MN NICE: The Law of the Northwoods

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[Repost of a piece written by my writing collective, Of9Minds (O9M), in January 2014.]  It feels more relevant now than ever.

(p.s. Garrison Keillor, we saw who you were then, and we really see who you are now.)

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There once was a small boy at home in the northwoods of Minnesota.  Every day his father would meet him at the door in the morning as he departed for school. Touching him lightly on the top of his head, his father would say, “Remember. Be nice to yourself and to others.” Nodding solemnly, the boy would go out the door into the world, intending niceness.

They partook in this daily ritual for years. As the child grew into a teenager, and both father and child adjusted, they abandoned the ritual, its gravity long occluded by the convenience of phrases like “Have a good day.” Yet, the ethical anchor of that instruction never wavered. The boy grew into manhood and left his father’s house, but the quiet directive of his childhood mornings continued to accompany his thoughts and guide his actions each day.

***

Minnesota Nice is a slippery term, with different meanings for different people. For some, it is a purely positive term for the behavior characteristics of Minnesotans. According to this view, Minnesotans are generally polite, friendly, and humble. It may be claptrap, but we would be remiss to discount it altogether. In the last decade both journalistic and scholarly inquiries have looked into the matter, confirming or qualifying the Minnesota Nice thesis to varying degrees. None have been able to pinpoint exactly how widespread these behaviors are within the state, or shown how particular they are to Minnesota or the Midwest region. Most of these inquiries focus on the exterior charms of the region, and neglect the political and social mechanisms of Minnesota Nice.

A number of cultural features deserve mention in the same breath as Minnesota Nice: its predominantly white population (well above 95% as late as the 1980s, and still over 85%), the influences of the Lutheran church and its longstanding history of mission and service work, and the decades of northern European immigration into hundreds of small towns and settlements throughout the countryside. If anything, though, Minnesota Nice has become more visible as these three foundations have inexorably broken down. Southern Blacks and Southeast Asian migrants began pouring into the state 50 years ago, and the recomposition of who is Minnesotan has only accelerated since. A 2012 Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) article notes that the state’s foreign-born population has grown by 235 percent over the past two decades, the 12th-fastest growth rate in the nation. How does a changing state composition mingle with an ingrained investment in white settler colonialism and frontier independence?

Minnesota Nice is one answer. Since statehood, there have been creative projects aiming, at least in part, to consolidate this state identity around a singular people. The Little House on the Prairie media franchise promoted a frontier version of the Midwest and Minnesota Nice that highlighted the valor of enduring hardship with voluntary self-sacrifice, stoicism, a positive outlook, and scant complaining. Laura Ingalls Wilder helped to cement a kind of can-do, all-in-this-together spirit of facing common adversities, often defined as the harsh climate or the presence of Native Americans. However, this formation of Minnesota Nice may be less a product of experience and imagination and more a calculated creation based on political affinities; much of the writing was done in collaboration with Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who is notably an avid Libertarian. The books, and the frontier life put forth in them, were wildly popular, and enabled Wilder and her family to recoup losses from the stock market crash and live without financial worry since. Even now the series continues to be a multi-million dollar franchise, having become a staple in the industry of Midwestern identity.

Garrison Keillor is another notable Minnesotan mythology builder. His A Prairie Home Companion is a foundation of Minnesotan identity and pastiche, beloved both within the state and across the country. For forty years, he has done a remarkable job constructing a Minnesotan idyll—and ideal—using its fictional environment and characters to comment on charged social issues as though they were never charged to begin with. One case in point is Minnesota’s renown for flying droves of Korean infants into the state for adoption since the late 1950s. To this, Keillor responded with a monologue about the “The Tollerud’s Korean Baby.” In 1985, as Keillor drew his audiences in with a philosophizing sentimental didacticism, he weaved a heartfelt story about a Lake Wobegon couple adopting a child named Corinne, one who didn’t look like them and came from a far-away country. One who plopped into this couple’s arms as though cascading down a chute, just like all kids do in this world, he said, destined for the joys and quirks of a family. Adoption agencies and adoptive parents ate it up and passed it on approving its confirmation of the goodness of Minnesotans through this apparent affirmation of diversity, in controlled circumstances, however, and on their own terms.

If we were to more closely examine the narrative of Lake Wobegon’s Korean adoptee, Corrine Tollerud, we would make visible the erasure of Corrine herself, replaced instead with the nice, “normal” story of a northwoods childhood.  In 1999, on Post to Host, where listeners can write responses to the show, a family law attorney wrote in. She said that she recommended to many “waiting families” that they take a look at this particular monologue of a Prairie Home Companion. She also asked how Corrine Tollerud was doing. Keillor wrote in response,

Dear Ms. Svendsen, Corinne Tollerud is thriving at Lake Wobegon high school, so far as I can gather, and is getting to that age when girls give their mothers gray hair. Thank goodness girls never give their fathers any problems. The boys who are attracted to Corinne’s exotic good looks, though, are giving her father fits.”  

This might appear benign at first glance, maybe even evoking a knowing chuckle of common experience. However, if we pause a moment to deconstruct the implications of the response, we read that Corinne Tollerud, Korean adoptee, is thriving at Lake Wobegon high school, a school where she is likely the only person there who is brown during her entire childhood. Also, she’s giving her poor, sweet mother a hard time; she’s normal, just like all the other kids, and she’s lucky she’s got that caring, good-hearted maternal blessing to call “mom.” It’s all perfect, except for, gosh darn it, those good ole, red-blooded American boys who apparently are giving her poor father a hard time due to Corrine’s overwhelming exotic good looks. What’s clear, according to Garrison’s narrative, is that other than the nuisance of how her intoxicating otherness is affecting the teenage boys, all is well with Corrine in Lake Wobegon. What’s also clear is that Corrine isn’t writing this narrative. After all, she isn’t from around here. Now ain’t that just some good clean Minnesota Nice?

You would never know from this account from Lake Wobegon that adoption fiascos like Operation Babylift at the end of the Vietnam War were ever controversial, or that the U.S. made invisible an estimated 4 million American babies during the mid-70s baby scoop era. Instead we have here yet another celebration of the white savior complex, and the forcing of those who blemish the ideals of our perfect society to disappear, to essentially not exist.  

* * *

Minnesota Nice is insidious precisely because of its dogged consistency and obstinacy in the midst of sweeping changes. Even as the state has become less white, we have leaned harder on a social norm that centers whiteness and a mythologized colonial past. Minnesota Nice has been seen as a personal behavioral style, while we might better view it as a social code. It’s a set of rules about how to act and think, how to be a “proper” Minnesotan, a good and deserving citizen. Our personalities and values don’t add up to Minnesota Nice; what matters is that you’ll often be rewarded for performing the right behaviors in Minnesota, and often ostracized, punished, dismissed, and policed when you don’t. Minnesota Nice operates best when it knows exactly who and what is excluded from its parameters.

