How Kimmy Schmidt Became a Discussion About Race in America

Hello friends, I'm here to share an email I received recently from a white friend of a friend about race issues. I want, wait, no, I need, to share with you a little chunk of what it's like to be an Asian-American and a person of color in America. 

The email below came to me after I posted the status, "I'm unhappy with the way Asian-Americans are portrayed on Kimmy Schmidt." Tina Fey's work has long been racially triggering for me (I'm a big fan of 30 Rock, but damn it was messed up sometimes).

PS - The [redacted] friend the commenter mentions below is Asian-American and I truly appreciated her commentary when I was too tired to carry on the fight.

Hi Dakota,

I will do my best to explain where I'm coming from in regards to the conversation from the other day.

First, I think that Tina Fey's brand of humor might be lost on people who take it too literally. Satire has, for a very long time, been a way for writers to express problems in society, through irony. My comparison to Dave Chappelle had to do with the fact that she makes fun of everyone. While she might be making fun of Asians and black people, she is also making fun of white people. And yes, her humor can get to be tiresome and not that funny. That's why I stopped watching Kimmy Schmidt. And that's something you can do too. While I'm not a fan of the extreme form of political correctness we are in the midst of, I see its merits in that it is changing minds. And maybe it makes us consider if cultural stereotypes need to be brought up as often as they are.

Throughout your post your friend [redacted] kept jumping in and speaking for you. So some of my thoughts might have to do with what she said. 

I was asking if you believe in race because I was surprised to hear you refer to being Asian as "your race". I would think you would understand the complexities of nationality, ancestry, and the fact that like it or not, we are all Americans. If you are sensitive to your identity as a person of color, or think that you have been treated as "the other," consider what it feels like to be singled out as a white person. Over the past few years I have increasingly been accused of being privy to white privilege, but only by people who appear to be pretty privileged themselves. So I have to question how oppressed my middle-class friends actually are. I wonder if the need to identify as something other than a comfortable American has to do with a certain amount of guilt.

And I am tired of all of this. I'm tired of everything being about race. I'm tired of my comfortable friends singling me out and assuming I'm part of the problem. I'm tired of the intolerance of the PC Police. I'm tired of having to be so careful of language, for fear of offending someone. 

What I've been trying to communicate since the election is that now is not the time for more divisiveness. Now is not the time to look for problems, when they might not be there. Now is not the time to claim you are victim of something that is not your reality. Now is the time to try to understand where people are coming from, and to bridge gaps and to form some kind of common ground.

One of your friends brought up being Jewish, and it reminded me of my own situation, for I had nearly forgot. Two generations ago people like me were being murdered en masse in gas chambers. The guilt of being Jewish, and of being survivors, was brought to the U.S. by many, many families like mine. So strong was, and is, the need to assimilate and shed the guilt, that people changed their names and appearances. Both my brother and sister married Wasps and moved way out to the exurbs of Richmond, Virginia. My brother got a nose job. My sister became a Christian. Her daughter married a very Waspy man and got a nose job herself. My sister's husband served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Around the time my siblings swung sharply towards the right, I went to art school and changed my life, becoming a lefty hippie punk liberal. My family was not pleased at all. Right when I wanted to celebrate the fact that I had found myself, I felt this deep oppression and lack of acceptance from my family. So I do know what it feels like to be marginalized. Being white doesn't bring about automatic privilege. We all have our own difficulties, problems and stumbling blocks in life. 

There is more I could say but I guess I'll leave it at that. I am interested to know what you think.

Stop DMing Me About Cultural Appropriation & Read These First

Hey folks. So I get a lot of DMs about food and cultural appropriation as a food editor, especially since I wrote this piece on PhoGate 2016 and was interviewed for Candy Palmater's radio show on CBC

I appreciate inquiry. Greatly. But I don't have time to respond to most of it. Instead, I've compiled a list of pieces you can read about food and complex cultural issues, including food appropriation, that I'll regularly ping to you when you ping me. (Also, follow these folks below on social media for more insight.)

This doesn't mean I'm never open to a question, but it does mean you can use these resources to do some deep thinking before DMing/PMing/emailing/texting me, because responding to them (or even getting them while I'm running through Penn Station with a coffee in hand, trying to scroll through my email to find an errant Amtrak e-ticket!) can be a brick of emotional and intellectual labor. I'm too busy hawking and hustling to do that because, in a capitalist society, a woman, especially a woman of color who's a freelancer, has got way more cents to make up.

