**Disclaimer: Some of these scenarios I’m mentioning may be applicable to other minority groups not based on race, but for the context on this post, I’m focusing specifically on people of color in the United States. I also talk a lot about “white people” but I hope everyone realizes that a.) it’s not all white people (duh), and b.) that these scenarios are caused by a systemic problem of white supremacy that white folks (and non-white folks) are complicit in, whether intentionally or not, and not caused by individual white people.
Tomorrow is mother’s day (well American mother’s day anyway). Holidays that center around families are always hard for me, mostly cause my family live far away. I’m sure for many folks who don’t have Hallmark-ready sentiments about their families (because of histories of abuse, displacement, or whatnot) also feel a certain hardship around these holidays. Please think of them as well tomorrow in addition to thinking of your mommas.
I was homesick today, so I decided to buy some corn, some condensed milk, some shredded cheese, and some rosé. When I was growing up, I used to eat boiled corn (off the cob) mixed with butter, condensed milk, and cheese. It was one of the best things ever, so why not use some comfort food to cure a little homesickness? Plus, rosé is always appropriate for any state of mind.
I’m not really sure why I’m writing this, but I’ve been thinking a lot about food lately. I mean I always do I guess, cause I eat a lot and I love food, but I think about food in the sense that it’s so much more than just that thing we eat to keep us alive. For many cultures, food is everything more than just sustenance. It’s one of the symbols of a given culture. The ingredients that go into a dish involves chemistry and history and geography and anthropology.
Indonesian food is amazingly savory. There are so many different spices and herbs that go into it because our geography allows our land to be used to grow these things. Some dishes take hours to make. My mom is the resident chef in my family. Most moms in Indonesia are, though not always. In Indonesia, food is how you show you care about someone. If you come over to someone’s house, their way of showing hospitality goes a bit farther than tea and crackers—often it’s a whole meal, often you’re pushed to get second helpings (and third helpings, and fourth helpings). That kind of culture isn’t exclusive to Indonesian culture.
Went to an iftar with a family friend during Ramadan in Al-Salt, Jordan, and got to eat from this spread.
Whenever I get a chance to eat Indonesian food here in Seattle, it’s like a blessing. Eating sambal (chili sauce), smelling kunyit (turmeric), hearing sounds of meat being stir fried in a wok it takes me to another place. It takes me home. I’m sure that’s true for many people of different cultures as well. For a lot of racial minorities and diasporic peoples, eating a certain kind of food takes us to this collective consciousness that we have within our in-groups, near or far. If I’m eating Indonesian cireng (fried tapioca with spices), I’m most likely going to think back to my time in elementary school, peeking out of my school bus to buy them with friends from street vendors that storm the streets while all the cars are stuck in traffic. Many people my age may have this same train of thought too.
I went to a spoken-word poetry performance once, and the performers asked why white people food tastes so bland given the fact that their European ancestors colonized the world to take other peoples’ spices. Well it turns out, because of colonization, Europeans from the higher to lower class can get ahold of spices very easily. Being bougie-ass folks that the European ruling class can be, they don’t want to eat the same things that the poorer Europeans do, so they made “pure” dishes (i.e., ones cooked without spices taken from colonies) the It-food. The It-food is exclusive, the It-food is ~pure~, the It-food has none of those dirty peppers in it. And as in most places, what the ruling class does, everyone follows (think Regina George wearing army pants and flip flops, so obv everyone wanted to wear army pants and flip flops). So apparently that’s how we got Johns at Jai Thai eating Pad See Ews with 0 stars.
Food is chemistry, it’s history, it’s geography, it’s anthropology. Food is race, it’s class, it’s religion, it’s culture. But I wonder whether most white people would know that history of why chicken pot pie isn’t as savory as chicken massala. I wonder if white frat bros who gawk at a Mexican man selling elotes from his food cart on the basis of “that food is probably super dirty and unsanitary” realizes the irony of them eating at Chipotle twice a week. I hope the white people who judge the authenticity of a Japanese restaurant by the number of Japanese-looking customers recognize that some of those same customers may have been made to feel shitty by white people when they were growing up because their lunchbox contained tuna rolls instead of tuna sandwiches. I hope those white people have that kind of collective consciousness.