Our code doesn’t always require being nice to those who at first appear “not nice,” or who appear to be breaking from the conformity of the code. Do you let that person merge in front of you in traffic? Maybe you will, maybe you won’t; it depends on if they were polite about it or not. If the person stopping you on the street isn’t nicely dressed, has an unfriendly gait (relative as that might be), and doesn’t hail you with the proper salutation, do you feel justified ignoring them and walking by? Perhaps you might even be frightened if they appear to be an “outsider”and put your head down or hold your purse closer to you.  Your neighbor may dislike how you maintain your part of the boulevard, but won’t say anything because they’re nice; they might even wave and make small talk with you because they’re nice. They may “suggest” that you trim your trees, and how ‘bout those weeds, eh?  But how nice will those actions feel when you get a citation in the mail because a certain someone reported you to the city for not maintaining your boulevard?

Performing Minnesota Nice also occurs at an individual, interpersonal level in conversations we have with ourselves. It guides what we are allowed to think about ourselves, how we value ourselves, and what we try to make ourselves do to conform to self-inflicted constraints of goodness. If we have been conditioned to a certain code of goodness, we have expectations for ourselves in calculating the sum of our own self-worth. Following this code of the proper Minnesotan can make us feel included in a state identity. We can be validated as good neighbors, as valued citizens. We can feel deserving. We work hard and don’t complain. At the interpersonal level, the same dynamics are enacted. We calculate the self-worth of others as measured by the code of Minnesota Nice. We keep ourselves in place with politeness. Extend this, then, to institutional practices at the city, state, and national scales. How does conforming to the expectations of the social code reward some and exclude others? The intangible forces at play in decision-making at all levels make it impossible to precisely pinpoint how the parameters are kept in place during each individual transaction and interaction of the day. However, when we compile extrapolated data related to our city and state institutions, the effects of the code become visible, and disturbingly so. It is most clearly revealed in how the Twin Cities has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation related to education achievement and graduation rates, housing segregation, employment, and police interactions. Venture a few miles away from the pretty homes by the lakes, and in the streets, schools, and jails you’ll find a very different type of Minnesota.

Not surprisingly, the code of Minnesota Nice is hellish for political organizers. More than a few recent campaigns in Minnesota have been dismayed by how profoundly their tactics and strategies are hamstrung by the propriety of all things; direct confrontation, so common and expected everywhere else, is a non-starter here. Calling out officials in public — unacceptable; why not just raise your concerns privately? Blocking a street — unacceptable; there’s no need for disruption, we already have listening sessions and community meetings planned. We’re all in this together, remember? Minnesota Nice makes it nearly impossible to say something’s wrong, unjust, or inequitable. Instead, it’s all disagreements. Oh, that’s different. We could use your perspective on our Board. We have acknowledged your concerns. We have invited you to the conversation.

If there is anything unique about Minnesota Nice, it might be its sordid history of disqualifying antagonism. A polemical article written by Douglas Elliott at the height of the Minnesota welfare rights movement in the late 1960s, and found in the Minnesota Historical Society archives, excoriated this tradition. He argued that Minnesota’s liberal and progressive reputation was of the worst sort: not a history of reform and change, but rather a history of recuperating the most radical activities and ideas back into a conservative arrangement. So it’s the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party that we celebrate today, not the farmers and laborers themselves; it’s the names of black middle class leaders that adorn our buildings, not the Rondo neighborhood’s destruction that we mourn. It’s the state that leads in child welfare, cooperatives, and healthcare, not the home of the American Indian Movement and the Minnehaha Free State, not the site of black street uprisings on Labor Day weekend in 1968 or Miss Saigon protests over the last two decades.

The recent marriage equality victory continues this legacy. To strike a deal, we are willing to be diverse, as long as we can control its parameters and its trajectory. White middle-class gays and lesbians led the Vote No campaign, and they will be the main beneficiaries – not just of a new “civil right,” but of tax deductions, court advantages, new assets and access to resources, and higher social standing. Minnesota Nice will welcome them in and shove even more out: the disenfranchised poor, the welfare mothers, the queer and trans renegades, the police brutality victims, the CeCe McDonalds and Fong Lees and Terrence Franklins among us. Minnesota Nice was always sinister, but you only see it when the shit goes down.  

* * *

There’s the code of Nice we use to mark our rhythms, but there’s the image as well. We know full well that the picture of Minnesota Nice – cheery neighbors visiting each other, bearing food and supplies to help endure the winters, exchanging pleasantries and greetings to the passersby, going to church and watching the local softball game – is nostalgic for something that never quite was. In so many ways it’s a fraudulent offering, but damned if it don’t make for a great sell.

And, it’s been updated for neoliberal times. Minneapolis-St. Paul in particular is very much on the map for “innovators.” All the elements that attract the so-called creative class are there: the depth of the arts scene, the inspiring blue waters of the landscape, the picturesque remnants of old-town charm, the “diverse” neighborhoods, the overall “smartness” bound up in the infrastructure (green living, local food, the “Nice Ride” bike share program). Many residents profess to hate Minnesota Nice as a code, but love the state precisely for these qualities. We may find ourselves selling the place to people we meet on planes or relatives living on the coasts. We might even mention that Minnesota was named “Best Place to Live” or “Best Place to Raise a Family” in such-and-such publication, and we might beam a little inside. Despite being more appealing to hipsters and liberals, Minnesota Nice is a sort of variation on Sarah Palin’s “Real America.” It’s a distinction from those other places (like fake America?), where the people are a little less salt-of-the-earth. Here, progressive politics is about making conservative values their optimal best; we love the possibility of it, and people like Representative Michele Bachmann and former Senator Paul Wellstone have courted us equally. We have the best of intentions, as long as we can go home at night to our own fenced yard, our own well-kept streets, our own high-ranking schools for our children, and relax after a day of good intentions with a cup of fair trade French roast or a hoppy microbrew. We’re the upstanding residents, the concerned taxpayers, the responsible voters; we’re devoted to our state. We can only say good things. To complain would be negative, and negativity is the worst violation of nice, because gosh darn it, we mean well.

When Garrison Keillor spins the influx of Asian babies as a light-hearted affair, he’s playing by the rules. When Laura Ingalls Wilder stalwartly goes it on her own, she’s writing the code of Minnesota lore. When it is said that Paul Bunyan dragged his axe and created the Mighty Mississippi, he replaces the Native American histories of Minnesota with the white settler creation mythology. Thus, in presenting a white utopia, free of social problems, we are conditioned to mask the underlying systemic issues at play under the happy veneer of Minnesota Nice. Glossing over histories of injustice and violence, we disremember that settlement here has meant violent displacement; we forget that the land of 10,000 lakes is also the site of the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Out of loyalty, we love our state. Being good people, we don’t complain.  But, whom does the code of conduct known as Minnesota Nice really serve?  

