Quoted: Jeff Yang on David Sedaris’ Anti-Chinese Racism

So look, David: Chinese people eat weird food. There is a saying that “Chinese will eat anything with its back to the sky,” and another that says “Chinese will eat anything with legs but a table and anything with wings but an airplane.” These are Chinese sayings, I might point out — a sign that Chinese aren’t exactly unaware that the “delicacies” that send prim Westerners to their fainting couches are a little off the beaten path.

But Chinese are far from the only culture that eats weird food, and fuck, given that you’re from North Carolina, have you looked at what American Southerners traditionally eat? No? Chitlins! Possum! Muskrat! Bull testicles! Oh wait, you’re from suburban Raleigh, so probably not, given that most of the more exotic dishes in Southern cuisine, like in many culinary traditions, was the offspring of necessity — invention midwived by destitution. If you’re hungry enough, rodents will start to look tasty, as will chicken claws, stray innards and balls. And once you’ve eaten them long enough, all these things evolve into nostalgic signifiers — especially after you’ve pulled yourself out of poverty. They go from things you have to eat all the time to things you choose to eat once in a while, to remind yourself you don’t have to eat them all the time.

And this is what’s truly ugly about your piece, David: For someone who’s spent a lot of your career puncturing middle-class aspiration and self-delusion, your essay is unpleasantly blind to the fact that all of China is just a few generations removed from dire, desperate want, and that many people, like the peasant family you had such a bad experience sharing a meal with, continue to subsist on an annual income that’s a tiny fraction of what a sophisticated awesome American literary superstar like you loses in his sofa. And in a country of 1.3 billion people, even having braised pig’s stomach to occasionally go with your daily rice is a fucking luxury.

–From David Sedaris Thinks Chinese People (and Food) Are Repulsive, Which Makes Me Sad, Because I Used to Like David Sedaris

  • PatrickInBeijing

    This one really p**sed me off.  And it wasn’t just the food, he was dissing on everybody.  I must’ve missed him, because I never heard of him (which is probably why I didn’t go see him).  Next time I am near the bookstore, I will go in and complain.  See if they care or even get it.  I should note that a lot of white guys who are here probably think the same thing,  they are only here because they want “some” or to be missionaries, or to have something cool on their resumes.  Actually, like Sedaris, they aren’t really here at all. 

  • He Qun

    While Sedaris’ original commentary is deeply problematic, I also think that Yang’s commentary is racist. The thirdworldisation of China, the portrayal of Chinese people as starving and helpless…this is typical of US-based China commentators (of Chinese ancestry or otherwise). 

    all of China is just a few generations removed from dire, desperate want 

    in a country of 1.3 billion people, even having braised pig’s stomach to occasionally go with your daily rice is a fucking luxury

    This marginalises much of Chinese society, speaks from a position of Western power, and infantilises Chinese people. I would have thought that Racialicious would have called it out, and I’m disappointed you didn’t. Did you fail to perceive it, or did you perceive it and not think it was problematic?

  • Anonymous

    Is it a family thing? His sister Amy Sedaris is even worse. She even drew a stereotypical chinese face and wrote “Ching Chong” when she autographed a book for a Chinese fan. http://blog.angryasianman.com/2009/01/to-gloria-ching-chong-love-amy-sedaris.html

  • http://twitter.com/DYomoah Doreen Yomoah

    Many of the comments on Jeff’s piece are making me want to kill myself. It’s a lot of “What’s the big deal… this isn’t real racism” type of shit.

    • KTW

      Please don’t kill yourself. We need people who understand what ‘real racism’ is.

  • http://twitter.com/DYomoah Doreen Yomoah

    Many of the comments on Jeff’s piece are making me want to kill myself. It’s a lot of “What’s the big deal… this isn’t real racism” type of shit.

  • Roger

    “My trip reminded me that we are all just animals, that stuff comes out of every hole we have, no matter where we live or how much money we’ve got.”

    A quote out of Sedaris’ article, which is being discussed but not actually linked to or quoted here.

  • Anonymous

    Co-sign from the state that has a festival celebrating chitlins – the Chitlin Strut.

