Am I a racist if I don’t like Mexican food?
By John D. Turner
7 May 2014

“Racist [rey-sist] – n. 1. a person who believes in racism, the doctrine that a certain human race is superior to any or all others. 2. the belief that races have distinctive cultural characteristics determined by heredity factors and that this endows some races with intrinsic superiority over others. 3. abusive or aggressive behavior towards members of another race on the basis of such a belief.”

Sometimes it is interesting to see what opinions our fellow citizens hold on various issues. A topic these days seems to be “racism," as in, what is and what is not “racist.” Recently, media analyst Mark Dice, wearing an Obama t-shirt, did a “man on the street” interview with a succession of people to get their opinion on whether or not a certain topic was “racist.” The topic? Is “not liking Mexican food,” racist?

The interview was set up by putting forth the proposition that “Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner stated that he doesn’t like Mexican food,” (on Cinco de Mayo no less) with the follow-up questions “should we tolerate that bigotry? Should he be forced to resign?”

First off, let me be clear that as far as I know, John Boehner has made no such statement. Ever. But then again, even if he did, so what? This is America – are we not free to eat what we like? (Except in New York, of course…)

The thing that I found interesting was that almost all of the people interviewed were minorities. And all agreed that 1) it was racist, and 2) John Boehner should step down after making such a “racist” comment. The only exception to that was the last guy in the video, an Anglo. He thought that the whole proposition, that not liking Mexican food was racist, is absurd. “I don’t like Italian food,” he said, “but I don’t hate Italians.”

Indeed. Now granted, Mr. Dice probably interviewed many more people than he actually showed in the video, and I am sure that there were minorities that thought it was absurd as well – at least I hope so. And there were probably Anglos in the mix who agreed to the premise that “disliking Mexican food is racist” as well. And of course, Mr. Dice’s purpose in making the video in the first place was obviously to make the point he made (which would also influence the editing of the final product). Even so, it was an interesting clip. That there are people around us (who vote, remember) that would actually agree with the proposition just goes to show what passes for thinking among some of our fellow citizens.

Going back to the definition of racism above for just a minute, remember that racism deals with races. Mexicans, and by extension, Mexican food, are not a “race” but rather, a people who are citizens of a particular country. Hence, by definition, there can be no “racist” component in whether or not you like Mexican food (or Mexicans for that matter) because being Mexican is not a race. The same applies to “Hispanics” in general. The term “Hispanic” refers to an ethnicity, not a race. You can be a bigot and dislike people of the ethnicity “Hispanic,” but doing so does not make you a “racist.”

Let’s dig a bit deeper here. What if you don’t like “Chinese” food? Are you a racist? Leaving aside for the moment that most “Chinese” food would not be recognized as such in China, as most of what we think of as “Chinese” food (such as chop suey) was invented here in the US by Chinese who immigrated here, are the Chinese a “race?”

According to the US census, the answer would be no. Being Chinese, like being “Mexican” means you are a citizen of China. Being “Chinese-American” means you are an American (citizen of the United States) of Chinese extraction. The “race” involved, according to the census categories, would be “Asian.” Is there such a thing as “Asian food,” that one might dislike and therefore qualify, however dubiously, as being “racist?” I think not. Asia encompasses quite a few diverse and disparate groups of people, each of which has various cultural cuisines. A person may like some and not others, or may like or dislike all of them. I suppose you could lump it all, or most of it, together as “Oriental food” and postulate “Oriental” as being a race and thereby call a person a “racist” (as opposed to merely being a bigot) for disliking “Oriental food,” but that then begs the question of whether or not you might be called racist by referring to Asians as Orientals.

In a related question, what is “American food” anyway? Can there even be a definition of “American food,” being as Americans come from most everywhere? If you dislike hamburgers do you hate Americans? And are hamburgers “American?” What if you dislike “Mexican” food? There seems to be an awful lot of it in America – doesn’t that make it “American food” as well? Particularly, as with “Chinese food,” many “Mexican” dishes are actually of American origin and not actually seen south of the border.

George H. W. Bush famously disliked broccoli. I seem to remember quite a backlash over that by the broccoli farmers at the time who were upset that he was apparently dissing their product. I don’t remember any cries of racism over it however. Should there have been? What “race” is associated with broccoli anyway? I need to know because broccoli is one of those foods that I have a love-hate relationship with.

