by Carmen Van Kerckhove
People sure love to display their racism proudly on their T-shirts. Last June we told you about Threadless’s questionable milk bottle miscegenation shirt, and now they’re back with another racist shirt called “Flied Lice.” (thanks Gina for the tip!)
It’s just a t-shirt, you say? Actually, no. It’s just one instance in a long history of defaming Chinese people as unhygienic and primitive. And when you tie it into the recent tainted pet food scares, you start to see a pattern. Word to Jeff Yang:
China has been portrayed as a nation blind to hygiene and blissfully unconcerned about recent reports of food contamination. That’s troubling, because it reinforces the notion that befouled food is the consequence of a foul culture. Chef and gustatory adventurer Anthony Bourdain may have said it best in a 2006 Salon interview in which he noted that there’s “something kind of racist” about culinary xenophobia: “Fear of dirt is often indistinguishable from the fear of unnamed dirty people.”
And this, in turn, spells danger. What one might call “food libel” has long been an aspect of a larger fear of China. The association of Chinese with dubious edibles has insinuated itself into our cultural consciousness in small and seemingly trivial ways — in schoolyard taunting, in sitcom gags about takeout food, in standup monologues about puppy chow mein.
But when the stakes are raised, as they have been by recent scandals, such jokes turn deadly serious. The fringes of the pundit set have already been intimating that these tainted-food incidents are deliberate.