* * *

Having derived that Minnesota Nice is a composite of ideals driven by history, politics, and organized religion, we derive also that the concept is tied into the branding of the state. Further, the public and private entities in control of the state image must then, ultimately, be the ones served by the code of Minnesota Nice as they enact and promote it so intentionally. This benefit is enacted when social inequities are brought to light, and protesters and activists are characterized as troublemakers, disturbers of the peace, a nuisance. They are criminals at worst, outsiders at best. Groups vocal about problems in the state are breaking the code, and in essence then, breaking from the community. This benefit is also enacted within the corporate agenda in order to create an attractive corporate culture and to court young professionals into our state. The entities in power that control the state narrative and the state image do so in ways that maintain the status quo and the present systems of power.  

In a neoliberal world where cities and states compete for investment, tourism, and mobile labor, Minnesota has much to gain by constructing a quirky, yet unthreatening and, above all, pleasant image of the state. The state is imagined as rural and suburban, filled with active, happy white people with charming accents. This often requires whitewashing social problems. This strategy may be effective in supporting the state economy, but that money isn’t lifting all boats. Minnesota has other distinctions which will never work their way into the brand — like, say, incarcerating people of color at vastly disproportionate rates, or leading the nation in upper-income bracket tax reductions during years of surplus, even as welfare recipients were increasing. Then again, those people have never fit the Minnesota Nice code anyway — let alone the brand.

The popular image of Minnesota as a lovely rural/suburban home to happy white folk does the ideological ground clearing for policies that work to make that vision true. Erasing social injustices, people of color, and indigenous people from view enables concrete policies of development and gentrification to not only be enacted, but proudly justified. It’s a state narrative that displaces those people from the collective and community space who veer from the code. It effectively works to make invisible those who don’t fit in the state image put forth by those who brand it pristinely as the most wholesome of homes for your family. And we all want a place to call home. Why not Minnesota?

* * *

One day, conversing on the porch in the warmth of autumn with friends, he mentioned the ritual to them. Though feigning bemused fondness, he found the refrain unexpectedly powerful, so embedded within the warm distance of his childhood that he hardly given it notice, tucked away beneath memories of birthdays, school books, baseball. As he finished relating the story, he laughed slightly, smiling at its strangeness.

Be nice.”

For the first time, he paused to wonder: what had it really meant? And, had he actually fulfilled it? In the ensuing pause, a more unsettling question, one which nice people are never supposed to ask: what was the point?

Niceness can seem intuitive, but we must understand how it is engineered and produced. It’s less a measure of morals or goodness and more the sum of all rules everyone agrees to play by. Politeness and kindness of this sort can’t bear the offensiveness of truth; “nice” is the positive vehicle of duplicity, abjection, even violence. Examining the danger lurking in the “nice” might make us throw our arms up in indignation, and doing our best Ivan Illich, cry out to hell with being nice! But that would never fly, of course; not here, not in this state. As with all terms bound to identity and historical mythos, Minnesota Nice has an authority as steady as steel: appreciate it or mock it in turns, we can’t deny there’s a there there. Like the hard pressure of a constant firm hand on our shoulder, we know what is expected of us and we do it. The question, however, is why.

* * *

Of Nine Minds is a writing collective based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  Some of their favorite books include The Bone People by Keri Hulme, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, and Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich.

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One month later.

old_white_picket_fence_by_foxstox-d4kh852

One Month Later.

12/11/16. We are a month past since election night. Fidel Castro has died. Trump is populating his cabinet with corporate cronies, white supremacists, bungling failed right politicians and pundits appointed to education, housing, healthcare. Melania has no plans to live in the White House, and neither does Donald, it seems. Russia is implicated and then accused of pro-Trump tampering with the election by the CIA. The CIA is aghast that a foreign country would orchestrate the rise to power of an autocratic right-winger. Trump is Time magazine’s Person of the Year, and he rallies the crowd to return the title to “Man of the Year,” even if it is a woman. HRC, like Gore post-defeat, may well be off hiking ala Live Eat Pray or Wild. She may come back with white dreads and self-discovery.  Even so, a normality has returned. This is the United States now.  We will still be fighting oil pipelines, the police state, education privatization and underfunding, ICE, capitalism in all its reaches, exploitation of all kinds. Will it be worse, or will it just be different? The lights are on now, the curtain is pulled back. The wizard wears a tall white pointy hood.

White Picket Fence

A classically American president already, Trump bankrupted with U.S. banks so many times, he needed to seek funding elsewhere. Like in Russia.  He does not follow a traditional or predictable party platform. His touted policies feel disparate and incohesive. For example, he says he will both end the common core and dismantle the department of education, while promoting privatization under the guise of choice. His mother was an immigrant to the U.S., as are two of his three wives. All that he has given up to enter into whiteness, he still tries to recover as he pursues the American dream: to have a model wife in all senses of the word, to be wealthy, to build tall buildings, to be powerful, and during all of this, to have fun, be wanted and important, as evidenced by a constant TV presence and his own TV show.

The patriarchy, the white nuclear family, is the primary agent of U.S. national power. White women appear most held captive by it, as observed in their votes for an abusive, misogynistic bully.  The plantation mistress may be above the others, but is always, always still mistress of the house, not master. Her power is contingent, is forever an echo of “you just wait til your father gets home.”  Sure there are exceptions, but exceptions they remain, not the rule.

Dreams

Trump in his way is a dreamer. A fragile and erratic narcissist with ideas of grandiosity brought to fruition, and so easily, by the misogyny and white supremacy of a young nation at the height of its capitalistic self-centeredness.  A nation that desperately reaches for a golden era that never existed. Trump’s entrance into whiteness is not that distant. He picks and chooses an immigrant narrative that fits a bootstraps narrative; the good immigrant, the model minority. He may eschew the narrative of his mother’s embattled Scotland, while embracing his father’s German roots. Just as his family name went from Drumpf to become Trump, like so many “Americanized” or whitened names, upon taking control of the family business, he erased his mother’s name from the foundation, and changed it from “Elizabeth Trump and Son” to “The Trump Organization.” All of this distortion and erasure served the purpose of leaving him the white, male figurehead, the mythical narrative of the man who is entitled because he supposedly did it all on his own. In this we can see, it is not so much that Indigenous, Brown, and Black people need whiteness to see our humanity; it is that those who are white need to see their own.