  • Digital Coyote

    It’s not love or smiles that are universal: it’s (genuine) broke food.  Enjoying broke food, like Yang says, is nostalgic if you’re removed from when and where it was common for you to eat it.  My family still eats a variety of Southern delicacies.  As a I child, I didn’t understand why we needed possum, squirrel, or (snapping) turtle soup when the grocery store was right down the road.  It makes sense to me now as an adult: these are the things they had because they were broke; they give them a connection to where they came from; it brings them together as a family because it reminds them of when it was tough and what their parents and grandfolks did to survive.  We’re here because of all that.  Don’t get me wrong–pig’s feet, gizzards, and chitterlings will never be my thing–but that doesn’t mean I don’t jones for black-eyed peas with greens or cranberry beans and cornbread.   

    People like David Sedaris, who have never really had to eat (genuine) broke food, don’t understand the desperation in which it is rooted.  Items that they are aware of (e.g. frog legs, caviar [fish eggs], ribs, etc.) they know only through the lens of luxury.  This is part of a peculiar phenomenon where  foods considered low class or unfit to eat are recycled and sold as “real,” “rustic,” or some species of rarity when someone (usually an outsider to the source group/class) prepares it.  Ironically, the “authenticity” of the food–which is what people like this claim they’re desperately trying to find–is what’s putting him off.  He’s also playing in to some really nasty stereotypes beyond food.   Why does he need to go on about how awful and barbarous the Chinese are in comparison to the Japanese? Pretty sure there were some wars fought over that and that Japanese media keeps those ideas fresh in the minds of citizens.
     

    • Morenaclara

       I remember reading an article discussing  Asian food that was seen as gross(frogs,caviar etc ) vs French food that was seen as high class.  This type of mentality reeks of Eurocentrism and ignorance  of how people eat.

      • Sunatic

        WTH? How do they justify that in their minds? “Asians eating frogs and caviar is gross, those Asians, they just eat anything – but the French eating frogs and caviar is high cuisine because…”? Just… NO.

      • Sunatic

        WTH? How do they justify that in their minds? “Asians eating frogs and caviar is gross, those Asians, they just eat anything – but the French eating frogs and caviar is high cuisine because…”? Just… NO.

        • Digital Coyote

          “..but the French eating frogs and caviar is high cuisine because…”?

          Because it’s expensive and France is considered one of the homes/sources of proper cuisine.

  • http://www.examiner.com/x-28727-Woodside-Family-Examiner RCHOUDH

    Sedaris’ piece sounds racist and mean-spirited. And you’re spot on about how there are some unusual dishes here in the “enlightened West” as well. 

    This reminds me of a joke I once heard a Latino comedian once say. He was talking about some of the food from his culture involving the eating of cow tongues, brains, eyeballs. When the predominantly white audience started retching he said, ” You guys eat that stuff too, you just call it hot dogs”. 

  • D. Potter

    Also, although this should probably be directed in Mr. Yang’s direction, Mr. Sedaris has apparently no idea how long it took his ancestors to develop that kind of finickiness that he (and probably we) take for granted.

    Also, some people–yes, in the United States in public–blow their noses without recourse to handkerchiefs.  Mr. Sedaris really does need to get out of the bubble.

  • Sunatic

    Most discussion about food culture also ignore the underlying question of “what exactly is ‘weird’ food”. What is considered a perfectly normal part of diet someplace may be exotic elsewhere. And it’s certainly ethnocentrism to believe one’s own food culture the “right” one. For example,  to me it’s baffling that some cultures consider only a few select parts of a few select animals edible, and everything else “odd”. But that’s how it goes.

  • danni

    barparisqueer has written something that touches on this, as well.  http://badparsiqueer.tumblr.com/post/5399056932/in-the-end-its-about-food-politics

  • Morenaclara


    I can go on a full rampage why it’s wrong to say
    “XYZ food is soooooo gross” but I’m glad Jeff Yang wrote the article. I went
    through something similar with my cousins and I started to give them a lecture
    on ethnocentrism, food and pointed out  that our culture has some pretty odd dishes.  I mean McDonald’s has some pretty odd food. 

  • Morenaclara


    I can go on a full rampage why it’s wrong to say
    “XYZ food is soooooo gross” but I’m glad Jeff Yang wrote the article. I went
    through something similar with my cousins and I started to give them a lecture
    on ethnocentrism, food and pointed out  that our culture has some pretty odd dishes.  I mean McDonald’s has some pretty odd food.