“I stand, a trespasser in his camp, hearing echoes—Chink, gook, Jap, Charlie, GO HOME, SLANT-EYES!—words that, I believe, must ‘have razored my sister Chi […] What vicious clicking sounds did they make in her Vietnamese ears, wholly new to English?” (Pham 1999: 6-7)
I recently travelled to Utrecht, Holland and couldn’t help but recall the lines above from Pham’s Catfish and Mandala. I had just taken a train from Amsterdam and was standing in Utrecht Station gobsmacked.
A restaurant called ‘Charlie Chiu’s’ was busily filling up with Dutch customers. Pham’s words rushed into my head. ‘Charlie Chiu’s’ had as its logo: ‘Charlie’ with ‘SLANT-EYES’. Its heavily racialized logo was clearly drawing from pejorative essentialisms which encompass ‘gook’ and ‘Jap’ (and many other Asian slurs).
The reason I was in Utrecht was to attend the Digital Crossroads Conference, a conference exploring race and migration online. After a short walk from the station, I was soon listening to Lisa Nakamura’s keynote address, which discussed forms of online racism (including ‘trash talk’ on YouTube). As she spoke about race and racism on YouTube, the image of Charlie Chiu’s remained and reminded me of the continued pervasiveness of racism in Holland. Particularly, Geert Wilders, the right-wing Dutch politician, has encouraged open Islamophobia in the Netherlands (Wieringa 2011). Though my work has investigated ubiquitous online racism, I often forget to write about persistent racism offline. ‘Charlie Chiu’s’ is emblematic of larger currents of race in the Netherlands (Essed and Trienekens 2008). I would be very interested in hearing from readers about their thoughts.
Essed, P. and Trienekens, S. 2008 ”Who wants to feel white?’ Race, Dutch culture and contested identities’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 31(1): 52-72.
Pham, A. X. 1999 Catfish and mandala : a two-wheeled voyage through the landscape and memory of Vietnam, 1st Edition, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Wieringa, S. E. 2011 ‘Portrait of a Women’s Marriage: Navigating between Lesbophobia and Islamophobia’, Signs 36(4): 785-793.