The thing is, Trump is the American Dream. This is what the American Dream has been. One that comes at the cost of marginalizing those not of the white nuclear family, and those within the family who are not white males.  Ultimately, this dream is constructed flawlessly, and the white picket fence presents the perfect border. This nuclear construct is the nation, with each father positioned to dictate his own piece of it, his own plot, his own plantation. The plantation mistress is still the ghost writer, the plantation master still the author of the story.  Obama ran a campaign on Hope, and won. Calling to a different group, so did Trump. Obama did not deliver for his voters. Will Trump deliver for his?

People talk as if this is the end and not a continuation. As if this isn’t how we were living all along. It isn’t that the dream is dead. It is that the dream is wrong. It is that the dream as it exists and has existed is a dream that means most are left out. That the backs of the many must be stepped upon to uplift the power of a few. This is and has always been the dream.  This is how capitalism works. This is how imperialism works. It is the grandest of pyramid schemes.  Nothing trickles down but the debt and the oppression.  We must dream a new dream. Or better, we must not dream,  but wake up, talk with each other, and see for ourselves what is possible.  

Strategy is Hope

Fear appears to grip the left. A better world seems less possible now than does a slide to dystopia. On the ground level, those who are marginalized and oppressed are fighting locally. There are too many directions in which to fight. What feels most true, is that while those in the U.S. fight with each other, we will not even know what hits us when we finally see the global fallout of international peacekeeping measures dismantled and finally blown apart, literally.

But there are pockets of hope, too. Can we really keep insisting this? Yes, because we must. The problem with poetics of fear, is that they are as binary as the despot who brews them.  We do not really know exactly what will happen. And in reality, neither does Trump. In this may be our greatest hope and our best point of tactical planning. He may not be mapping out his next three moves, but we can. I in no way insinuate that this moment and the future are not serious and terrifying.  But I do mean that this was already our situation, but more covertly.  I am not aligned with those that condescend that this has happened before, and will simply continue to happen again, or that the trajectory is inevitable, the pavement already laid.  I disagree.  Each incarnation of exploitation and destruction is new. As is each revolution. And we will be resilient because we must be so, until the planet is destroyed and we humans with it. There will eventually be a time, a final time, that those who like to say I told you so, will also be silenced. If you believe in an afterlife, I guess you can be smug there all you want. In the meantime, I am going to be planning our next three moves with my people. I am not waiting around to see how it turns out. I am going to work on affecting how it turns out.

 

 

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#StandingRockSyllabus

Contents: Preface Key Terms Oceti Sakwoin Oyate Territory and Treaty Boundaries 1851-present Timeline of United States settler colonialism Readings by Theme and Topic Suggested Citation: NYC Stands…

Source: #StandingRockSyllabus

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City Pages Food Blogger Insists Our Food Should Provide “Real” Minnesotans With Fast, Cheap, Exotic Experiences

Racist Food Critic Files PART 2

At Least She’s Consistent.

Writing about Mecca Bos’ terrible Hoban Uptown piece led me to take a closer look at her other local food reviews in order to further examine and verify patterns in her portrayal of POC-owned restaurants.  

In a roughly three-month sample period from May through July, Bos wrote approximately 150 food posts that were posted on the City Pages website. Out of that sample, about 115 of them were reviews or promos for food of what most would call food from white culture or “American cuisine,” (“dive bars”, pizza, bistros, “artisanal,” ice cream, candy, European pastries, bar food).  This left about 35 of the reviews in the sample to be on food that is generally referred to as “ethnic food,” but for Brown and Black people it is most often just called “our food.”  Of the 35 POC food articles, 20 were about Asian food. Of those 20 Asian food articles, 8 were about ramen and 4 about sushi. The remaining 15 articles were primarily about falafel, tacos, and burritos. In virtually every article she reinforces Orientalist and at times xenophobic notions that foods from white U.S. culture (of European and Native origin) are esteemed and even noble (such as the BLT at Butcher and the Boar), while foods of Asian, African, and Latin American origins are foreign, stinky, cheap, and exotic.

Like the British in India, the French in Vietnam, or the settlers in North America, Bos casts her Orientalist, colonial lens upon POC food and culture with a knowing bourgeois acumen and often condescending sense of entitlement. It is evident that she writes to and for white people, excluding the people whose food, culture and livelihood about whom she writes.  It is also evident that she feels entitled, or even obligated, to critique and evaluate Brown and Black-owned establishments in a way that includes paternalistically instructing them on how they should run their business to better make it suitable for her predilections.  And while she is prone to acting the pseudo-expert as she describes mysterious ancestral tales related to our food, she has yet to mention also the history of colonialism, genocide, and oppression that brought European food to the Americas.

Asian Food: Weird, Cheap, and Fast

Every article Bos wrote on Asian food at some point used descriptive words and phrases like weird, strange, esoteric, crazy, “a different animal,” ritualistic,” “kooky,”  and “fun oddballs.” Frequently she would call a long-established Asian food a “trend,” indicating that white people had started to eat it en masse.  She also tended to fetishize it, often stating that you were powerless but to want it [Asian food]  again and again and again, such as in her article about Thai Cafe on University. She also warned that you may get “startled” when greeted at the door in Japanese at a Japanese restaurant. Okay.

When discussing ramen Bos would alternately describe it as forgettable “slurp and go” cheap food or the “latest craze” born out of samurai traditions. When reporting on “foreign” palates she often didactically includes a superficial mini history or cultural lesson with her review.  For example, she informed readers in multiple articles that “some cultures”   eat hot ramen soups in the summer, while also reassuring readers that she understands how peculiar and weird of a practice this is. Bos also wrote about the samurai origins of Japanese noodles, thus appearing as an “expert” on both samurai culture and the noodles at Furukawa, all on her own expertise. In the majority if not all posts on Asian food she underscored the points that the price was cheap and the service fast.

Mystical, Magical Far East

An Orientalist lens was particularly evident in Bos’ review of Ghorka Palace in Northeast. She writes:

“Enter Gorkha Palace, the hidden-in-plain-sight, turmeric-hued edifice tucked behind Surdyk’s in northeast Minneapolis, and you’re hit with a wall of spice. Cumin, coriander, ginger, fenugreek, garam masala: This invisible curtain hangs in the atmosphere as certainly as the heavy fabric that cloaks the breezeway.”

So, if you can even find Ghorka Palace behind this mysterious shroud, Bos does go on to describe the food with enthusiasm.  However she says that menu prices will be “setting you back” $13-18, even though it is for high quality organic ingredients and grass fed bison, her word choice implies that the prices are definitely not cheap.

Bos remains enraptured with the mysticism of the place and describes the owners in a kind of model minority light, emphasizing the loving labor and toil of their painstaking work and their humble non-profiteering mindset.  With this theme Bos concludes:

“What can’t be taught is generosity and true hospitality. In Tibet and Nepal, openness and selflessness are imperatives relating to Karma and religion. At Gorkha Palace, you can feel it. You can taste it, too.”

