How a TikTok of a woman dishing up her takeaway sparked a racism debate

Charly Ann C didn't know what she was starting when she invited her followers to "dish up my Chinese with me" in a TikTok video.

The trend follows people plating up their takeaway as they talk through what they bought and the order in which they pile it on the plate.

What seems like a simple enough format has, however, prompted a huge discussion around not only our menu choices - but our use of language too.

Initially, TikTokers in the US were frankly aghast at what Britons order from a Chinese takeaway.

"So British Chinese food is trending on TikTok," Twitter user Keem wrote: "I've never been more disgusted in my life. What the f*** is this?"

Others couldn't get over the addition of chips to the meal, and the final glug of curry sauce also baffled many.

Writer Angela Hui hit back at some of the reactions. Having written a food memoir about growing up in a Chinese takeaway in rural Wales, the author described the "adaptability, innovation and perseverance in chinese takeaways that often don't get talked about".

"Whatever your thoughts on takeaways or restaurants," she said, "they’ve been fundamental in shaping Britain's food culture. They were the grassroots of many Chinese families including my own who came to this country with nothing."

But many Americans reacting to the trend were struck by what was coming out of British mouths - not what was going in.

In a video watched more than three million times, user Soogia reacted to Charly Ann C's clip (and a series of others like it) focusing on this phrase: "Did anyone order a Chinese?"

Caveating her response by stressing there was "no hate" to the TikTokers who used it, Soogia said: "It's not intended to be racist, it just kind of feels like it is a little [...] I find it so strange that they all call it 'a Chinese'."

The TikToker asked others if it's the case across British dialect - "do British people also say 'I'm going out for a Greek, or a Mexican, or an Italian?'".

User Soogia was struck by the language used in each of the trending videos. Credit: TikTok/@Soogia1

One American living in the UK looked into the grammar behind the phrase.

"In the US we're really saying 'I'm getting Chinese takeout' or 'I'm getting Chinese food' and 'food' and 'takeout' are both mass nouns so you don't need to put an 'a' in front of it," Hayley Phillips said.

"In Britain it's 'takeaway' rather than 'takeout' and that is a count noun and count nouns are countable so you'd say 'a meal' or 'a takeaway'."

But another said there was more to it.

TJ begins her video with this: "As well as someone who practically grew up in the UK, but also lived full time in the US, as well as being a first generation immigrant who repatriated back to China after living in the UK for two decades I'm hoping to provide a little bit of a communication bridge".

She said the "simple answer" from a "British point of view" is that the phrase "having a Chinese" is "most definitely not" racist, but rather slang. TJ added, however, that she avoids the phrase, and others like it, because "to my ears it just doesn't sound fully respectful".

"Which is also why I think it's so easily mistaken for racism when it comes to the American point of view," she said.

But, crucially, the TikToker also pointed out the "dark history" that lies behind the phrase, with "Chinese" having been replaced with a racial slur in the past and still used by some.

And sure enough Soogia, who initially posed the query about the phrase, received backlash from some on TikTok using that exact slur.