And what if I like a particular food cooked one way and dislike it cooked another? Broccoli is kind of a complex thing with me. I like my broccoli stir-fried, preferably still crisp but definitely cooked. I really don’t like it any other way, and absolutely hate it raw. So does that mean that I am rather more amenable to Asians (who stir-fry their food), but dislike peoples who like their food raw?

Where does tying the liking or disliking of certain foods to racism end? If I say I don’t like chitlins (which I don’t – I don’t even like the smell of them cooking), does that mean I hate people of African-American descent? But what if I like chicken or watermelon? Does that mean I like African-Americans or am I then still a racist for making a “racist stereotype remark;” i.e., African-Americans like chicken and watermelon? Not all African-Americans like chicken or watermelon after all; that is a racial stereotype.

Point of fact – I like chicken just about any way I can get it; I am totally indifferent to watermelon – I will eat it if I have to but it is not my first choice. On the other hand, I am not sure I would put a chitlin in my mouth if I were starving.

There are many kinds of food I do not like. But to tie my food dislikes with groups of people and claim that because I don’t like that kind of food I must hate the people “associated” with the food is, as the man in the video said, absurd. And must I not like all the food in a particular category in order to be considered racist? What if I like carne asada, which I do, but don’t particularly like chile rellano (which I don’t – but my wife absolutely loves)? Both fall under the category “Mexican food,” and are available at the local Mexican restaurant we frequent. And what if I like a particular ethnic food? Does that unequivocally make me not a racist, where that group is concerned anyway?

What if I like Mexican food but don’t particularly like Mexicans? What then? Would that make me a hypocrite as well? My thought would be that it would make me a bigot, but not a racist (for the reasons enumerated above); not based on the food, but based strictly on my (hypothetical, not actual) attitude towards Mexicans. Would it be a requirement for someone who dislikes “Mexicans” to automatically dislike Mexican food as well or vice versa? Does the food we like actually say anything about the people we like, or dislike? How crazy is that anyway?

What this really reveals is the shallowness that passes for thought displayed by many Americans, and the current bankruptcy of the term “racist” or “racism” in general. Like many words we use in America today, we toss these terms around freely without any apparent thought or any apparent understanding of their real meaning. Unfortunately, these labels, detached from the context of their application, are understood by most of us to be something bad. So calling someone a racist, for whatever stupid, undeserved, or factually unsound reason, actually affects that person immensely in a totally negative way in today’s society.

We see and hear a lot today, and most of what we see and hear we subsequently forget. Some of it stays with us, and sometimes the context stays and sometimes it does not. Time passes – we forget things or “misremember” them. Six months from now, when these people hear the name “John Boehner” what will they take away from the questions this man asked, which weren’t even factual in the first place? “John Boehner – I don’t know who he is, but I heard he’s a racist. I heard he hates Mexicans. He won’t even eat Mexican food!”

When I first looked at the video I was amused by the absolute stupidity of those he was interviewing, most of whom probably had no idea who John Boehner was in the first place. On further reflection however, I have to wonder about the “value” of such “interviews.” Aren’t they really counterproductive?

In the minds of these people, haven’t we conflated the words “Republican”, “John Boehner” and “Speaker of the House” with the words “racist”, “racism”, and “bigotry?” As idiotic as the whole thing is on its face, won’t the effect here be to actually reinforce this thought process in their minds?

You could make the assumption (which also would be racist I am sure) that none of these people interviewed are likely to vote Republican anyway, and that may be true. However I would submit that this sort of interview, however amusing, really isn’t a good thing. We who get a chuckle over it are likely to support Conservatives anyway; those who agree with it are just getting their stereotypes reinforced and cementing their opinions. We need to change those opinions, not strengthen them.

And if these people later view this video and realize how dumb they look and sound, do you think it will make them more or less likely to support Republicans? Have you ever had anyone thank you for allowing them to make a fool of themselves in front of others?

One thing I have noticed is that many people make fools of themselves if they think they are going to be on TV. Most people don’t think fast on their feet, and tend to like to go along with what they perceive to be the most acceptable, non-confrontational position. When given a choice between two things, they tend to agree with what they think is the interviewer’s position. This is an observed phenomenon and is an important consideration when trying to set up an honest (or dishonest) interview. How you ask questions, as much as what you ask, will tend to elicit the response you are looking for in many people. Some of these folks may well have left muttering to themselves, “what the heck did I just say,” and hoping that it somehow would end up on the cutting room floor.

So do these people really think that someone who says they don’t like Mexican food is making a racist comment? I don’t know. I would hope not.

Additional material of related interest