What Chink’s Steaks and the Confederate South Have in Common

Name changes that made news in Philly and Memphis.

Here’s some truth: A rose by any other name probably wouldn’t smell as sweet. Branding matters. Call the beautiful red flower a pissbush or a shatflower, imply something unclean about it, and ABC’s Bachelor would conclude each episode by bestowing sunflowers on a special lady.

It’s worth mentioning because of two items in the news today, one local, one national:

• In Northeast Philly, Chink’s Steaks will re-open on Monday as Joe’s Steaks & Soda, following years of criticism by Asian-American groups and a series of critical Daily News articles in 2008. Joe Groh, the store’s owners since 1997, said: “It is very important to me, my family and the entire staff that we no longer inadvertently alienate anyone in the Philly community.”

Down in Memphis, the City Council has come under fire for removing the names of three of its city parks—Confederate Park, Jefferson Davis Park, and a third honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general who was later the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

“I’m not afraid of our history,” said Lee Harris, a member of the Memphis City Council. “But I’m afraid of excluding some people from our parks and celebrating the conduct of the Confederacy.”

Good for Joe Groh. And good for the Memphis City Council.

In both cases, we’re likely to see some grumblings by old-timers about “heritage” and the need to preserve the old names. In Memphis, at least, that desire is manifesting itself on Saturday with a march by the Ku Klux Klan. Which might, in Memphis’ case, be a really good reason to drop the old names from its parks: If you’re appeasing racists and alienating the rest of your constituents—and Memphis’s population is majority African-American—you’re probably doing it wrong.

That’s not, of course, to be saying we should be hiding our history and putting it out of mind. (Though anybody who has spent, say, five minutes in Memphis can tell you that—park names or no—the air there is thick with history.) But there’s a difference between cultivating a memory of history and celebrating it. We name parks for our heroes and the causes that we actively value; the Confederacy—a nation whose defining feature during its short life was its enslavement of black people—doesn’t deserve that honor. The troops who fought for the Confederacy? They fought for a tainted cause; they don’t deserve the honor, either.

Back in Philly, the grumbling over “Chink’s Steaks” wasn’t quite so fraught, but it was still problematic; the name originated in kidding insults about the original owner’s “almond-shaped eyes.” Over time, Groh—who started out as an employee of the shop—must’ve realized he was losing sales over a name that had nothing to do with him or his personal history. Let people focus on the cheesesteaks instead.

In his case, the decision was a private one. In Memphis, it’s made by a public body. But in both cases the lesson is the same: Sometimes a bad name can get in the way of somebody enjoying your product or your park. In both cases, the name change is appropriate. And sometimes, it helps the roses smell a little sweeter.

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  • Mike Miller

    Times change and Chink’s changed after Sam sold it. His personality made the place interesting. Joe said he’d never change anything but added French fries. I go there once a month, get takeout and go over to Jacks Gogo Bar across the street. The name change was inevitable after he tried to open a Chink’s near a Southeast Asian area of the city and wasn’t successful.

  • UnreconstructedRebel

    Some of us don’t merely honour our Confederate ancestors, we revere them, as well as the cause for which they fought. We state that explicitly each month at SCV meetings in the opening “Salute to the Confederate Flag”. We honour these men because of their patriotism and bravery in defending their homes and families against a brutal, wicked enemy that raped and pillaged its way across the South, waged offensive war on civilians, white and black, and murdered nearly 1/4 of our young men. Would that they had prevailed and we would be free of smug, yankee twits like you. Slandering an entire nation that had the guts to stand up to the illigitimate abuse of power by the Lincoln cutthroats? You would have made a good propagandist for some Soviet-era propaganda rag.

  • fbanta

    Based on this commentary, Joel Mathis is a disgusting bigot with no understanding of history. The New South has been infected with far too many of these ignoramuses as exemplified by Lee Harris and his moronic PC comments about the Confederacy.

    As for Joe Groh, he is free to name his business anything he wants for any reason that he chooses. I suspect he’ll find that it won’t increase his Oriental clientele one iota; and that mostly he’s frittering-away more than a half Century of good reputation associated with the founder’s chosen sobriquet..

    It’s still legal to be stupid; even as it is popular to re-write history contrary to the facts.

  • JosephineSouthern

    General Nathan Bedford Forrest was a good friend to the black of Memphis; he and the Southern people helped them get up on their feet and make something of themselves. While the yankee army killed many and forced many to live in horrible filthy camps and just sit around like zombies, General Forrest and the Southern people all over the South gave them a bootstrap up. They were a pitiful lot, alas, the yankees had stolen and detroyed their homes and separated their famillies and killed their white friends, where and what were they to do? This writer, Joel Mathis, is a hard core bigot of the liberal elite media, pay him no mind!

  • Irish Truckie

    As an American of Irish Descent, I have never, nor will I be, offended by any place named Mick’s

  • Wannabe

    This is makes so much sense in the City of Brotherly, Sisterly, and Transgenderedly Love. Everyone should be included! Hooray for them!

  • Chris Palmer

    I enjoy getting Chick’s takeout. An hour later I want to eat it again.