Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sentiments and Sensitivity to Slurs

Asian Americans in Philadelphia are mounting a legal battle against a 59 year old restaurant for its persistence in disparaging their ethnicity. The fight has nothing to do with the cuisine nor how it is prepared since the menu is not remotely Asian. The conflict involves the restaurant's name, "Chink's Steaks".

The restaurant, cut in the classic 1950's mold with all original soda fountain set-up including ceiling fans, and vintage booths, was named after Samuel Sherman who capitalized on the nickname "Chink" since he was aged 6, because of his slanted eyes. No claims to being Chinese or Asian is known to have been made by Mr. Sherman, and no one ever called him "Sam". Current owner Joseph Groh, who worked in the diner at age 15 and bought it after Sherman died retained the owner's name because it had become a popular eatery in this blue collar neighborhood northeast of the state.

Chink is a racist ethnic slur for any person of Asian descent (Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese). Originally, it referred to a small crevice or opening, as in an armor - that denotes a weakness. It could have been the basis for the term in describing the ethnic east Asians based on their eyes which resembled a narrow crevice. Historically, at the turn of the 20th century, Asian immigration was seen as a threat to whites in North America. The Chinese were seen as pervasive, to a point where it evolved into the "yellow peril" hysteria. Within a few years after the first printed usage of the word Chink appeared, the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. The dehumanizing use of the word is believed to be a racist justifier for the passage of the law.

During the early days of the gold rush, when gold was plentiful, the Chinese were tolerated and well received. As the metal became scarce and competition increased, organized groups demanded that gold was only for Americans. Physical and psychological violence were endured by the Chinese and their claims were forcibly taken; or relegated to areas already mined out. Most, after being forcibly driven, settled into enclaves in cities and took up low end wage jobs in food and laundry services.

Sociologists point to derisive language as an indicator of flawed reasoning about the character and motivation of others. An underlying axiom of sociology recognizes that derogatory forms of speech make erroneous or malicious attributions about the character of a person which scholars classify as Fundamental Attribution Error or Correspondence Bias. This means that a group of people have an unjustified tendency to assume that a person's actions depend on what kind of person that person is, rather than on the social and environmental forces influencing the person.

When labels are made, all the derogatory associations and connotations are tied to it since the label is used for all behavior, actions, physical appearance, attitudes, sentiments, lifestyle, food eaten, clothes worn, facial expression, tone of voice, language and religion of the target race or ethnic group. Labels are cover-ups for the perception of threat
s to a way of life and feelings of insecurity among the dominant population. They engage in name calling and labeling to demean others to restore their egos and engender feelings of superiority. In short, they delude themselves into thinking they are winners, when these actions they take clearly manifest their descent into wretchedness.

The history of the Chinese Exclusion Act is a classic indicator of this insecurity. Feeling threatened by competition, they forcibly wipe them out, using the argument that gold should only be for Americans. The land belonged to the Native Americans and all whites were illegal immigrants and usurpers. How they can make such laws stick claiming gold which belongs to the Indian tribes is simply a case of numbers and dominance by force. To this day, racial discrimination exists in very subtle forms, despite pretensions to the contrary. Hate and disrespect fuel this racism, but it is not only racism that is subject to hate. Political orientations are also fueled by hate and disrespect using demeaning labels aimed at a particular party or sub-political group. Hate has become so pervasive that it's almost impossible to envision unity. Ironically, it is called the United States when unity within each state is more of an illusion than reality.

As for Joseph Groh, he had weathered a similar attack in 2004, but is currently facing a tougher battle this time as he tries to increase his enterprise by opening in other areas. His attempted opening south of Philadelphia was denied because of protests launched against the name. He may be a victim of the repercussion of a slur that was positively transformed by the owner into a well patronized restaurant. It may be Sam's name, but it remains a slur that does not only denigrate Sam but all other Asian Americans past, present, and future. Chink is not a Chinese style steak and it will never be. Mr. Groh has a far bigger chink in his armor than in 2004. And, as the saying goes, "the chickens have come home to roost".


Keith B. Richburg, Washington Post
Ricky Dungca, US Correspondent


Debbie said...

I cringed when I saw the picture with the name of the restaurant, even before I read the article. I would never use that if it were me.

Debbie Hamilton
Right Truth

Zhu said...

I'd use the name... not as a slur of course, but hey, things are getting so politically correct that it makes me cringe. Obviously, if it had meant to be a racist slur it would have been different but I don't see it that way here.

I can be pretty non-politically correct at time and we always joke about ethnicity at home, my hubby being Chinese/ Canadian and me French/ Canadian/ Italian.

I think racism is more than words, it's an attitude. It worries me more when I heard people speaking "respectfully" of "natives" or "African Americans" but not giving them jobs and looking down upon them.

JD Cruz said...