For editors: If a photo spread or a feature seems commodifying to you, it probably is, so rethink it. Hire a more diverse staff. Get some consultants and pay them instead of expecting free labor from writers and editors of color (or pay us by the hour as freelance consultants; I'm working on building a restaurant and media consultancy). Be patient with criticism. I've made mistakes too (and will continue to as any editor/journo does), but I try to listen. 

Be aware of your own nepotism and prejudices when you scout restaurants and chefs to highlight. Be critical, compassionate and analytical when you review your coverage every month. Statistically speaking, who did you highlight? Who got the big spreads? Your current audience might love Italian food, but you also have to think about the potential subscribers you're alienating by mostly highlighting only certain cuisines, aspects of cuisines, or chefs. Be careful about how you "other" various cuisines by lumping them together or glossing over them.

When there's a big uproar on social media, try to listen instead of being defensive. Change and learning will be painful and difficult for you and your staff. Repeat to yourself: "Not everything belongs to me. Not everything needs to belong to me. And there is no absolute and easy answer that a person of color can rubberstamp-approve for me." Don't consider one speaker as the speaker for their entire ethnicity. 

My parents, who run restaurants, didn't have the agency, power or venue to respond to you, the mainstream white media, like my generation does. They were too busy trying to assimilate so they wouldn't get flak from mainstream American society. They turned the other cheek not out of Jesus-like generosity, but because the other option was starving. They had only one viable choice that was well-fed: make money and be perceived as good American citizens, like the citizenship test demanded. 

So aren't you glad you're getting a broader snapshot of your audience, including an improving dialectic involving not only the praise, but also the (largely still silenced) dissent -- and also conversation that is neither praise nor dissent, but ultimately still productive? Look at social media as a free (and sometimes really direct) consultant.

Required Foodpropriation Reading as of March 2017 (in no particular order but that of my pre-coffee brain)

1. "Craving the Other" by Soleil Ho, Bitch Magazine.

2. "Who Owns Southern Food?" by Tunde Wey and John T. Edge, Oxford American.

3. "Dear Sean, We Need to Talk" by Michael Twitty, Afroculinaria.

4. "Why a Pho Video Boiled Over Into Controversy for Bon Appetit" by Andrea Nguyen, Viet World Kitchen.

5. "Beyond Talk: The Search for Real Solutions in the Conversation About Food and Cultural Appropriation" by Cathy Erway, Civil Eats. 

7. "When Chefs Become Famous Cooking Other Cultures' Food," by Maria Godoy, NPR's The Salt. 

8. "Food, Race, and Power: Who gets to be an authority on 'ethnic' cuisines?" by Lorraine Chuen

9. My writeup on The Sporkful's coding series, "Who Is This Restaurant For?" for Paste Magazine 

10. "The Problem With 'Thug' Cuisine" by Bryant Terry, CNN.com.

11. "Cheap Eats, Cheap Labor: The Hidden Human Costs of Those Lists" by Diep Tran, NPR's The Salt.

12. "The Feminist Guide to Being a Foodie Without Being Culturally Appropriative" by Rachel Kuo, Everyday Feminism.

13. "A Short Resource Guide to Food, Race, and Cultural Appropriation" by Eva Recinos, Bitch Magazine (including Malik Yakini of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network's excellent, must-listen TEDx talk). 

14. "On Ferguson, Thug Kitchen, and Trayvon Martin: Intersections of [Post]Race-Consciousness, Food Justice, and Hip Hop Vegan Ethics" by Dr. A. Breeze Harper, The Sistah Vegan Project.

15. "The SFA Take" has a ton of great articles listed highlighting especially southern food issues.

16. The authors listed in Decolonizing Foodways may have much to offer, though I have not read most of them.

17. "Thug Kitchen: A Recipe in Blackface" by Akeya Dickson, The Root.  

18. "Why Cultural Appropriation Could Be the Best and Worst Thing for Soul Food's Survival," by Rodney Carmichael, interviewing soul food scholar Adrian Miller.   

19. "Coding and Decoding Dinner" by Todd Kliman, Oxford American.

20. The Racist Sandwich podcast, hosted by chef Soleil Ho, especially the Celeste Noche episodes.

21. "Are Food Bloggers Fuelling Racist Stereotypes?" by Megha Mohan, BBC, re: Celeste Noche's appearance on The Racist Sandwich podcast.  

