My post White American culture is General Tso’s Chicken and Chop Suey has been linked to from various websites. Below I address a common criticism of the post, and I also link to two interesting analyses about the topic.
It’s not about “authenticity” or “appropriation”.
One common misconception was that I was complaining about cultural appropriation, and complaining that Chinese American food was “inauthentic”. This is not true. I posted this comment on Racialicious, but the comment thread is long, so I will repost my comment here for better visibility:
I am not against food appropriation or food “hybridity” (whatever that means). The concept of “authenticity” is flawed, because it assumes that certain cultures remain static and frozen in time, instead of being dynamic and fluid.
Tomatoes were not originally native to Italy; they were first imported from the Americas. Chili peppers were not originally native to India; they were first imported from the Americas. Potatoes were not originally native to Ireland; they were first imported from the Americas.
What I have a problem with is what I outlined in the post. The presumption that I am a food purist and cultural purist (whatever that means) probably comes from the stereotype that people who have beef with misconceptions of food origins are really complaining about “authenticity”. Maybe other people do that, but if you CTRL+F for “authenticity” and “appropriation”, you will find them absent from the actual post.
This topic is also discussed in the inauthenticy of experience (and the food of the diaspora) and What on earth is General Tso’s chicken?
Many white people lament their own perceived lack of culture.
What a lot of those outcomes Restructure!’s list demonstrates is White solipsism, the tendency for many White people to lament their own perceived lack of race or culture. Any time you hear someone refer to a clothing style or food genre as “ethnic,” what they really mean is “non-White.” By using “ethnic” to describe non-White cultural products, we are stating an implicit assumption that the dominant White culture is NOT ethnic; that White Americans have no unifying ethnicity, race, or culture. Another way you can see evidence of this is in people who complain about their Whiteness as “boring” and “plain.” You know, not like those “exotic” others.
In reality, we don’t see our own culture because, as the majority, White culture is so pervasive. And sure, there’s variation by social class, region, etc. But there’s also variation in Chinese culture, and even in Chinese-American culture, yet we refer to things like “Chinese food” and “Chinese culture.” It’s easier to homogenize and otherize groups to which we do not belong. Even now, I’m using the term “we” when in many of those instances, I mean other people like me – White, non-immigrant Americans. Even though there is quite likely people in my audience who don’t fit this description.
“Chinese” American food is affected by the perpetual foreigner syndrome.
At debunkingwhite, sanguinity has some interesting commentary on how the perception that Chinese people are perpetually foreign influences the perception of Chinese American food. In How “Foreign” to the U.S. is Chinese-American Food?, sanguinity writes:
I’m doing some reading about Chinese-exclusion-era U.S. history, and one of the major themes (which persists still today) is the white perception that Chinese immigrants to the U.S. were inherently, perpetually “foreign” and would never assimilate into American culture, a perception that was perceived to justify white racism against Chinese immigrants. The assumption that assimilation is the worthy and obvious obligation of all immigrants is itself messed up, but there’s also a perniciously self-fulfilling prophecy in that expectation of perpetual foreignness. From this video, it’s clear that while Chinese-American food is a example of Chinese-Americans intensively interacting with white Americans to create an inherently American standard menu, that menu is still labeled as “foreign” by white American culture. Since that menu was devised by “foreigners who will never assimilate” (the so-called “logic” runs), it is labeled as “foreign” forever after, even though it’s not actually foreign.
Perpetual “foreignness” is a racialized phenomenon. American foods that are traceable to European immigrant groups — like beer, for example — are not perceived as “foreign.” Instead, those foods are commonly understood to be Americanized offshoots that have become uniquely different from their European counterparts: what American beer-drinker out there believes that contemporary Germans would recognize Budweiser as having much of anything to do with German beer, despite the American beer industry being conspicuously German in origin (Anheuser-Busch, Miller, Pabst, Schlitz)?
(Aside: and that is one of the reasons Irish ancestry in the U.S. isn’t the equivalent of racialized ancestries: white immigrants and their descendants can lose the label of “foreign” in a way that racialized immigrants and their descendants can’t. Irish-Americans in the U.S. don’t get habitually asked where they are “from”; Asian-Americans do. The first-generation Ukrainian immigrants living in my neighborhood are perceived as exotically and suspiciously foreign right now, yes, but their children and grandchildren won’t be, and those children and grandchildren won’t ever be told to “go back where you came from.”)
Honestly, I was (unconsciously) bothered about this relationship between the perpetual foreigner syndrome and “Chinese” American food when I wrote the post, but this point did not materialize in my post, and sanguinity articulated explicitly what I was thinking at the back of my head. “Chinese” American food being perceived as “Chinese” is not because Chinese culture is more resilient than European culture, but because the food is racialized, and racialized as perpetually foreign.
- White people think that people of colour have more culture. by Restructure!