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The fried chicken

Jee Seun Choi | Sunday, February 26, 2012

For those of you that missed the email from Fr. Tom Doyle last Friday, somebody put fried chicken pieces in the mailboxes of the Black Student Association and the African Student Association.

When I first heard about it a few days before the email, I gasped and frowned at the act of offense. I was disgusted that there were people out there who would do such a thing.

But because I didn’t grow up here, I want to understand more about the connotation of this act and know what I might be missing. I want to know exactly why I felt so disgusted even when I was missing the cultural background. I vaguely remembered the stereotype of black people eating lots of fried chicken. I Googled it and asked some of my American friends. I thought about what would be the equivalent of that to me. Finding cooked rice in the mailbox of Asian American Association? Finding kimchi in the mailbox of Korean Student Association?

But none of these actually explained the feeling of intense disgust. I finally asked a black friend of mine: “How do you feel about this?”

He does not represent the entire black community. But he told me that many of his black friends were very indignant, deeply hurt, seriously offended and overall just frustrated. Some also thought it would be one of those things that would make people angry but would end up doing nothing in the end.

Then he also said, “Personally, I was really angry. This was just an act of offense that came from ignorance. I try to laugh away at those things. But at the same time, I don’t find it so much different from the verbalization of such stereotypes. Saying something like ‘Black people love fried chicken’ and putting fried chicken in the BSA mailbox is the same thing. They are equally bad.”

I disagreed with him at this point — that having a prejudice and taking action on a prejudice are the same. Then I realized why I was so disgusted with something that I didn’t fully comprehend. It was not the connotation of fried chicken that put me off.

It was just the sheer intentionality and physicality of the chicken in the mailbox that disgusted me. The thought of somebody deliberately carrying out an act of aggression based on his/her racial prejudices. That is the essence of the incident, and it is disgusting. Everyone has prejudices — invented or based on facts — but physically using them with the intention of hurting somebody is different.

Whoever put the chicken in the mailbox was an active agent of aggression with the full intention of harming someone else. Isn’t that how horrible things — what we now condemn as criminal activities that I don’t even need to mention here — happen? The racial prejudice and intentionality of violence were transformed into pieces of fried chicken wrapped in dining hall tissues. That was what freaked me out. The specific implications of fried chicken and how that makes this action much more abhorrent is a separate issue.

I don’t represent every minority; I only represent myself. But the Asiatic Gaze and I would like to show support to my black friends of the Notre Dame community who were offended by this incident.

Stereotypes can have lasting consequences. My black friend said, “I feel self-conscious whenever I eat fried chicken because of that assumption people have.” He also differentiated between kimchi, rice and fried chicken. Kimchi and rice are actually part of the culture. Asians do eat a lot of rice and Koreans do eat a lot of kimchi. But black people eating lots of fried chicken is just an invented stereotype — that’s what people eat in the South.

Despite the difference between rice, kimchi and chicken, if somebody put rice or kimchi in my mailbox, I would be offended. But I would make kimchi fried rice and invite all my friends: “Hey, free Korean food!” It would be an act of defiance that would turn into a party. My friends and I would eat up all the negative energy of hatred and violence.

Many of us in the Notre Dame community were offended by this fried chicken incident. I cautiously propose an idea … Why don’t we throw a fried chicken party? Sometimes humor is the best reaction to something ridiculously sad.

Jee Seun Choi can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.