", their experience is more "authentic", blah, blah, blah, racistcakes.

    I feel intense embarrassment when I'm on holiday and I'm taken somewhere "authentic" as if it's a show put on for me. To consume the culture of other countries without respecting the intrusive nature of authenticity tourism is only possible if a person thinks that they have a right to observe them. It's a result of the legacy of colonialism by WP, and it's not hip, special or enlightened, it's racist and condescending.

    *The US white reaction in the '80s to groups of Japanese tourists taking photos of everyday things and actions of US life had a strong flavour of resentment. Oh, the irony. [/sarcasm]

  40. Ironically, I have heard that General Tso's Chicken has become popular in China because diners there consider it authentically American.

  41. @ben re: Colonialists

    Colonialism goes on today, so descending from American colonialists (do you mean from the original 13 colonies?) or any other isn't required to be part of a group with a heritage of colonialism.

  42. @Big_t: LOL. Somehow, the New Age word salad always seems to go down better than an actual explanation.
    @lurkielurker: Similar story: I work with some ELL students from Japan. When we first met they were disappointed because I didn't eat "authentic" American food-- McDonald's french fries. One of them questioned my credibility as an American, which given my Native American heritage, had more than one layer of unintentional irony.
    @Julie: Ugh. I hope that was your last date with that fellow. One of the major things I find upsetting is the feeling that people are interacting with me for "diversity cred".
    @cl: I think you analyzed the issue very well.

    What bothers me is sort of the flip-side of authenticity-seeking by white people: they get seriously peeved when you don't "perform" your culture in the way expected (I'm Native American-- "Island Carib"-- and Scottish Celtic, btw). I have actually had people get upset that I'm wearing jeans and a t-shirt, or eating peanut butter sandwiches (apparently when I was supposed to be "exposing" them to my "diverse" heritage).
    Also, I have encountered quite a few people who want to play dress-up-- ie, face paint or tartan, respectively. From what I've gathered (after I'd finished cussing), there is this somewhat-subconscious idea that there is a "normal"-- ie, white-- American culture which everyone is part of, though "ethnic" people get to be special for a while and put on some funny clothes or eat some weird food before going back to "normal". Which means that any random white person could come play dress-up too... Usually I try to be patient and explain why not, but this tends not to go over well, and I end up losing my temper... *sigh* I think I would actually mind less if the requests weren't accompanied by such well-intentioned, puppy-eyed enthusiasm.

  43. Macon and company

    It's not just white folks on the authenticity bandwagon.

    Check out this article from the Times about somethign very similar in China.

    The physical characteristics may be different, but the attitudes and actions are the same.

  44. I think you could create some interesting and possibly educational cognitive dissonance by comparing the "authentic Chinese" trope with the current American conservative "Real American" trope.

    They're both mythologized caricatures of cultures; the hollowness and ridiculousness of the latter is probably much more visible to your average liberal American.

  45. @Drowned Lotuses: I also wonder about what happens when the/a majority population enjoys something that is not what the people of targeted food culture enjoy usually?

    I'm not quite understanding what you're asking. Do you mean, "Say there's X Dish in Thai cuisine, and Thai people don't really like X Dish all that much, so what happens when the majority whiteys pick up on it and think it's awesome?"

    Or are you talking more about, say, the jerk food phenomenon, where the white people think of jerk as being the be-all end-all of Jamaican cuisine, even though it's not a significant part of the Jamaican diet?

    Or are you talking about the Westernization of food, where traditional food is changed to appeal to the more bland palate of the average white Westerner?

    Or something else entirely that I've completely missed? :)

  46. @fromthetropics: Er, sorry. I would seriously disagree that I have that sort of right, so I think that heritage itself might not be the most important thing to go by.

    @Drowned Lotuses: Jewish. I know that Israel is "the Jewish homeland", but I'm trying to disregard that for now due to certain embarrassing controversies... if you know what I mean.

    @bloglogger: Does that mean that the only way I can free myself from the guilt of causing such pain in the past (read: the entire colonial period, be it North America or Africa or India) is to actively fight colonialism today? If that is what you're saying, it makes sense, but I just need to clarify.