This is not just about food appropriation; it's about the issues behind that appropriation. Listen to these podcasts and read these pieces and make the connects between dots in your knowledge.

1. The Code-Switch podcast on NPR.

2. The savvy, helpful and fun Brunch & Budget podcast, which talks about the racial wealth gap and helps you with your personal finances (also, hire Pam to help you make a plan for your personal finances over a delicious brunch! She is a financial planner and specializes in artists, creatives, freelancers and POC). 

3. The awesome, enlightening and hysterical Two Dope Queens podcast.

4. "The Underlying Racism of America's Food System," a TEDxManhattan talk by Regina Bernard-Carreno, essential for any lover of NYC and New York's food history.

5. The Another Round podcast.

6. This "#AWP17 Conference Report — Katie Hatcher on “What Writers of Color Want White Editors To Know

7. Keep subscribed to and updated on these informative and fascinating food blogs recommended by Code Switch

8. Read Vegans of Color. Veganism has always been present in many communities of color.

11 Books for Organizing Your Community Against Trump & For Equality

So, many of us are asking -- how do we organize? In an atomized, isolated world where many of us have been paying more attention to our Netflix and Seamless accounts than the real worlds outside our doors, the first steps are to a) connect with others outside our mental and physical realms (by literally going outside and to parts of town and the world we usually don't, and by virtually making compassionate and empathetic bridges online) and b) start reading and using toolkits, online and in book format.

Please let me know if you have books (or their library URLs from your local library) to add by tweeting me @dakotakim1. I'll be here reduxing my college years headbanging to Bikini Kill until I can remove all traces of Giuliani quote-slime from my brain.

NOTE: I cannot with good conscience, after having read enough about them, recommend the purchase of anything on Amazon, for many good reasons. However, I do get my free library Kindle books via Amazon delivery, and I purchased Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow for .99 cents on Amazon Kindle.

For clarity, I will put books in italics and articles, websites or online resources in "quotation marks."


Listed in alphabetical order of author's last name (because that's how we library addicts roll). Look in non-fiction or social justice, consult catalog online or at one of the library terminals, or ask a librarian or bookseller.

1. Rules for Radicals: A Practical Primer for Realistic Radicals
Alinsky, Saul
An activist classic and Alinsky's last book before his death, this book has 10 chapters on community organization, education, communication and ethics, and has been used by many successful organizers.
NYPL BPL Powells Alibris

2. Rules for Revolutionaries
Bond, Becky; Exley, Zack

3. The Activist Cookbook: Creative actions for a fair economy, united for a fair economy : a hands-on manual for organizers, artists, and educators who want to get their message across in powerful creative ways
Boyd, Andrew
NYPL Alibris

4. Beautiful Trouble
Boyd, Andrew (ed.)
Website for purchase

5. Re:imagining Change: How to Use Story-Based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements and Change the World
Canning, Doyle; Reinsborough, Patrick
Is it what we do, or how we tell it, in this media-soaked culture? This book will help activists get stories in the media, connect and communicate with other activists, and run successful campaigns. "Providing resources, theories, hands-on tools, and illuminating case studies for the next generation of activists, this resource shows how culture, media, memes, and narrative intertwine with social-change strategies and offers practical methods to amplify progressive causes in popular culture."

6. Building a Movement to End the New Jim Crow: An Organizing Guide
Hunter, Daniel
Powells Amazon (.99 cents on Kindle!)

7. The Future We Want: Radical Ideas for the New Century
Leonard, Sarah; Sunkara, Bhaskar (eds.)

8. Tools for Radical Democracy: How to Organize for Power in Your Community
Minieri, Joan
Powells NYPL (requested NYPL buy more copies; check back later)

9. The Lifelong Activist
Rettig, Hillary
NYPL (requested NYPL buy more copies)

10. Calling All Radicals: How Grassroots Organizers Can Save Our Democracy
Thompson, Gabriel
Several reviews have called this a beginner's guide for organizing. "Thompson provides strong examples of direct action, relationship building and political education, the main components behind his theory of organizing," Adam writes on Goodreads.

11. The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution
White, Micah, BLM co-founder
Black Lives Matter co-founder Micah White found that protest wasn't enough. But the lessons from BLM are invaluable (my god, have you read how the FBI systematically planned to destroy them?). We have to keep physically protesting, but we have to do more.


"Black Lives Matter"
Read about and sign their petitions here. Type in your zip code to search for petitions in your area.