Feastmode: About to eat Padang food back when I was in Jakarta in 2013
A few years ago my housemates and I threw a party at our house, it was a successful party, full of white college hipsters and Rainier beer-fueled fun. It was almost 3 a.m. and I was ready to turn in and call it a night. We had turned the party lights off and most people had gone home, except for a few stragglers. One of them was this white guy.
He asked: Hey, what are you? (Because there’s always that one white guy that asks that of POCs amirite)
Me, being tired and not really in the mood to smack basic-ass white people in the face: Uh, I grew up in Indonesia
Him: Oh cool, my grandmother’s 1/16th Korean
Me: Oh cool, you’re just another white guy to me tho
Sometimes I wonder why is it that so many white people like to quantify their ancestry. Why is it so easy for them to turn their lineage into simple fraction, as though their roots are so easily quantifiable and not at all based on complex histories affected by violence and displacement, among other things?
Maybe on some level white people recognize that most minorities have a collective consciousness within their in-groups. If I see another POC, we both will probably have personal stories related to how racism has affected us. Different stories, perhaps, but they have a common denominator of racism (also applicable to other minority groups affected by an -ism). Maybe some white people want a collective consciousness that’s related to ethnicity too. Maybe that white guy at my house party thought that he and I could have the same collective consciousness because we both have non-white blood in us. Except I have 100% non-white blood and him less than 6% apparently; except he probably doesn’t lose sleep at night specifically because he misses the food his mom cooks thousands of miles away (he could possibly lose sleep for other reasons); except he probably doesn’t get hit on by white guys because they have a fetish for Asians; except he probably doesn’t feel guilty for being able to speak English better than his mother tongue.
Maybe that’s why some white people like to say they’re a quarter (or whatever fraction) Native American, as though having a smidgen of Native blood (or whatever non-white blood) is the same as being raised in that culture, or the same as viscerally knowing the trials and tribulations and joy and inside jokes of that culture. As though being able to “pass” as white even if you’re mixed race isn’t also a form of privilege. Maybe ethnic pride isn’t the only reason why some white people like to announce that they’re 50% Irish, 20% Hispanic, 5% French, 14% German, and 1% Native American. Maybe it’s also because they want to forget that less than a century ago, their European ancestors pushed people who had even 1% of non-white blood to the margins through every method from not allowing them to vote, to making them drink from specific water fountains, to murder.
Maybe some white people just want to feel like they can #relate. Maybe they want to find other histories to relate to because the history that they should actually #relate to involve murdering and enslaving whole groups of people. And that’s understandable, who wants to acknowledge shit like that? But maybe white people should start if we are to get to a “post-racial society” that so many white liberals want. Black and brown people in this country already acknowledge that painful history (whether we want to or not), why not white people too? It seems that the “progressive” movement lately is like code for “waiting for cis white straight people to catch up with all the rest of us.”
I often get the sense from some white people that they think that racial minorities having a collective consciousness with members of their own race equates to having privilege. Like how men think that women having signals with their wing-women at bars for when an interaction with a man has gone sour is equal to having “female privileges,” as though they don’t recognize that those signals were necessary because of a culture in which saying no to a man can mean violence in response. Sometimes I hear from some white people that black people are privileged for being able to say the n-word. But is it privilege when they have to reclaim a word that used to be used to justify their murder? Isn’t it that when you have to reclaim something, that means that that thing was taken from you without your consent to begin with? Is it a privilege to be a victim of stealing? That’s a new concept to me.
Maybe people of color in America have a collective consciousness because they are constantly told that their experiences are the “other” whereas white is the “default.” That growing up eating mac and cheese is part of “childhood,” but growing up eating rice is part of “Indonesian childhood.” That eating dim sum is a “Chinese thing” but eating fries is just a “thing.” Maybe people of color in America have a collective consciousness because they recognize that they don’t come from an Anglo-centric land, but Anglo peoples have to some extent wrecked it all the same. So most POCs acknowledge their histories, their communities, and the culture from which they stem because they need to. Because the group in power (i.e., whites) won’t acknowledge that history for them. Is it a privilege if we have to do certain things for ourselves because otherwise those things will be erased from history? Maybe if some of these white people would like to also have a collective consciousness relating to race, they should acknowledge their own histories first, systematically and personally. Even if that history is filled with systems being devised to take things from other groups, time and time again. I get it, this whole mess of crap that is racial/cultural relations in the US is not the fault of individual white people, it’s a systemic problem. But wouldn’t it be nice if more of them listened to POCs on how to solve it?