“Relating to Karma and religion?” Is this a temple or a restaurant? While this review may be perceived as overwhelmingly positive, it still embeds this belief that they are other, mystical and exotic, and not business owners, but humble Buddhas, ready to not only serve you from the menu but also enlighten you in the process.

Stinky and Foreign.

In writing about these reviews, a friend mentioned that there had been a review of Ethiopian food in which Bos was particularly offensive and xenophobic.  Her May 2015 review of Afro Deli reads:

“African spices are distinctive for their earthy depth, their sometimes armpit levels of funk, and their imposing heat. Ethiopian berbere with its chile, garlic, ginger, and fenugreek; Somali ones with cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon — if it all seems a bit exotic, that’s because it is. Egyptians used these things for embalming. They’re used in magic, medicine, and ritual all over the world. People were sold into slavery in exchange for them. This is heady stuff. And at Afro Deli you can have heaps for around seven dollars.”

“Armpit levels of funk and their imposing heat.” Yes, you read that correctly. She wrote that Ethiopian spices stink like smelly armpits and have a threatening level of spiciness.  And then Bos goes on with horrifying flippancy to spout superficial trivia about such serious and complex topics as Egyptian embalming and slave trade, and ends the passage by saying you can get all of that for the rock-bottom price of $7.  How does this type of utterly offensive writing go unchecked past the editor’s desk?

The review, titled “Afro Deli Rebrands African for the Minnesota Palate,” clearly delineates people of African descent as not Minnesotan and not part of the “Minnesota palate.” In the review Bos tries to pin down exactly how long the owner has lived in Minnesota even though it has no relevance to the article. To her inquiries he replied, “I am Minnesotan.” Also present in the review  are the consistent themes of exotic, fast and cheap. Bos uses words like “magic,” “heady,” “addictive,” and “miniscule prices.”  And while it does seem that she truly recommends the food, she remains grossly unaware of the xenophobic, racist lens through which she portrays the business owners and their establishments.

In another post on Ethiopian food, titled “Because it’s cold outside, and other reasons you should be eating Ethiopian Food,” she starts out with this confusing and problematic analogy:

“The Twin Cities is home to thousands of Ethiopian immigrants. But that isn’t why you should get to know the cuisine. The Twin Cities is also home to thousands of lakes, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to implore you to set up an ice fishing rig.”

Actually, no, having a lot of Ethiopian neighbors and community members is a great reason to get to know the cuisine. Food is an essential part of a culture and community. And the lake reference just makes no sense. Lots of folks have tried ice fishing because we are surrounded by lakes during our long cold winters. Topography, like food, is an essential part of our culture and community, which is why each winter we have multiple community events centered around the lakes. But I digress.  She then goes on to say:

“1. If you like sourdough bread, you will love injera.

Despite its strange appearance — almost gray in color and with a dappled sponginess like the inside of a cow’s stomach, injera boasts an intense sourdough tang, not unlike the best San Francisco loaves.”

No, it is not like sourdough bread any more than soju is like white wine. And to liken it to the inside of a cow’s stomach is startlingly off-base, disrespectful, and reminiscent of xenophobic food programs like the Bizzare Foods show.  Bos concludes the review by reminding readers as always, that for “real” Minnesotans, it’s not just a meal, it’s an exotic adventure:  

“And that’s why, when winter gets the better of us, and we ain’t got no money for a passport stamp, we explore with our gastro-tickets tightly gripped, adventure and appetite leading the way.”

Authenticity is irrelevant, but is it authentic?

Not surprisingly, Bos’ reviews for Mexican food centered around tacos and burritos.  She brought comparisons to Chipotle in many of her articles for Asian and African food, but especially did so in regards to Mexican food. Her post on Catrina’s is titled, “Local fast-casual Catrina’s could be your new Chipotle.” No. No. No. chipotle is the wal-mart of tacos and burritos, was early-on funded by mcdonald’s corp, and nets about 500 million per year.  The founder steve ells directly copied the taco stands and burritos he saw doing so well in San Francisco’s Mission District and went and opened his own version in Denver, CO, which he thereby dubbed “fast casual” style dining. (Not surprisingly, In September 2011, Chipotle also opened an Asian fast-casual concept restaurant named ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen in Washington, D.C. )

Catrina’s is not the new chipotle.  Catrina’s is Catrina’s. Chipotle is a corporation that sells fast food. At the end of her review, even though the food at Catrina’s sounds wonderful and the owners strive to use many high quality and organic ingredients, Bos still ended the review highlighting what she upholds as their most mentionable attribute: cheap prices.

Authenticity is for Artisanal food

Bos often brings up and then soundly dismisses queries regarding “authenticity” in her reviews, and has written that really, there exists no authentic taco (but then goes on to describe one).  Despite these overt dismissals of questioning “authenticity,” Bos recently wrote a piece calling out Melt Shop , a grilled cheese place at the MOA, for using the term “artisanal.” Bos sanctimoniously asserted that “artisanal” is a term fitting only of a certain standard and that Melt Shop had no business using the term.  She declared even that they are “imposters!” It is as if she has revealed that the emperor wears no clothes.  So, like whoa, stay in your lane grilled cheese place at the MOA. Apparently bourgeois standards must be protected to remain authentic, I mean artisanal.

Bos is also officious about if and how POC restaurants should mix their menu. In this unnecessarily biting review of African Paradise, in which she oddly begins by effusively complimenting a different restaurant (Afro Deli), she then writes:

“The menu zigzags all over the place from suqaar to ugali to Middle Eastern favorites like gyros, to burgers and even an “egg muffin” with American cheese. We’ve got no problem with this schizophrenia as long as the technique is solid, but restaurants that try to be all things for all people generally fail miserably in the effort to be overly inclusive.”

The offensive and ableist use of “schizophrenia” aside,  Bos didn’t care about the “overly inclusive” mixed menu at the “New American” restaurant Xavi, whose menu features galbi, chorizo, coconut milk, thai basil, lemongrass, furikake spice blend, saffron couscous and yuba on their menu alongside or intermingled within otherwise  white, European-based fare.  To Bos, this menu mixing is okay for white bourgeois restaurants, but critiqueable for an African restaurant perhaps grappling with the challenges of attempting to meet the varied demands of consumers on east Lake Street.

Wait, some surprisingly complimentary reviews–oh, nvm, it’s not owned by POC.

At a couple moments, I did think that I had found exceptions to the Orientalist and xenophobic themes in Bos reviews, but soon realized that they were not truly exceptions at all.  One review was for Kyatchi on Eat Street, whose review was noticeably void of the familiar themes of cheap, exotic, and weird (though Bos did use “insane” to describe a menu item).  I then learned that though the chef is Asian, the four other owners are not. Thus explained the complimentary comments in the review such as, “Tiny, indie sushi bar Kyatchi has always been adept at this melding maneuver.” She is here referring to their mixed menu, about which Bos appears to not only have zero issues, but downright love, baseball metaphor and all:  “Their original idea to mash up sushi and hot dogs has been a home run from the get-go, and we love them for this originality.”  Other descriptions extol Kiyatchi’s upper class virtues:  “messy yet elegant”, “best quality,” “impeccable,” , far superior,” and “fancy.”