Boycott this list of Pro-Trump Businesses

"We Have 100 Days to Stop Donald Trump from Systematically Corrupting Our Systems"
This is a Vox piece about the importance of the last Trump-free days until January 20, 2017. Write your Congress reps, pressure them to help reject some of these nominations.

Watch this Keith Olbermann video. It will fire you up to pressure advertisers who run racist radio, protest at every opportunity, and never stop getting mad about the oligarchy. Get mad.

Trump Syllabus 2.0. This brilliant site leads us through the rise of Trump, not in a chronological sense, but in the context of history, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia and party politics. It is fascinating, comprehensive and thoughtful. Highly recommend.

"Zinn Education Project"

"Training for Change"

"AORTA Collective"

"Beyond the Choir"

"Ruckus Society"

Love Trumps Hate, So Open Your Heart and Fight

I'm writing to you from a post-Trump world. In this dystopian world we seem to be living in, a hatemonger with no experience to qualify him for his future role will occupy the Oval Office come January 20, 2017. I would like to see protests outside his towers and the White House, and letters and petitions every day of his presidency, and radical new young candidates for every office, and dissent so strong we're remembered as more revolutionary than the fabled sixties.

I suppose many of us will remember where we were when we found out -- sitting numb in the armchair of a friend, working the graveyard shift when the radio came on. I found out in Mexico. A friend and I had gone for a work trip, and I was in Merida in the Yucatan when I found out so many in my country had voted for Trump. Whether he won or not, I felt demoralized that so many had voted for him. 

I grew up in the Midwest, amongst some lovely people who I giggled with over cow-and-apple wallpaper, corn leaf cuts and red, white and blue sheet cakes. I want to believe they would still care for me, take me in, and love me as one of their own, come hell or highwater, should there ever come a war with North Korea and internment camps for all those who look Asian or have Korean heritage in America. I want to believe in the revolutionary spirit of the Underground Railroad, fighting for what's right, and what America's history and heritage are. You can never be too vigilant when it comes to civil liberties (get your ACLU membership -- it's about numbers, and you can donate $5 if you want), and you can never think that history won't repeat itself. Read your history, folks. It's coming again.

In the past couple days, some of our worst nightmares have come to pass as we've seen who Trump will choose for his Cabinet. I've spent the past week alternating between fear, anger and tears for others and myself, reading and sharing information and attempting to figure out where I can add to, create, enliven, and participate in a pluralist society. It's been hard to keep up with all the hateful news -- Muslim registries? Mexico wall? Immigrants deported? Foreign ties severed? Russian deals? Nepotism for Trump businesses? LGBT marriages annulled? Abortion clinics shut down? If you're not afraid or angry, you're not awake.

But now I don't feel demoralized -- I feel ready to fight. I'm still crying, but my teeth are gritted, I feel strong, and I'm ready for the long haul. In my next post, I'll list 10 books for organizing your community to do the real work that's required in the future. I was an activist in college, and it's been a long time since those days. But my heart has never died -- I just got a little rerouted and turned around in life. Thankfully, that GPS is honed back on getting home now.

Coexistence. Diversity. Not all the same, but caring for one another. Empathy. Love. Protest. Anger. Action. Change. Listening. Participating. Joy. Laughter. Freedom. Creativity. Play. Fun. Equality. Justice. These are the values the communities that I grew up in in the United States and across the world taught me. This is what travel and scholarship taught me. Don't give up on all those years of lessons now. The sum total of your life and its people and its experiences made you who you are. 

When you were a kid, you knew that it was wrong that the kid was being bullied in the hall. You knew in your deepest logic of your brain and warmth of your heart that you should do something. That's your conscience speaking, and all the good training you've had in life. Did you walk away to protect yourself? Did you give the bullied person your love and support? Would the idealistic young 10-year-old you be proud of who you are now? If not, change that. It's never too late to make her or him proud. If you live by the gold standard of that 10-year-old, you'll know how to act in the coming four years while we learn what we're truly made of as we're tested to our very wits' end.

A Family Dinner in Seoul

I've been meaning to post about this casual summer dinner my family had in Seoul. I've just been so busy that everything has fallen by the wayside. 

It's the rare moment that my mother and I get the opportunity to travel to Seoul and sup with our extended family, so it was a really joyful occasion, but we wanted to keep it casual on this day. 

My uncles and aunts, the cousins and my mother and me, we all gathered at my cousins' Seoul apartment for a casual dinner. 

