Three weeks ago, Brian Frantz made an insensitive joke. On Jan. 15, Frantz, a dining hall manager in Ezra Stiles and Morse Colleges, responded to student David Ahn’s suggestion for a Korean theme night by asking, “What would that be? Dogs and kimchi?” The incident was reported in Wednesday’s Yale Daily News (“Yale employee’s racial remark elicits hardened response,” 2/6).
Frantz’s joke was careless, inappropriate, and demonstrated some degree of cultural ignorance. And he has acted properly in atoning for his remark, sending formal letters of apology to Morse College and the Korean American Students at Yale (KASY) society as well as engaging in an hour-long meeting with Ahn.
The issue, one would think, would be settled. But it is not.
According to the article, Ahn has taken the further step of “filing a report with Frantz’s superior, ensuring that the incident will go on Frantz’s record.”
In other words, Ahn is in the process of threatening Frantz’s professional career because Frantz made a bad, although not racist, joke.
For a moment let’s dissect what Frantz actually said.
He asked if a potential Korean theme night might include “kimchi.” I must admit that I was more ignorant than Frantz as to what kimchi might be, so I looked it up on a Web site devoted to Korean cuisine. “Kimchi is the staple eaten at almost every meal,” the Web site said. So a Korean-themed meal most probably would include kimchi, which is a sort of cabbage.
Ahn, I assume, was more offended by Frantz’s suggestion that a Korean meal might include dogs. The fact of the matter is that many Koreans do, in fact, enjoy eating meat from dogs. There is even so much as a pro-dog meat lobby in Korea.
Don’t get me wrong. Dog meat is far from a staple of the typical Korean diet: the majority of Koreans don’t eat it, and many are disgusted by the practice. However, it is consumed in Korea.
The worst part of what Frantz said is that it insinuated that all Koreans eat is “dogs and kimchi,” which is indeed a flippant thing to suggest.
But what if any of us were in a foreign nation and requested an American meal, and the waiter said, “What would that be? Lettuce and Rocky Mountain Oysters?” Would we seek to harm this waiter’s career by having the remark indelibly included on his record? Of course not.
We’d probably laugh, and go on to explain to him what really constitutes American cuisine. That would be the true way to “promote cultural understanding,” which is the stated goal of Ahn and KASY. To stay true to this goal, Ahn must allow Frantz’s apology to stand, and not file any sort of report that might damage his permanent employment record. The latter action in no way promotes cultural understanding. It’s just plain vindictive.
The fact that this incident elicited such a widespread and forceful response is a sign of how far we have come in overcoming cultural ignorance. But a man’s career is being threatened because he made an insensitive joke that probably was without malicious intent.
This unfortunate incident provides Ahn, and KASY, with a valuable opportunity. They must decide whether it is in the Korean community’s best interest to continue to punish Frantz or to use the incident to promote a better understanding on this campus of Korean culture and values. The right way to combat ignorance is through education.
The wrong way is to continue to attack the ignorant even after they have recognized the error of their ways.
Ben Reiter is a senior in Berkeley College.