Another exception that was not really an exception was Bos’ review for Taco Cat, a taco place in Midtown Global Market started by two white guys whose only previous restaurant experience had been Jimmy Johns. Bos spins a veritable hipster success story of gentrification as she enthusiastically narrates how effortlessly and quickly “a couple of dudes with a serious yen for tacos” grabbed a hold of the local taco market. Bos demonstrates no awareness that for the owners of local Mexican food trucks, restaurants, and vendors on east Lake Street in Minneapolis, Mexican food has been and continues to be their livelihood and south central Minneapolis their home. The impact of gentrification channels resources and capital away from longstanding neighborhood businesses to new, predominantly white, non-local businesses that move in and take over the local market. There are many Latinx folks who live in this Minneapolis neighborhood who can and do speak on this much more adeptly and knowledgeably than I can. This economic and cultural aspect needs to be understood when frequenting a place like MidTown Global Market, where Taco Cat beat out many other applicants to a secure highly competitive vendor space. Taco Cat’s menu is even subdivided in this same manner that Bos writes, with “street style” tacos (for street cred? authenticity?) in one section and “speciality” tacos (for the bourgeois gourmand) in another.  The speciality tacos are named “The Ruckus,” “The Outlaw,” and “The Larry,” all names that seem more fitting for items at a cowboy themed sub sandwich shop than for tacos.

In contrast to her other taco reviews,  Bos does not describe Taco Cat as “drunk food,” but instead as good “hangover food,” so you eat these tacos not in a late night drunken stupor but in the golden daylight of brunch.  And even though Taco Cat’s food is also made quickly, she does not mention that it is fast, nor does she describe the food as “cheap.” She instead says that it is “priced at market.”  She gushes at length about the specialty tacos and burritos, and ends by saying that together the two guys are “creative genius.”  Like white settlers on the midwest prairie, it certainly does seem that these two former Jimmy Johnners “discovered” tacos.

Now read how Bos writes about Taco El Primo, or as she refers to them, “the taco truck in the K-Mart parking lot”:

“Cars drive by with the booming systems. Entire families spill out of the side of a minivan that, with its doors hanging open, seconds as a makeshift cafe. Everyone holds styrofoam containers in their laps. Couples approach the window, arm in arm, hungry and starry-eyed as they would be at any candlelight dinner. Brave souls go back for another dose of the torrid hot sauce, available in green (hot) and red (hottest).”  

The taco truck she is referring to is Taco El Primo, but she doesn’t give its proper name  in the title. Like the famed colonizer Chris Columbus, she writes as if she has discovered these tacos in this far off wild land of the K-Mart parking lot on east Lake, and must send a clarion call via the City Pages to those who would never think to go to that K-Mart parking lot, but who can now make an adventure of it to get an authentic urban taco experience. The theme and tone of her writing is centered around creating experiential, authentic-seeming imagery. Part of that ‘authenticity” is to focus on the low price of the food and how “real” the people are who come to eat it. And apparently the hot sauce is “torrid.” Frequently she uses semantics like “hordes” or describes families as “spilling out the sides of minivans” to describe the people. 

“They’re just $2.50 apiece, but we’ve been warned that the price may go up to $3 as the weather improves. The truck is shopworn, the cooks make each and every taco to order, and the people-watching is priceless.”

And because eating the same “authentic,” low-priced food as the poor local folks in the K-Mart parking lot is so real (and entertaining), echoing her dive bar reviews, she ends with this instagram snapshot:

“standing in a parking lot, leaning on a hot sun-absorbed car door, an icy mango Jarritos dripping down your arm, there’s no room for pretense here.”

There are many respectful ways that Bos could have chosen to write about Taco El Primo, without pretense or evoking the image of the high profile politician eating burgers at the local working class bar, or the tourist taking stereotyped selfies with poor children in India.  Instead, she exploits the moment to assert she’s got “street cred” by knowing where to find the most ‘authentic,” and by that she meanest cheapest, taco truck on Lake Street.

Hey City Pages

Bos is not alone in how she writes about food, but she is a regular staff writer at the City Pages and she needs to educate herself before she writes any further about that which she does not understand nor respect. Her constant delineations of who is and is not Minnesotan are insidiously xenophobic, racist, and classist.

Mecca Bos needs to issue an apology to the communities of color about whom she has written so offensively.  Many people give lip service to understanding systemic racism and microaggressions, but still don’t recognize its manifestations or how it permeates daily life in Minnesota and everywhere in the U.S. Mainstream media companies are particularly challenged in this area and editors don’t appear all that concerned about remedying or even recognizing the problem of racist reporting.  Bos was quick to dismiss me when first I emailed her about her Hoban review. This week when I sent her my fairly extensive post about her Hoban review, within minutes she replied with only a brief, MN Nice, “thanks for your feedback.”  

And so doing what we do, we put the time in. We gather evidence. We write back. We expect to be heard. City Pages and Mecca Bos: Are you listening yet?

City Pages staff contact info:

Pete Kotz, editor: pkotz@citypages.com

Hannah Sayle, managing editor: hsayle@citypages.com

Mike Reitmulder, web editor: mrietmulder@citypages.com

Mecca Bos, food critic: mbos@citypages.com

Links that may be of use. I don’t endorse everything in them, but I do find them relevant:

http://www.eater.com/forums/reviews-critics/2016/3/23/11290082/please-stop-writing-racist-restaurant-reviews

https://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/hari-kondabolu-stop-talking-to-indian-americans-about-indian-food

http://www.racistsandwich.com

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/why-everyone-should-stop-calling-immigrant-food-ethnic/2015/07/20/07927100-266f-11e5-b77f-eb13a215f593_story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/04/22/the-great-ethnic-food-lie/

 

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11:11pm

Thoughts:

Be wary of thinking or talking about trump the way big media talks about white male mass shooters, as if the source is mental illness.  No. He is a narcissist, he is a sociopath, but that doesn’t meant he isn’t strategic and ruthless and completely aware of what he is doing.

Social norms are powerful.  He has already heavily influenced social norms. Yes, white supremacist, xenophobic, misogynists were always there. But now they feel confident enough to run for congress.

trump is a white supremacist, neoliberal, misogynist, fascist because he is a rich white man who can get away with it. 

he is a violent person with power and he knows exactly what he is doing.