  47. @ben: Step one: admit that you benefit from the past bad behavior of various people (ex, you are a white landowner in the US, you won't be followed by store clerks who think you're up to no good, you have "cultural/social capital"). Obviously, you can't make this go away, and I'm not asking you to give your property (back) to a Native American or something. But you can do
    Step Two: ID your problematic habits (see blog), and work to fix them. Tell your kids the real story about the "Pilgrims and Indians", or about how black people ended up in the Americas as slaves, instead of the usual sanitized tripe they'll be taught in school.
    Step Three: Be a good ally and advocate. I've had people say, "but I'm not [whatever group]". But that is the point. You calling out racism is (very unfortunately) taken more seriously by other white people than someone like myself.

  48. Possible Additions to Step Two:
    Emphasize the cultural achievements of various African, Indian, and Amerindian achievements before white people stepped in. Explain points of "Guns, Germs, and Steel", by Jared Diamond. Take care to represent victims of colonialism as actual people rather than presenting them as pitiful, helpless victims of white piggishness. Emphasize that black people are black only because they have more melatonin, etc.

  49. @Ben - n? I didn't mention heritage. Someone else did. I was referring to the way you said, "Discuss", as though we're in some sort of university tutorial with you as the teacher.

    @Big Man (re: China's ethnic minorities) - Uhm, yeah. It's a pretty big (shitty & embarrassing) problem and there are quite a few ppl writing and criticizing that. Although it's nowhere near as sophisticated a desire for 'authenticity' and to be seen as 'open-minded' as k's friend.

    Btw, I was under the impression that many of the things on this blog aren't necessarily an exclusively 'white thing', but a 'dominant culture' thing though whiteness has a more far-reaching influence due to historical reasons, and macon's focus happens to be on 'whiteness', and hence the title, "stuff white people do".

  50. Re: that

    In case you haven't read this, read it:

  51. @Robin
    I mean both the Thai example and the Westernization of food example (they're kind of linked, no?)...

    You were quite rude to Fromthetropics. And while there is no doubt that Jewish people continue to face oppression, there is also no doubt in my mind that they also benefit from racial advantage as phenotypically white. The idea is not to compare oppressions, but to work towards anti-oppression against all groups, otherwise, it's just "I'm worse off than you" blah blah blah.

    Also, emphasizing that black people are only so because of melatonin erases the fact of their oppression. It sounds like you've basically said that "Jewish people just have to be approached as if they only believe in their own religion and they're no different any other way, so we should treat them like we treat others of our own (non-Jewish) group". Which is basically the premise on which colorblind racism occurs. Explain yourself.

  52. "Macon and company

    It's not just white folks on the authenticity bandwagon.

    Check out this article from the Times about somethign very similar in China."

    Yes, POC do this, too. SWPD is an Amero-centric blog. Still, pointing out 'seeking authenticy' as a white thing is totally valid even though POC do it, too. Often on SWPD, it occurs to me that things that I read here are things that people do in other countries if these people are in the "White position" which means the privileged position. I don't live in the US, so that is probably why I notice this. In every country, including countries of people of color, there people are in the parallel position to whites in the US. However, that doesn't negate that these are stuff that "white people do." To me it actually emphasizes the privilege factor that white people have in the Western context (specifically discussed within a North American context here on this blog) and how privilege functions to oppress. We should be less blind to it for this reason. As in, privilege isn't tied to being pheno-typically white in countries without white people, but the privilege and oppression still work in those places, so privilege is very real, white people in the US shouldn't be so blind to white privilege. Also, I would point out to anyone who mentions the privileged things that POC in the privileged position in their countries do to their own nations' minorities, white people with important passports (i.e. not former Soviet) are still globally in the highest position of privilege and are still sytematically 'above' POC on a global scheme. White American people are internationally above Han Chinese and we have the power to objectify them as individuals and our white supremacist gov't has the power to exploit and oppress them economically and otherwise, even as Han oppress people who are below them (in Africa or in the case of Muslims in China, Tibetans, other minorities, Taiwanese colonization history, etc,) whites STILL come out on top. Whites still come out on top no matter which country you think of. So yes, POC in privileged positions do go to faux villages, seek 'authentic' foods, consume 'authentic' trinkets, clothes, and artwork of "ethnic or tribal" people in their home countries or countries they visit as tourists in as just a shallow way as whites. It does not negate the fact that it is bad and it is a sign of privilege and a form of exploitation when whites do it.

