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Op-Ed: A Response to Joel Brinkley’s Offensive Article

The Tribune Media Services recently published an article titled “Despite increasing prosperity, Vietnam’s appetites remain unique,” written by Stanford’s own Professor Joel Brinkley. Through many stereotypical assertions, Professor Brinkley has denounced the country of Vietnam as “gruesome,” subsisting on a backwards diet of endangered animals. The Stanford Vietnamese Student Association, in solidarity with numerous on-campus organizations, finds this article to be a perversion of the cultural image of Vietnam and an antithesis to the mission of tolerance that Stanford University – students and faculty alike – should promote.

Professor Brinkley’s article is a thinly veiled attack on the culture of Vietnam, specifically its culinary habits. His offensive statements, such as the assertion that the Vietnamese have consumed almost all of their wild/domesticated animals, are inaccurate and sensationalist. They are loosely based on statistics rooted in unmentioned context. Professor Brinkley defends his opinion piece by referencing his short 10-day visit to the country; he responds to opposition by further insulting other cultures with scientific fallacies.

We must reply that his research based on personal observation and mere hearsay is incredibly negligent. It is impossible for Professor Brinkley to see the real Vietnam, its beauty and true faults, if he approaches the experience with ethnocentric prejudice. His statements on the “tradition” of eating dogs for luck, for example, are an incomplete translation of a proverb praising living dogs for bringing wealth to a family. He also ignores that the consumption of dog is not “unique” to Vietnam. His lack of care for properly introducing the traditions of a foreign culture is evident in his disregard for the subtle nuances of their customs. It is true that a small minority eats dog meat, but his judgments on cultural practices different than his own are simply racist. Furthermore, the Vietnamese population is composed of 54 diverse ethnic groups. For Professor Brinkley to judge an entire nation by the actions of a few is to ignore the multifaceted beauty of Vietnamese culture.

Given his reputable career as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a visiting scholar at Stanford, Professor Brinkley has a responsibility to present the truth. In this regard, he has disappointed this student body; we expect more from our professors than unscientific claims connecting the supposed “aggression” of a nation to the meat in its diet. His influence becomes a misguided weapon: By condemning a culture he doesn’t understand, he insults not only native Vietnamese, but also Vietnamese and other Asians globally. We have fought against the stereotypical jokes and rumors surrounding our cultures, but he makes Asian Americans like us feel like foreigners in our own home. Professor Brinkley has poorly represented the Stanford community, often considered a haven of cultural understanding and critical thinking.

To Professor Brinkley: You previously wrote that Vietnam “is a country to watch – and perhaps, one day soon, to admire.” We hope that you will revisit your words with a clearer understanding of your mistaken judgments and instead give Vietnam a fair chance to reach the potential you once envisioned.

The Stanford Vietnamese Student Association

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