Even when white male terrorists explicitly declare that they are killing in the name of white supremacy, still mainstream media says, ohhh, he must’ve had a bad childhood, he must have mental health issues. No. This is white supremacy. This is hate. Plus, then, if it was a bad childhood, why don’t they ask him why he didn’t pull himself by his bootstraps and find god and family values. If it was mental health (especially post-military ptsd) why are they not publically holding our social services and mental health services responsible?

Where are these discussions of mental health when they report on the people in Syria who have been bombed relentlessly by the U.S and France? They appear to understand the trauma and grief that French people experience. Where are these discussions of mental health when they report on Palestine? Where are these discussions of mental health when they report on Black and Brown communities and the state violence they live with every single day. Where are these discussions of mental health when they report on military trained men who shoot down civilians in the name of homophobia and white supremacy?  These references are certainly not comprehensive. There are so many in trauma, so many to name.

….

Yes , we need transformative change.

It seems somewhat inherent to the notion of dismissing Hillary as a candidate is also the dismissal of the notion that we can influence and change an elected official through grassroots power. Yet, we saw Bernie influence Hillary. We saw Obama after feeling public pressure say he could no longer be neutral about Marriage Equality. I don’t mean that this is the answer. But this is the short term while we work on the long term. 

I am not saying I do not passionately believe in and want a radical, transformative vision for our country and our world. But I also want to give short term and long term demands because we have to have a strategy.

It isn’t everything that Hillary is the first woman to be a major party presidential candidate. But it is something very significant for this deeply patriarchal country. And it does influence norms. And it does give children of all genders a different reality to view as their norm. Just as the Obamas in the white house wasn’t everything, it was still a big fucking deal in so many ways and if you gotta stay so purist that you can’t concede that, well. Okay.  

Sure I have problems with some of what Obama did. But he also stood up there as the pres of the goddamn united states and said that he could’ve been Trayvon Martin. And Michelle Obama informed this country and the world more than once that she woke up each day in a house built by slaves. That shit is amazing and powerful.

I am not an ardent Hillary supporter. And I am an avid critic of the politics of this country. But I live here. This is my home. And I have lived in no home that was even near to perfect, including the ones I made on my own. And still I loved them all. I am also a woman that has been often told that I am too much. Too opinionated. Too strongwilled, too loud, to this, too that. And like most women, I have received the most abundant praise when I am perfectly eloquent, controlled, thin, coiffed, manicured, accommodating, hospitable, nurturing, pleasant, and cheerful.  There is much I disagree with about Hillary Clinton, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also recognize a strong woman who can give no fucks when I see one.

Thinking about both Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton. Michelle is strong and intelligent, but she also often reaps the most praise when she centers her speeches on the home, parenting, marriage, god. Her appearance fits many dominant standards of beauty–wavy long hair, warm smile, beautiful clothes, slim, fit body.  Place Hillary alongside her, and the differences are all the more striking. I have just been thinking on this lately. And on how the U.S. would navigate a male spouse in the white house for the first time, especially one that’s lived there before as pres. 

I am just writing to try to sort some things out in my head. I reserve the right to change my views, as we all should have the right to do. I have learned a lot from reading what people have shared on social media and in conversations lately. This is how we gauge public opinion, share in dialogue, engage in the dialectic, grow.

Also, don’t give into the temptation to simplify our heros/mentors/radical icons. They were driven and guided by their ideologies AND extremely importantly they were and are the best of strategists.  Actions born from ideology and passions, but decided upon by strategy.

You don’t win at chess with whimsical moves. You win at chess by knowing how the game works and knowing all of the strategies.  I think politics is a lot like chess. I know this is not an original or mind-blowing comment.  I also realize that it is way past my bedtime and I may disagree with everything I have written come morning. Such is the risk of sharing.

It is 11:11. Good night! asian female pilot

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

 

 

 

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Be Done With Your Orientalist Food Reviews: Redemption for Hoban Korean Uptown

RACIST FOOD CRITIC FILES

PART 1

On Friday, July 22, City Pages food blogger Mecca Bos renewed my ire regarding her racist food reviews when she posted her tepid, hardly bolstering piece about The Little Mekong Night Market, a wonderful celebration of Asian food and culture in St. Paul’s Asian business and cultural district. This gave me fresh incentive to use part of my summer to finally write more at length about her highly problematic review of Hoban Korea Uptown from last March, a review she unapologetically and staunchly stood by when I informed her that it was upsetting. This makes me think that she knows not of Korean Han. My people have been fighting colonialism for centuries, and will keep doing so in ways large and small.   

To remind, on March 21, 2016 Mecca Bos posted a short piece announcing that Hoban Korea Uptown was now open in Uptown. She provided some basic information about the restaurant and appeared for the most part supportive and not offensive.

When she gave her full review a week later on March 28, 2016, she displayed not only a lack of real knowledge or cultural competence about Korean BBQ, but also portrayed the staff, the patrons, and the place through an offensive, Orientalist lens, while often using a flippant and condescending tone about facets she apparently did not understand about Korean restaurants, culture, and BBQ.  Throughout her write-up she portrayed the entire restaurant like one big, drunk, Orientalist-themed frat party, cutting down what she didn’t understand and objectifying that which struck her as exotic.

Some excerpts from her review include:

“Do: Get drunk. It will help you get on the level of most other people in the room, including the staff. Remember, this is a party, so act accordingly.”

Honestly. Bos makes it sound like Korean BBQ is like some kind of sports bar.  She continues:

“Don’t: Get too attached to any one server. It seems like they are doing things by committee, so you’ll never know if your drink or appetizer order ever got put in until it is delivered to your table, likely a very long time after you’ve ordered it.”

“They are doing things by committee?” Okay. Listen.

  1. They had been open about a week. It is reasonable that they may still be getting their processes down.
  2. If the place is “teeming with diners” as she describes at the onset, that means it is busy.  
  3. It is in no way uncommon for multiple staff to serve you at any restaurant, especially when they are at full house.

As the review progresses, Bos goes on listing grievances that show an ignorance about Korean BBQ, the cost of meat, and a refusal to acknowledge overhead costs in Uptown. She admits the meal includes sides, but then begrudges that she has to cook it herself. 

“Don’t: Expect to get full-on BBQ alone. Each order is about enough meat for one moderately hungry individual, and there is a two-portion minimum per table. If you’re a very hungry group, this adds up to $18.95 to $23.95 per portion. We paid $23.95 for four thin strips of Galbi marinated short ribs, which amounts to about 12 dainty bites of meat. The price does include the banchan, but it’s still pretty expensive considering you’re cooking it yourself.”

Mecca Bos, cooking the meat together and eating it hot off the grill is part of the social dining experience of Korean BBQ.  In this midwest land where it is the most staple of traditions to haul everything outside to fire up the grill to cook meat or pretty much any food, noting that you have to cook it yourself seems just plain petty and ignorant.  More complaints of fairly standard prices for Uptown ensue:

“While other Korean favorites are on offer here, those will cost you as well. Bibimbap is an eye-popping $18.95, and a bulgogi rice noodle bowl and even a simple sweet and sour shrimp dish are both $16.95.”