  53. @ben:

    I've had this issue as a white Jewish woman interested in anti-racist activism and in exploring my culture and traditions. Judaism as an identity is complex because while society in general and the Jewish community tend to assume that most everyone is Ashkenazi (descended from Eastern European Jews), that is not the case and Jews of Color exist. Further, not everyone who identifies as ethnically and culturally Jewish is religiously devout. I do think valuing one's cultural heritage and one's ties to one's ancestors and family is useful. I will someday talk with my children about the activities, foods, and so forth that I learned from my grandparents and that stem from cultures in Europe - and I don't see that as more inherently problematic than, say, the Puerto Rican Day Parade or Saint Patrick's Day. At the same time, I would never dream of claiming that the cultural traditions I identify as mine and as an important part of my life and the lives of my relatives are in any way superior or inferior to anybody else's cultural heritage.

    This does not mean that the benefits of whiteness that my ancestors experienced and that I experience don't matter, of course. Acknowledging my privilege and trying to combat the less just aspects of my whiteness is kind of why I read this blog and others like it, and why I attempt to support anti-racism in my day-to-day life.

  54. Thanks for that luckyfatima.

    @Macon - I enjoy Big Man's writings, and agree fully with what he's pointed out about China and am glad he did because lately I've been worrying that as pocs we might develop this notion that we're somehow immune to privilege. But the seeming double standard in enforcing commenting policy bothers me. Does his comment not fall under comment policy #9?

    Don't bother pointing out that "other people do that too."

    If not, how is it different from the white commenters who try to point out privilege in other places? If it is, then why did his comment go through and the others didn't? When and why is it appropriate to point out privilege in other places on this blog?

  55. I get the reasons why it's bad for a white person to go on this big quest for "authenticity", be it on vacation or based on the color of the people making the fod at a restaurant.

    But then I'm also not sure I'm comfortable with the notion that "If it tastes good to me what does it matter if it's authentic or not". I don't think I'd feel comfortable with some stereotyped and modified version of my culture being served up on a plate in an American restaurant, when it's not like the real thing.

  56. fromthetropics, I published Big Man's comment because I think it IS different from many others by white commenters who try to point out privilege in other places. I have a commenting policy item on what amounts to "The Arab Trader Argument" in order to dissuade commenters from making that sort of diversionary, derailing argument.

    In other words, I read Big Man's link to that article like this: "Well whattaya know, here's an interesting example of the same thing happening on the other side of the world! I thought folks here might find it interesting," instead of: "You people shouldn't be talking about this stuff because other people do it too! etc., ad nauseam."

  57. @Eurasian Sensation: "So yes, it's a prejudice, but one that is based in experience."

    How does that make your prejudice any different from any other prejudice? Prejudice is *usually* based in experience, experience that someone is incorrectly extending to include everyone of a certain background.

  58. As far as food goes. What if I want to try a dish from another country that hasn't been " Americanized" ? this in itself is pretty innocent. I wouldn't focus on the ethnicty of the staff because that really makes no difference. It does matter if the restaurant is popular or not among people
    who are from where the food is supposed to be from. because it seems like people would miss home cooking and seek out restaurants that serve food that reminds them
    of home.

  59. I don't think I'd feel comfortable with some stereotyped and modified version of my culture being served up on a plate in an American restaurant, when it's not like the real thing.

    What about California rolls? Does that count as a "stereotyped and modified version" of someone's culture that's not like the real thing since it doesn't exist in Japan?

    @macon - Thanks for the clarification. So I guess it depends on the 'tone' adopted by the writer? And I get that Big Man's comment isn't the kind that creates a knee jerk reaction in others, but it's kinda hard to be sure on an online blog like this. As you can see, it invited two comments, one of which was pretty substantial, that tried to explain why we're talking about swpd and not about China from myself and luckyfatima. And now it looks like I'm derailing this thread by asking questions about commenting policy because I'm still a little confused on where you draw the line. (You can publish half of this in the other thread if you think it's too derailing.)

  60. Nah, I don't think you're derailing, fromthetropics, especially since this comment thread's "train" has pretty much already stopped chugging along on its rails.

