Philadelphia, capital city of the United States*, is great at many things. It's great at being within relatively short driving distance of the Jersey shore. It's great at allowing you to bring your own wine to restaurants. The world's largest clothespin is there.
Unfortunately, two topics it has yet to master are race relations and nuance.
Which is why its residents are freaking out that a Philly cheesesteak shop, known since 1949 as "Chink's Steaks," has just changed its name to "Joe's Steaks & Soda Shop."
Chink's was named for its original owner, whose name wasn't "Chink" but, hoo boy, did he look like one according to his grade school classmates. (The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that the late Samuel "Chink" Sherman had "almond shaped eyes.") Folks in the shop's neighborhood understand why someone, somewhere, at some point, maybe could find the well-known racial slur inappropriate. But they stop just short of admitting that it actually is.
And because nothing flavors meat like a couple decades of tacit racism, they're pissed that "Chink's" no longer exists.
Do yourself a favor and check out the Inquirer's entire profile of the Cheesesteak Shop That Would Be Chink's.
Here's a sampling of the best lines:
- "Back then, ethnic slurs slipped off the tongue as smoothly as melted American cheese."
- "'Cracker Barrel hasn't had to change their name. I mean, that could be made into a racist thing.'"
- "Others [...] said the passing of "Chink's" symbolizes the neighborhood's decline."
- "This place has a tan," said [William] Ulrich, a 51-year-old postal worker, who wore a wireless phone device in his ear and shorts that revealed a large cross "in the colors of the American flag" tattooed on his calf.
- "If the shop had been named with a slur against blacks, 'that would be offensive,' [said Terrell Jenkins, a 44-year-old African American man]. 'But Chink was a nickname. It could have been a term of endearment.'"
- "At the cash register behind bulletproof glass at Crazy Joe's, an Iranian immigrant said he was glad Chink's was renamed, but would not comment further or identify himself."
And the kicker, from the shop owner's wife:
- "'Now, I can be called 'Mrs. Joe' instead of 'Mrs. Chink.''"
At least, for the time being, you can still buy Chink's Steaks apparel (including kids sizes) online.
*Philadelphia served as the nation's capital from 1790 to 1800.
[Philadelphia Inquirer // Image by Jim Cooke.]