I do not subscribe to so much political correctness for it is being abused more than it is being used to protect people. Once, Charlton Heston said something like, Before, they dictate that they be called blacks. Then that became a bad term and it was supposed to be African Americans. I dont know how they will want to be called next... But when I was marching with Martin Luther King, he called his people "Negroes". Try calling them negroes and see what will happen.

Kim said...

as you can imagine Aussies are infamous for their slang and I couldn't count the number of movies that I have seen ...where all sorts of names stuck ...(according to the immigrants country of origin)
I think the term 'Wog' and 'Pom' would have to be the most memorable...
a very interesting post Durano and I can understand why Asian Americans would be offended by this label ..

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Debbie,

Joseph Groh has been supported by his patrons with signs outside the restaurant. I don't know if they are provoking a fight or merely defending a neighborhood eatery they have grown with and are fond of.

Looking at it from his perspective, the owner turned a negative into a positive. The funny thing is, you have Asian Americans going against the name, and you have White Americans defending the name. One group wants a detachment from the perceived slur, while the other sees an attachment for a place close to home.

It does take some guts in this day and age to stick to a name protested validly as a slur. I would change the name too if it were my place. :-)--Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Zhu,

As I said in the post, racism continues in more subtle forms, specially in private, but outwardly, hypocrisy covers it up. It becomes visible in their condescending attitude toward minorities. I agree about the attitude, but those who vocalize it are those that are blinded by fear of the perceived threat.

The history of the term cannot be removed from the Chinese who have been made aware of how it was made to crush their spirit and erase their self respect. It is not merely a political correctness issue.

While this particular situation refers to a legally registered entity that was based on a name given to one who was not even Chinese, the slur and its attendant suffering remains in the psyche of those referred to. The owner sees it like you do Zhu, but those affected don't. Their choice really is to avoid it or buy it out and change the name to one they like. But Mr. Groh willmost probably be unable to expand his business with the same name.

I agree with you on the overemphasis on political correctness, sometimes it goes too far for its own good and it becomes suffocating. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi JD,

Political correctness makes communicating very difficult. Trying to remember all those "correct" terms can be like going back to grammar school.

It is being abused, some coming up with new terms only for pride of authorship. There are times when it sounds silly and contrived. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hello Kim,

Asian Americans from Korea, China, Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, and all those with Chinese descent may be affected negatively by the term. Some say it could be as hurtful as the N-word in describing the African Americans.

Australians are notorious for these much like the British. But nothing compares with the fire and enthusiasm Americans bring to name calling and labeling. This is one of their best products where their superiority stands unbeaten. LOL! :-) --Durano, done!

SheR. said... are wrong about the term affecting Chinese Singaporean...
Seriously when I first heard the name being shouted at me in London, it didn't even bother me the least bit.
Chink seems to sound similar "Qin" being the first emperor that united China and from then on China prospered. Even the the English word China is derived from it as Qin is impossible for English native speakers to pronounce.
Any term can be demeaning if one meant it to be.
Like the Londoners call Indians "Paki".
I rest my case.

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Sher,

As I said, "may be affected negatively", and I meant those who have resided or were born in America.

I have some friends who would visit the US for only 3 months and they are derisively called "flips" for Filipinos, and they resent it; yet they were not even born nor do they reside there.

It's what the term conveys by way of clustering types of people as lower than they are. Like something was wrong with you because of your race. Actually, something is wrong with them!

So what's for dessert? :-) --Durano, done!

ZenDenizen said...

Wow, I haven't heard about this even though the Evil Empire is based in the Philadelphia area. Granted, I'm a vegetarian so I wasn't actively seeking out steakhouses either :)

The Fitness Diva said...

I'm surprised he got away with that name for so long. But then again, there is a restaurant chain named Sambo's. Go figure!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

HI Zen,

Good to know you're a vegetarian, you will certainly live longer than those who eat meat - it is toxic to humans.

The place is in a blue collar neighborhood northeast of Philly. If you're not into meat, you really won't seek this place out.

I've been following this Evil Empire of yours based on some of the clues you dish out in your posts. I don't know if I'm close to identifying what this company is. :-) --Durano, done!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Fitness Diva,

It was a legally registered business name way back in 1949. Political correctness wasn't in vogue yet and human rights was not in the horizon of issues of the day. People were quietly taking the insults then and their numbers could not raise a voice loud enough to be considered a protest.

Getting media publicity to support your cause was difficult. Today, there's you tube and the internet.It's so easy.
:-) -- Durano, done!

SheR. said...

Oopps.. not paying attention again :P
Racist remarks, I've faced too many. It's silly when we get so worked up over them.
I just believe whoever passed those remarks have extremely low self esteem.

Having strawberry muffins today! :)
Have a great weekend!

durano lawayan a.k.a. brad spit said...

Hi Sher,

Yummy! I can imagine the taste. Have a nice weekend too! I liked your photo with the Chef's hat on! :-) --Durano, done!