    If what you're saying is basically that while an "Arab Trader"-ish comment may not derail a discussion on its own, it could provoke further discussion of the non-whiteness-related topic that does end up functioning as derailment -- if you're saying that (and please do correct me if you're not saying that), then I take your point, and I will try to be more careful in the future about publishing such initial, seemingly harmless comments as Big Man's above.

  61. Ah, I see. But, nah, that's not what I'm saying. (I was just wondering if there's a sort of double standard that's being practiced in enforcing the commenting policy. And I'm voicing it here because it's not the first time I've wondered about this.)

  62. I was just wondering if there's a sort of double standard that's being practiced in enforcing the commenting policy.

    I suppose there is, but then, in efforts to expose and counter a white-supremacist social order, I don't think that double standards are always and everywhere wrong (not that I'm necessarily reading you as saying that they are).

  63. @Drowned Lotus: You're absolutely right, now that I think about it, and by no means did I mean to be rude. I was actually referring to something entirely different in that post, and I was only saying it for "the general public" here on this blog.
    "Guns, Germs, and Steel" is a fascinating read that addresses in part how the current racial situation actually came to be.
    Incidentally, I am somewhat against trying to state that Jews are still oppressed. After all, we do benefit from white advantage -- if that wasn't the case, I wouldn't be reading this blog. I apologize if I managed to convey the wrong idea in my post, and I also apologize to fromthetropics for my rudeness.

  64. Since it's been commented on a couple times, I realized I should probably clarify my original statement. :) When I say it doesn't matter to me whether it's authentic or not, it only matters if I like it, what I mean is that:
    1) I'm not going to pretend to like something as long as it's authentic, as a way to get "race cred" or something. I'm not going to make a show of refusing a dish (I believe in trying everything once) or make a big deal after eating it about the fact that it wasn't to my tastes personally, but I'm not going to order it again voluntarily to try to impress the people around me. Authenticity alone is not enough to get me to eat something repeatedly, if it isn't to my tastes.

    2. If I do like it, it doesn't matter to me whether it's [ethnicity] food made by a [same ethnicity] chef from his/her family's ancestral recipes, or [ethnicity] food made by a [different ethnicity] chef working from a cookbook. If it's good to my tastes, it's good to my tastes. I'm not going to eat something yummy and then pull a big act like, "But it isn't AUTHENTIC, so I don't want it." Sure, I think it's neat when something is authentic. But authenticity isn't required, and I'm not going to think less of a yummy food if it isn't authentic.

    And honestly? I don't have the palate or knowledge to tell the difference anyway, and I'm not going to pretend that I do.

    @DL: With regards to a majority culture coming to enjoy a minority culture's food, I think that's how we've gotten a lot of Westernized dishes. fromthetropics used the example of California rolls, which is a good one. I think the majority culture coming to appreciate a different type of cuisine is generally a good thing because it makes it more accessible. I'd rather see, for example, ten Vietnamese restaurants doing well, rather than three that are struggling along because there aren't enough customers.

    There's nothing wrong with adapting cuisine to fit demand. What would worry me would be if, due to that adaptation, the *original* recipes and techniques were lost, and that style of cuisine became (for lack of a better word) whitewashed. That would be a tragedy. (I'm not using the word "tragedy" lightly. I believe that food is a deeply important cultural tie. I'm not just talking about PoC cultures here; witness the way Quebecers feel about poutine and tortieres, for example.)

    One thing I've noticed though is that I go out to Korean restaurants with my Korean friends on a fairly regular basis, and what they receive and what I receive are almost always two entirely different things. It's clear that there's the watered-down versions for the whites, and the more traditional versions for those that can appreciate it. If my experience here reflects how it is elsewhere (I hope it does, but I don't know), then traditional recipes are being preserved alongside new adaptations. That seems like the best of both worlds to me, because it protects the originals while also allowing room for new styles to evolve.

    (Let me make it clear that I'm not complaining that I get watered-down versions. I'm glad. Sometimes I try the dishes that my friends get, and generally they leave me gasping like a beached fish due to the hot-chili content. Apparently this is entertaining enough that now sometimes my friends trick me into trying them: "No Robin, it's not hot, really! Try it!" Then they snicker at my paroxysms and tell me they were eating spicier foods than that when they were toddlers, and I need to build my heat tolerance.)

