City Paper Retracts Description of “Exotic” Asian Waitress

And here's why that retraction is a problem.

After being chastised by the Asian American Journalists Association, City Paper has retracted a line from a restaurant review it published in a cover story last week about restaurants in Northeast Philly. Here’s the text of the original complaint from AAJA.

Dear Philadelphia City Paper:
In your recent cover story “Five Hidden Culinary Gems in the Northeast”, the article “Exotic Flavors at Uzbekistan Restaurant” includes the following sentence: ”The flavors at Uzbekistan are exotic, much like the almond-eyed waitresses who serve you.”

We find this sentence unacceptable and offensive, as it perpetuates longstanding racial stereotypes about Asian women in the following ways:

  1. Describing these waitresses as “exotic” evokes the narrative of the “Asian fetish,” where Asian women are depicted as sexy and servile objects of desire.
  2. Describing them as ”almond-eyed” conjures up the image of Asians and Asian Americans as having “slanty” eyes, which further brings up condescending stereotypes of Asians and Asian Americans. Further, describing the “almond-eyed waitresses” as “exotic” quite literally exoticizes these women and perpetuates the stereotype that Asians and Asian Americans are different from mainstream society, that they are “the other.” When, in fact, Asian Americans, who make up almost 7 percent of Philadelphia, are just as much a part of this city as any other demographic.
  3. Comparing “almond-eyed waitresses” to flavors and food objectifies and further dehumanizes these women.

In response to the letter, City Paper editor-in-chief Lillian Swanson removed the waitress description from the online version of the story. (Without any indication that the piece had been changed.) This marks the second time City Paper has retracted part or all of a story in the past few months. The first instance occurred in early August, when it ran, and then removed, a satirical piece based off Tara Murtha’s gender discrimination lawsuit against her former employer Philadelphia Weekly.

Neither of these stories were retracted/altered for factual or legal reasons–they were pulled because of a smattering of public outcry. Which suggests that City Paper–whatever the merit of the original pieces in question–seems remarkably unwilling to stand up for articles it deemed worthy to publish in the first place. It’s one thing when a media outlet pulls the plug on a story after receiving a warning letter from Dick Sprague; I get that, we’re all broke. It’s another if a publication backs down every time its work is deemed offensive. Besides, even if the “exotic” reference was in poor taste–I admit I was surprised to see it included when I first read the piece–retracting it creates a bad precedent. Rather than sucking up the bad press that comes with bad choices, City Paper has simply scrubbed one article clean and erased the other altogether. Nothing to see here, folks!

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