Her complaints about the prices and the wait time for a popular, new restaurant in generally high-priced Uptown expose the consistent expectation that Asian food be fast and cheap food, often to eat while drunk.  A quick comparison of nearby establishments shows that a small strip steak at an Uptown neighborhood bar like The Lowry will run you $23.95. At the Burch Steakhouse in Uptown with comparable real estate,  a mere 6oz of basic flatiron or sirloin is $21, and 12oz  $42.  An 8oz filet is $67.  Does this food critic not know what good meat costs? Rarely to never in her reviews for a “bistro” or “artisanal” establishment has she shown as much intolerance or unreasonable expectation for the cost of a meal.

Here is the passage in which she basically urges diners to treat fellow patrons and staff as a spectacle side show to accessorize their dining experience.  

“Do: Get an eyeful of each and every thing going on around you. First dates, gay and straight. Big, boozy tables of dude bros, ogling the gorgeous servers. Young guys sitting with old guys. Pretty young things. Throngs and throngs of pretty young things. Rarely have we seen Uptown quite this diverse, quite this urban, quite this beautiful-strange.”

“Beautiful-strange?” Does that not encapsulate Orientalist consumerism in a nutshell? When she describes large tables of drunk “dude bros” lecherously staring at the servers, it does not seem that she has heard of yellow fever— the sexual fetishization of Asian girls and women typically, but also Asian boys and men. She herself seems to have been caught up in the (“beautiful-strange) exoticization of the scene she conjures and the veritable cornacopia of sexual orientations and couplings on display.  This excerpt essentially says add some “foreignness” (not actual foreigners though please) to Uptown’s outdoor mall ambiance, and now it’s a lot more entertaining for the solidly white middle to upper income demographic that inhabit this lakes neighborhood adjacent to former “SunDown Town” Edina in Southwest Minneapolis.

Bos goes on in this theme:

“You alone can know if you’re the sort of person with the strength of will to endure the time, frustration, and expenditure to experience something this altogether novel.”

This makes it sound like you’ve been on a hot, dusty, bumpy bus ride during your foreign tourist adventure to a remote location that is totes worth it because you got some great Instagram of yourself with some authentic local natives.

Bos concludes:

“We’d tell you to wait a few weeks until the kinks get worked out, but we know you won’t. You’re a moth to a flame.”

Like a fetish. “You’re a moth to a flame.” Like a hypnotic desire (or your Orientalist imagination) you know it is ill-advised to succumb, but you. just. cannot. resist.

Mecca Bos, please stop.

Compare Bos’ Hoban review to her considerate and glowing July 18th review of the “casual chic New American” restaurant  Xavi, which she calls the Neighborhood Gem of Diamond Lake. In this review she starts by praising “the handsome homes and manicured lawns that populate the neighborhood.”  She states that “drinks are priced affordably with wine hovering around $9 and beer around $5. This is from the same critic who expects her tacos and ramen to stay cheap and fast and preferably around $5-$7 (more on this in Part 2).  And though the prices of the entrees at Xavi’s “were a bit higher than their comfort zone,” she gently and diplomatically places the onus on her price “comfort zone” rather than fault the restaurant for their high prices.

This is in direct contrast to her complaints about the cost of meat at Hoban, and her advisements that you’ll need to order “filler” food because you won’t get full from the “dainty” bites of meat.  Ironically, Xavi’s “New American” menu includes kalbi (Korean bbq short rib, but they call it marinated hanger steak), served with kimchi and Chinese eggplant, priced at $25 for one serving. While Bos stridently bemoaned the cost of a bowl of meat-filled bimibap or the rice noodle entrees priced between $18.95 and $16.95 at Hoban, a vegetarian or couscous entree at Xavi runs between $24-$21.  It is generally understood also, that restaurants like Xavi are not known for large portion sizes, because we know that prime cuts of meat, like prime real estate, are expensive.

Xavi had been open a full month when Bos reviewed it, and she gave no mention of a waitlist or the “throngs and throngs” of people she described at the newly opened Hoban Uptown. Hoban, however, had been open only about a week at the time of her review, and it was busy enough to have a waitlist. These factors would obviously produce very different dining experiences, yet she was infinitely more forgiving and gracious to the less burdened Xavi for any shortcomings and ended her review with encouraging words and positive expectations for their future. In direct contrast to the drunken exotic thrills and adventures of her “ethnic” experience at Hoban, of Xavi, Bos closed by lovingly stating, “Service could not have been friendlier or more attentive. It’s the kind that makes you feel like you’re in a home and not a business.”  

When I wrote to Mecca Bos in March to voice my upset at her review, I closed with, “I hope you have a retraction or apology or some form of restoration in the works.  Please also educate yourself at length before you attempt to write on topics clearly outside of your knowledge base again.”

In response to my email she said that she saw no problems with her review and “a retraction, apology, or restoration [was] is definitely not in the offing.”  One would think a reporter would want to hear what a Korean had to say about her write-up about Korean food. One would think. 

In closing, I demand once again: Mecca Bos, please learn how to write about our food respectfully and lovingly, or just stick to writing about the white, bourgeois restaurants you clearly do love and respect. Our food is important to us. It is how we show love to each other, it is how we share with each other, it is central to our lives and our people. Remove the Orientalist goggles (and beer goggles for that matter) from your consumerism and critiques of our food. Menu items may be for consumption, but our bodies and our culture are most definitely not.

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Bias in Mecca Bos’ Post on Little Mekong

Little Mekong Night Market is awesome and wonderful in so many many ways everyone should go celebrate the food and people and neighborhood.

Below is my FB post pointing out the problems with her post:

………
and here’s mecca bos’ tepid Little Mekong Night Market write-up.  yes, she says that we should go, and then without adornment or excitement or the gushing we know she is capable of, she lists off featured performers etc. all of which are AWESOME.

and then she implies kids will not be safe and parents will be at their wits end:
“When the kids have been threatened by a crowd trampling for the umpteenth time and you cannot take a single time more, usher them over to the newly designated kid-friendly activity zone, where families (yeah, you can’t just drop them off, sadly) can enjoy interactive exhibits from the Minnesota Children’s Museum, lantern making, and other kid-friendly stuff.”

and yeah. sadly you can’t drop your kids off at this family friendly event. like you should totally go the state fair or something with your kids and act like they’ll be trampled and then complain that you can’t dump them off somewhere. so instead uplifting the fact that there is this cool kid zone she makes it seem some kind of disappointment.

argh. this bias may seem trivial but it matters. and she is of course not the only reviewer to display it.

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