  65. @Ben - no worries. I just thought you were being random.

    what they receive and what I receive are almost always two entirely different things.

    To their severe annoyance, my parents used to get served the 'white' version of dishes in Chinese restaurants because they spoke Mandarin, not Cantonese. Apparently, if you didn't speak Cantonese you weren't 'Chinese'. This was back in the days when the Chinese population in North America was overwhelmingly Cantonese (from the Hong Kong area).

  66. (p.s. by "Hong Kong area", I meant Hong Kong + the surrounding Cantonese speaking region (i.e. Guangdong), and not Hong Kong island + the waters around it.)

  67. @RVC
    My apologies for assuming Jews are phenotypically white. I should know better, and actually have met many non-Ashkenazim.

    Will check out that book, been meaning to anyways. Cheers.

  68. I'm an anthropologist, originally from the UK, but lived in the US for some time as well as Bolivia. I'm now living in Chile. When people here or in the US ask me what "authentic" British food is, I tell them about the kind of food we eat at christmas - roast dinners, heavy and pungent fruit puddings that have their roots in medieval flavours - but I also point out that most British people live on pasta and curries most of the year. One of the most popular British dishes is Chicken Tikka Massala (which was apparently invented in Glasgow. Or possible Birmingham. There's a row about it.) In Peru some of the most common dishes that most people eat every day are "chifa", which is a kind of fusion of Chinese and Peruvian foods, usually translated as "Chinese food", but its really not anything you will find anywhere else in the world. Most Peruvians and Bolivians eat a lot of cheap imported US rice everyday, which has completely undercut the local agricultural economy. Then tourists get upset that they don't appear to be eating "authentic" meals of potatoes and guinea pigs. All these dishes reflect the fact that, in the contemporary world, what people eat reflects the patterns of colonisation, capitalism and migration that have been going on for the last 400 years - and continue to.

    The problem, I find, with the search for "authenticity" is the implication that cultures/groups of people are static - that there is only one "real" idea of what a group of people should be like, and that idea is based in a romanticised/exoticised past. According to this kind of reasoning, Mexican people can't enjoy or make sushi, because both Japanese and Mexican people are only "real" if they live in isolation in their respective parts of the globe, only living according to very narrow scripts. White people can move around the world sampling bits and pieces of other cultures, taking what they want (whether obviously by force or less obviously through tourism) and rejecting everything else. But they get very upset when those "exotic others" turn out to be just as modern, and just as capable of having living, active cultures that involve change and innovation. Or maybe the heart of search for authenticity is a desire to pretend that 400 years of colonisation and migration have not happened. To pretend that there are parts of the world that have not been touched - aka, have not already been exploited to advance white people's privilege.

    Incidentally, other parts of this discussion really reminded me of Philip J. Deloria's fantastic book "Playing Indian". I'd really recommend it as a brilliant discussion of cultural appropriation and its consequences.

  69. When this event happened at the Oscar broadcast, I read the linked article about who the hell that rude red-headed lady was. I cringed when she said that the director had gotten the idea from her and "had never even heard of Zimbabwe" before she allegedly came up with the film idea. She talks about the country like it's an underground band or something. Because, you see, since she lives in Zimbabwe.. she's more authentic and her rude-ass behavior was totally justified.. right.

  70. I think you're justified. Your friend wants to be worldly and has a completely different view than you.

    I'm Asian, and I have a really good friend that was my roommate before he got a job in another town. He's black. We have had discussions like these from time to time. He is under the impression, and I agree, that some white people only view the world through white eyes.

    In other words - the Chinese food tasted authentic to her, even though she's probably never had a real meal in China from a cart off the side of the road. To her it seemed more "authentic" than the "white" restaurant chains in America and elsewhere.

    But yes, just because more Asian people work at an Asian cuisine restaurant is pretty ridiculous. The people serving the food aren't cooking it. If she had seen the chef and said the same thing, it would be slightly more justified! hahaha

    In some situations, she would be right. But to use that as the MAIN primary point of why something is more authentic is a farce. The white guy down the block might have a better Szechaun Beef, who knows.

    But please, for the rest of us, be obnoxious to people like her. Because honestly, if you don't, someone else will eventually, and it might be even worse for your friend at that point. Either because her head is so huge there's a lot of air to deflate if she ever "realizes" how silly she's been, or the person who is obnoxious to her is ten times worse than the obnoxious level you would have given her.