Greens ready for ssam
My favorite part of most simple Korean meals is the ssam. Ssam is the tradition of wrapping ingredients in an edible wrapper to keep it all together, typically greens. I love taking perilla, romaine, water dropwort (minari), mugwort (ssuk) and whatever other greens I can get my hands on (Stateside, I often add in cilantro or even Italian herbs), and wrapping rice and ssamjang, doenjang or gochujang in those fragrant leaves.

You can layer, or pick whichever greens and inserts you want. Many people like a small piece of meat in their ssam, but I prefer mine pure and vegetal. I want to taste all the greens, pungent and intense.

You can see that I've placed myself right in front of the ssam.

When all the aunties and my mum were done cooking, we had a great spread that was considered fairly modest for our family, since we love to eat big.

You might think it's funny to see bare feet near the dinner table. We were sitting on the ground, as you often do in Korea, and of course we had taken our shoes off because that's how we do. There were two tables full of family in the end, loaded down with ssam, salads, fried jeon pancakes, japchae noodles, gochu peppers, kimchi and one last favorite thing of mine.

I've eaten this way for most of my life, and have missed it since moving away from my family.
Dduk. I have a slight obsession with these Korean rice cakes, which I purchase at every available opportunity. Whether they're songpyeon, which can be filled with chestnut, red bean or sesame-honey paste, or injeolmi, which are coated in a variety of ingredients, from adzuki bean powder to soybean powder, I'm slightly obsessed with the wide variety of textures, ingredients, shapes and formats of dduk (sometimes spelled tteok).

Dduk: an essential part of my life, I think of it a bit like pasta in its diversity of shapes.
Few things, to me, are so comforting, filling and fun. I've only ever made songpyeon, so I'm looking forward to experimenting with making my own dduk and showing you the results. If you're in a Korean grocery store, make sure you ask for some. Don't expect it to be like a supersweet dessert, but somewhere in between bread and rice, and you might just find yourself craving it again.

Hawaiian-Japanese Tacos and Perfect Tofu at Suzume

I had always seen Suzume, a small Hawaiian-Japanese spot, on the corner of Lorimer and Devoe as I walked past, but I didn't have a chance to pop in until a couple months ago. I had a quiet lunch at the bar by myself, and it was tasty and relaxing.

I started with the irresistible Aloha Taco Program, which came neatly lined up and colorfully-adorned. Getting with The Program meant one of each the tacos, including an Eden Farms pork shoulder with radish and pickled pineapple, an organic chicken adobo, and a Cape Cod hake with  pickled carrot and kewpie mayo. Bring on the pickles!

That wasn't enough for me, so I grabbed a bowl of tofu noodles with pickled red onion, ginger, scallion and cucumbers. With its perfectly-fried tofu (I think it was coated in potato starch, agedashi-style), tart and sweet red onions, cucumbers that tasted quick-pickled, scallions and chewy noodles, it made me feel like I could go run a marathon.

I didn't, but later that night, I did go on a marathon bar crawl with friends, so that Suzume did me good. There are few things I love more than a quiet lunch of simple yet inventive Asian food and a good book.

Maneki Nekos and Happy Dancing Squids: A Little Tokyo Food Tour

Last week's no-ramen, no-sushi food tour of Little Tokyo in the East Village was so much fun, especially because of the folks on the tour. And the cute animals! Check out these guys!

The "apple taste cider" (which hurt no actual apples in its making) was a definite miss, but the bottle will make an great vase, and dried squid is always a hit for me.

We started our tour off with one of my childhood favorite foods, the mighty OMU-RICE! Ours was topped with grilled enoki mushrooms, which was a really nice touch.

The group grabs takeout containers and splits them outside, a quick and delicious way of hitting up as many places as possible. Next up was my favorite Osaka friend, takoyaki! 

We loved watching the bonito shrink and undulate as they melted from the takoyaki heat.

Almost equally beloved by our group were taikyaki. This cake is filled with red bean paste usually, but this one was full of green tea paste and mochi. I loved the green tea one!

Next up were a Japanese bakery and a Japanese grocery store I often go to. Sunshine Mart in the East Village is a pure gem, and I was able to get mochiko and red bean paste to make mochi at home.

Here we are standing around with our spoils of junk food from Sunshine.

No photos of the delicious pan pastries we had, from sweet potato buns to custardy buns, but head to Pan-Ya to find those sweets.

I can't wait to do this again. I think next time we're planning on British food in the West Village.