This piece was written on August 24th, 2018.
‘Katoi’, the former name of recently re-named restaurant ‘Takoi’ is only one in a list of problems its owners, Brad Greenhill and Courtney Henriette, have yet to address. The word used in this context is offensive, culturally appropriative, and further exoticizes Thai, Asian, trans, and queer cultures and identities which are all already frequently misinterpreted, stolen from, and dehumanized by U.S. society. But the broader problem of disrespect and cultural appropriation do not stop at the name. From its “Thai-inspired” food and theme of miscellaneous items from various Asian cultures found throughout the space to its white ownership and almost entirely white staff and customer base, this establishment is a strong example of what racism looks like today.
Another issue the restaurant has is that it is such an intensely white space created and existing in a city as heavily populated by Black and brown residents as Detroit. Greenhill and Henriette have furthered the process of gentrification in the city by stealing resources and space from long-standing Detroit residents, and has profited off of the historical disinvestment of Detroit and its Black and brown residents. All I’ve described so far makes this space incredibly unappealing and inaccessible to Black and brown Detroiters, not to mention that some of their first acts in their process of re-opening have been securing a large metal fence around the perimeter of the establishment and hosting an appreciation dinner for the Detroit Police Department.
Most articles written about Takoi’s new name are congratulatory towards white people who have done next to nothing to address these issues. The way this change has been depicted by media will do nothing but send more business their way. These folks are being depicted as good white people who just made an honest mistake and have moved to correct it immediately which is incredibly inaccurate. Greenhill and Henriette were approached by members of Detroit’s Asian and trans communities over a year ago on multiple occasions about the offensive and harmful nature of their business. I was one of the asian and trans residents pushing back against them. The owners spent the entirety if that year ignoring, talking down to, and gaslighting us. There is nothing to celebrate in that.
I’m writing this on the birthday of Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans woman who fought for the rights of trans people of color. She changed the world for so many while she was alive and continues to improve lives even after her passing. This serves as a reminder that after all of these years, Black, brown, queer, and trans folks are still fighting for basic rights and respect while white, cis folks like Greenhill and Henriette have spent this time defending racist and transphobic acts. They have spent their time trying to silence us by giving us crumbs, like the name change of a restaurant that will not stop being harmful until it is shut down and pays reparations to all of the communities it has disrupted, stolen from, and harmed.
Quoted in The Detroit News, co-owner of the restaurant Courtney Henriette remarks on the cost of changing a business name stating, “it wasn’t even a question of money; it was a question of keeping intact what we had built”, so let’s look at what they’ve built. Greenhill and Henriette have built a very white space they have greatly profited from in a gated cement block of literal whiteness located in a majority Black and brown city using trans and Thai history and culture they have stolen. And at the end of the day, racism and transphobia don’t change just because you rename them.