  71. @Eurasian:
    Mexicans cook every single type of cuisine in the US! I guarantee you will find Mexicans slaving away in the kitchens of restaurants across the country. (At least this is true for most big cities, my experience being with Los Angeles, Philadelphia, New York, and DC).

    With the current economy and many Mexican immigrants heading back to Mexico, I’m really curious about how this will play out. I already know that in the teeny tiny town that my parents are from, in the middle of nowhere, some entrepreneurial person has opened up a Chinese food place. I can bet that the person running the place probably worked for years in the US as a cook in a Chinese restaurant. So now we have an American Chinese food place (probably with a Mexican spin to it due to availability of ingredients) in the middle of nowhere, Mexico. Since Mexicans are masters of American world cuisines, it will be interesting to see what becomes of this. Some really interesting things could potentially happen. Unfortunately we Mexicans tend to be laborers more than entrepreneurs. :(

  72. Hi ~I just found your site, and, YAY!!

    This question may already have been asked, but, why do (some) white people identify a non-white person's colour in general conversation when that non-white person's colour has nothing to do with the topic being discussed? I asked one white girlfriend of mine and her answer was that because white folks are considered 'normal' to other white people. When I asked her what non-whites are considered, she became defensive.

  73. I don't think your friend is racist and I do think you're being a bit ridiculous in being so annoyed.

    BUT... her comment about the Chinese restaurant being "authentic" because the waiters were Asian sounds very ignorant (surprisingly so, considering she is well-travelled) so perhaps she just got flustered and couldn't instantly articulate why she felt the restaurant to be authentic. (As an aside... I don't think I've ever actually been to a Chinese restaurant which WASN'T staffed almost entirely by Chinese people, even in small town America (and yes I can tell the difference between Chinese people and other Asians.))

    I have made comments about certain Chinese restaurants being "authentic," but the statements were based on the fact that visitors FROM CHINA and Chinese immigrants recommended the food. If the proprieters are all speaking Chinese, and most of the customers are Chinese people speaking Chinese, while customers at other Chinese restaurants are largely white, it's a good bet that the first restaurant has food which is closer to what people eat in China. That's not a racist statement.

    And, if she had said, "well I have been to China and stayed with local families and the food at this restaurant was like what I ate in China, rather than like typical American-Chinese fare" that would have been a normal non-racist and non-ignorant comment. And what's so wrong with commenting on the authenticity of an ethnic restaurant? I'm almost 100% certain that she meant that she was happy she could get something other than "Americanized Chinese food." I've made the same comment about, for instance, a wonderful Italian restaurant which served food which was a far cry from typical American "Olive Garden"-style "Italian" food, as well as about pub fare and beer in the US which was similar to that of pubs in England. My comments are also not about wanting to appear "cool" - it's about a genuine desire to learn about the greater world. I like to be aware, for example, that people in China do not all eat fried and battered sweet and sour chicken, pork fried rice, and egg rolls, and I like to be able to experience something close to what they DO actually eat.

    As far as her seeking an "authentic" experience while travelling... I simply do not see what the problem is and I believe that trying to "unpack" any hidden racism is reaching and unfair and very likely an overly academic exercise.

    I am exactly the same way when it comes to seeking "authenticity." When I travel, I try to avoid tourist areas and get out among the locals to see how they really live. This is true whether I am travelling to another US state, to a major European city, or to more off-the-beaten-path locales. There's nothing racist about this, and I fail to see how it's obnoxious. If she actually says, "oh, other tourists are so stupid, and I am so educated and enlightened... I'm so superior for travelling in this manner," then that is obnoxious (though she might be right), but not racist. But, it doesn't sound like she says this.

    For me, it comes down to truly wanting to learn about a place - be it a place predominantly populated by whites or predominantly populated by people of other races - and that's just not an easy thing to do when you're in a touristy area. Let's face it - areas of souvenir shops and over-priced tourist attractions and hotels do not reflect the daily lives of locals. If you find yourself in an area where you see just one other tourist the entire time, you're in an area frequented almost solely by locals. This is where to discover how people live... something which USUALLY is considered a GOOD THING to do.


Please see the "commenting guidelines" before submitting a comment.

hit counter code