HomeBad Ass AsiansSomething Is Rotten at Whole Foods

Something Is Rotten at Whole Foods

Whole FoodsBy Shirley N Lew

It is with great sadness that the work I’ve done with the assistance of Chris Kwok of the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) on behalf of my friend, Kwok Ming Cheng, has come to an end.

Ever since an employee of Whole Foods Market in Lower Manhattan called Cheng a “ching-chong” last July, we have been collaborating with the guidance of Kwok to get the market on Bowery and Houston Streets to make a public apology to the Asian American community.

Cheng has decided to no longer pursue an apology from the market due to a very busy work schedule from a new job. I admit I am highly disappointed, not at him, but of the circumstances that is preventing him from continuing our battle with Whole Foods. However, I must respect his decision.

Our quest for an apology from Whole Foods was met with a lot of Asian American support last year. Some of you boycotted the market on your own and some wrote angry letters to them. All we wanted to do was first and foremost to have them apologize to the Asian American community, but their public relations manager felt it only involved an individual and not an entire community. They apologized to Cheng only. In addition to our first goal, we also wanted  to have Whole Foods employees receive some form of sensitivity training to prevent another incident with the help of Margaret Fung, the executive director of the Asian American Legal and Defense Education Fund (AALDEF). Whole Food refused that.

Cheng wanted Whole Foods to have a dialogue with us. It never occurred. Michael Sinatra, their public relations manager reached out to me one day to offer to meet, yet he would not agree to a single date we suggested.  After repeated failed attempts to agree on a meeting date, I sent him an email conveying my annoyance at such difficulty. He emailed back and suggested we were the ones being difficult. And with that, that was the last we heard from him. I still have emails showing him shooting down every date we suggested to him.

Shirley Lew
Shirley N Lew

Kwok, Cheng and I continued to collaborate over months on developing a strategy. At times I admit it looked like an apology would happen if we made enough noise. Then came months of silence between Whole Foods and the three of us as things moved slowly for a variety of reasons; the holidays, Cheng getting married.  Another lawyer who was pulled in to consult added more hands into the mix.

Kwok told me we couldn’t continue with this without the victim involved. I wish we could somehow. I still desire to see a positive end result that we and the Asian American community have fought for. Since we can no longer continue, my only desire now is that hopefully our many attempts to resolve this issue with Whole Foods will inspire someone or group of people to not remain silent nor walk away from any social injustice they face.

During the height of the incident, I was hoping that we’d win, or even if we did not, I wanted to convey to society that Asian Americans are fighters and that we will always face our challenger. I wanted us to look strong, to prove to everyone we fight for our justice like any other ethnic group, but not being able to go on is a blow to me.

I felt the three of us somehow represented the Asian American community, especially for Lower Manhattan. I was contemplating on organizing a community event in Lower Manhattan after a resolution with Whole Foods. I thought of inviting community leaders, local business owners and other panelists to discuss why racial slurs are simply bad for merchants, the local economy and the community.

During those many months of collaboration, I was fueled to pursue some form of justice or at least ruffle Whole Foods feathers, which I strongly believed we did.  Now our battle has come to an abrupt end without an apology. I still do not want to walk away and let this go so easily. I don’t want to give up.

Racial slurs affect an entire ethnic group, hence the word “racial slur” not “individual slur.” “Chink,” and “ching-chong” mimic the sound of the Chinese language to unfamiliar ears, which also mocks our Chinese identity. These racial slurs are also used against the Japanese and Koreans too. The employee that called Cheng “ching-chong” is probably still employed. She should have known better than to repeat it from another employee, but she didn’t and that makes the incident so very sad.

People that poke fun at the sound of our language or slant their eyes at us give a hatred vibe and are not accepting of who we are.  I have bad news for them. Asian Americans are not going anywhere anytime soon, so they need to get to know us and get used to seeing us everywhere they go as we are the fastest growing minority group.

Recently I read a 2009 article, that is strangely circulating again on the internet, about a Texas lawmaker who suggested that those with Asian names should consider changing them so that it could be easily read at the election polls. Old story, but hot damn, reading that got me fired up. The article said the lawmaker didn’t think that the request was offensive, but merely trying to make the voting process easier.  She lost re-election later on.

It’s this ignorance, not innocence that touches a nerve in me and that’s why I feel so strongly to educate those poor ignorant souls. We can all just sit back and let racial slurs go on and brush it off because we don’t want to bother or have the time. We shouldn’t pretend it didn’t happen either.

Wouldn’t Asians be hypocrites to fight for diversity in the workplace, the entertainment industry and everywhere else, but not stop racial slurs? We all know the “n” word is bad, so why isn’t the “c” word just as sensitive when rolled out of someone’s lips? Why should Asians let the “c” word go? Racial slurs will never end if we don’t put in the effort to stop it.

I hope our experience and my still fired up attitude will inspire some of you to go further in your quest for justice than where we left off with ours. Although, we end here, that doesn’t mean we should stop discussing the Whole Foods incident. We have to take what happened there as reminder to not ever let this happen again. The next person to use a racial slur will get an earful from me. I promise you.

Thank you for the support you gave us and especially to Kwok of AABANY. I also want to wish my friend all the best at his new job and marriage, and may he never be called the “c” word again.

Now go out there and stomp out racial slurs.


Whole Foods Investigates Apparently Racist Incident at New York Store

Whole Foods Market Says Ching Chong Incident Not a Community Issue

Whole Foods Opens Dialogue about Racist Incident, But No Public Apology

Whole Foods Spoils Talks on Racial Slur Incident

Whole Foods Clueless about Asian Americans



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