A first-year Ph.D student at Penn Medicine was described with a racialized slur at a local Taco Bell restaurant on Friday night.
In Young Lee arrived at a Taco Bell on 1037 Chestnut St. around 1:30 a.m after a night out with his friends when he ran into a cashier who used a racialized epithet to refer to Lee in a printed receipt.
The receipt, which Lee attached in his Facebook post detailing Friday’s incident, shows that the cashier wrote “Steve Chink” as the customer’s name. Lee had told the cashier his name was “Steve” in order to save both the cashier and himself the inconvenience of spelling out his actual name, but the addition of the racial slur “chink” came as an infuriating surprise to Lee.
A Taco Bell Public Relations representative said in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian, “We do not tolerate this behavior. The franchise is looking into this matter and will take swift and appropriate action.”
One of the definitions of the word "chink" in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is "an insulting and contemptuous term for a person of Chinese birth or descent." In 2012, ESPN writer Anthony Federico was fired for headlining a story on NBA player Jeremy Lin "Chink in the Armor."
“I was so infuriated that I couldn’t help but to confront the cashier,” Lee wrote in his Facebook post. “When I confronted him, he said that there are three Steve’s in the restaurant so he needed to differentiate.”
Although Lee was upset at the encounter, he initially let it slide after the cashier apologized. However, he was later angered by a conversation he overheard among the cashier and other workers at the restaurant.
“I actually heard them talking about this incident, and he was laughing and joking about it, and that’s when I got really, really upset,” Lee told The Daily Pennsylvanian in an interview. “So I got up to the counter, said, ‘Are you f***ing kidding me,’ and I was yelling and cursing at him, which I shouldn’t have.”
The manager of the Taco Bell, who came to defuse the situation, apologized at first but then proceeded to say that Lee was being “disrespectful” for snatching the food out of the cashier’s hands after being called a “chink.”
Although looking at the receipt still makes him very upset, Lee said he’s not trying to “seek justice," but wants to bring awareness to the situation in hopes that it will not reoccur in the future.
He noted that he blurred out the cashier’s name in the receipt he posted publicly on Facebook because he does not want the cashier to be fired.
“I don’t think the cashier was necessarily malicious about it. I think he was ignorant, but I want people to be more conscious about how they think, that’s more what I’m aiming for,” Lee said. “My goal is not to bring Taco Bell down.”
As a potential preventative clause, Lee suggested for Taco Bell to hold mandatory training for their employees and their managers — training that would target “racial consciousness.”
“My take is that racism is prevalent and it takes a conscious effort to resist [and] fight it. The initial interaction with the cashier was cordial, I wouldn't have thought that he would think about me in the way he did. If he was conscious about his action he wouldn't have done what he did,” Lee said.
A previous version of this article referred to the Penn Medicine student as Young Lee, but his full name is In Young Lee. The DP regrets the error.