Earlier today, The New York Times published an article about bubble tea with the following headline:
your food blog needs more asian friends pic.twitter.com/q37NQoRCHy
— E. Alex Jung (@e_alexjung) August 17, 2017
Why was this article so widely critiqued by Asian folks? Because it describes bubble tea as some kind of exotic, bizarre delicacy that’s only now about to break into the mainstream. In fact, I personally have been drinking bubble tea from urban shops for over a decade.
And beyond the timing of bubble tea’s emergence, any Asian kid who’s ever brought in their lunch to school cafeteria intimately understands what it’s like to have their food described this way. It’s the language of those who fear and don’t understand what’s different. It’s language that tries to separate and divide. Ultimately, it’s language that’s beneath the stature of The New York Times.
As Splinter News points out, the article has been revised multiple times since its publication. The editors removed phrasing that described bubble tea as an “exotic concoction” and something that “washed ashore in the United States a few years back.”
— ErikWemple (@ErikWemple) August 17, 2017
The Times even published a separate mea culpa piece, in which they acknowledge their mistakes:
The reader complaints have merit. In retrospect, we wish we had approached the topic differently (if at all). There may be a story in the expansion of bubble tea businesses in the United States, but there is no denying the drink has been around for quite a while. And we regret the impression left by some of the original language in the article, which we have revised in light of the concerns.
We thank our readers for sharing their views.
I don’t know how many of our problems a diverse newsroom can solve, but I’m pretty sure any Asian editor could’ve singlehandedly prevented this entire backlash.