You Ling, We Bling
Oh boy, I love discovering new food in London and I’m delighted to have found a new place called misschu that serves delicious Vietnamese rice paper rolls. This tuck shop in Aldgate has a delicious menu of delicious Vietnamese treats such as pho, rolls, and banh xeo.
What I am less excited about is their slogan; “YOU LING, WE BLING!” is emblazoned on the back of their delivery scooter. In the interest of being absolutely clear, that slogan is based on the stereotype that Asians can’t pronounce “r” sounds properly. (I’m not being patronising, someone didn’t understand what the slogan was about!)
I’m also less than impressed with words “Me hungry!” as the link to their online menu.
Since it’s opening in November last year, I’ve passed their delivery scooter on my way to visit friends and each time I am pained by it. The menu looks absolutely amazing, and I love that they are committed to fresh ingredients and use green delivery bikes but until they change the slogan, I can’t see myself ever going in.
The slogan is at best lame, unfunny and insulting. At worst, it is reductionist and racist. It is indisputably controversial at the very least.
So why have they chosen to use it? misschu explains in a press release:
"You ling we bling" is the slogan used to promote the home delivery service of which misschu is famous for. Like many people who understand and respect the role of humour in society misschu has decided to use the awful slurs she grew up with and still feels lies just beneath the surface of many interactions with White Australia and turn it into comedic commentary. We kindly request that you see this use of language by the misschu brand as a humorous toying with, not a handing over of power to, those who wish to mock Asian accents.
The press release ends with a picture of the Refugee visa that Nahji Chu, the founder and namesake of the business, entered Australia with in 1978. I’m not sure if it is entirely relevant, but I’ll assume that it’s meant to highlight her legit Asian chops.
I can see why Chu has chosen to do it though. misschu as a brand name doesn’t immediately say that it is an Asian food business. With one fell swoop, the “You ling…” slogan tells you a whole bunch of stuff – that it is Asian of some sort, and that the business will deliver to you. If you find casually racist jokes funny, then you will think that it’s fun and cheeky.
Well, Nahji, I hear your ever-so-polite request but I refuse. I respectfully decline your request to see the slogan as “toying with those who wish to mock Asian accents”.
Just because Chu is Asian herself, it doesn’t mean those kinds of comments are any less frustrating, tiring and awful. It doesn’t matter whose mouth it has come out of, it still reduces entire nations of people to a single racial stereotype. All look same, all sound same, right?
Although, having said that it doesn’t matter who said it, knowing that the slogan has come from a fellow Asian woman tells me that she has mentally given up the fight and that she has been assimilated by casual racists. It is much easier to laugh along with the joke than be the party pooper, calling out well-meaning friends for being culturally insensitive. It also tells me that this is a business woman who will exploit the fact that this kind of insulting slogan will endear her business to people who think that these kinds of jokes are okay.
Also, what’s with that sass, Chu? Way to insult the people you’ve offended. As a person who does in fact understand and respect the use of humour in society, I dispute that this slogan is any sort of comedic commentary. It’s a cheap ‘joke’ designed to catch the attention of casual racists.
The fact is that when you see the slogan ‘out of context’ (i.e. pasted on the side of delivery scooters instead of in stand-up show,) it’s unclear that satire is the intention because no one expects cutting social commentary from a food business. It reads as though misschu is cheerfully going along with the mockery and that the business is taking the side of those who reduce Asians to a funny accent. People who already make these kinds of jokes will see it as tacit approval; that it is still okay to reduce all Asians to a funny accent.
There are alternative ways to advertise a business that aren’t racist, but will still convey the message that you are an Asian food delivery service. Going for one that can be misinterpreted (and perhaps also choosing it because it is shocking) means that you are accepting that it can be misunderstood and accepting that it will alienate those who don’t find it funny.
Miss Chu, don’t give up your day job. Leave the use of humour for social commentary for the comedians.