Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Cheerios, Oreos, and Twinkies (or: When Did Food Get So Racist?)

In this cute article on one of my favorite sites (to disagree with), a no doubt beautiful woman with amazing skin discusses being biracial and eating breakfast. I can't relate to either of these things since I'm mono-racial as can be, and I never eat breakfast. But I'm about to drop some knowledge on this topic anyway.

As I previously alluded, I am white, white, white. I'm also blond, blond, blond, and my eyes are blue, blue, blue. In other words, despite my German Jew ancestry, I could easily be the poster child for the Third Reich. My parents are white, my grandparents are white, *their* parents were white, and so on all the way back to Ulysses S. Grant and beyond (we also have a proud history of alcoholism, but that's another story.) At some point, some Cherokee got into the mix (I like to think consensually, but who knows), but otherwise we are so damn white, we *invented* wearing sweatshirts with shorts.

Sometimes only your arms get cold. It's a white thing; you wouldn't understand.

Despite this genetic uniformity, I experienced, and continue to experience, many of the same oddities Ms. Hatcher-Mays documents in her article. Specifically, when I was a baby, people asked my parents if I was adopted, usually with the supremely tactful phrasing "Where did you get her from?" This happened because I, despite my single race status, came out with great skin. More specifically, my skin possesses an apparently infinite ability to tan, despite being naturally very fair. As a baby, I quickly turned brown, and I do mean brown. People thought I was a Mexican baby. I'm not even slightly joking about this. My unfortunate parents were constantly defending first my genetics and then the amount of sun exposure I was getting to the types of people who think being in public with a baby is the same thing as wearing a sign that says "please come talk to me."

"Oh hello, I noticed you were out of doors with a baby. I will now proceed to describe my breast feeding experience in graphic detail. Hope you don't have somewhere to be, because this is going to take awhile."

These days, I haven't seen the sun for about a decade (thanks, SF!), and my natural paleness almost literally shines through. Despite this, though, I receive semi-regular inquiries into my heritage, again so tactfully expressed: "What are you?" While I fully appreciate that it's unpleasant for a bi-racial person to have to answer this question, consider how much more awkward it is for someone who has to answer "White." At least if you're bi-racial, there's some kind of story there. I'm like 18th generation generic American mutt. No matter how I answer that question, the asker is invariably disappointed, like "Oh, I thought you were all hot and exotic, but, now that I know you're just 'regular American', I've lost interest."

"Didn't you see the sign? Only racially interesting people get to sit at the counter."

I theorize that neither Ms. Hatcher-Mays nor I are asked these questions because of how we look. Rather I think we're seeing the results of Progressivism trickling down into pick-up lines and small talk. Why this pervasive interest in delineating and defining racial and cultural mixes? Ms. Hatcher-Mays believes it's latent racism, but I think the blame actual lies with the Progressives' attempts to undo racism in this country via the education system.

If your elementary-age education was anything like mine, you spent a third of your time doing "art" (I will never understand the claims that there isn't enough art funding- that was all we fucking did in school in my day), a third writing cursive or something, and a third doing projects related to your ancestry. Even when I was five, I could tell these projects were absolute bullshit. I recall the 4th grade rendition, in which we recreated Ellis Island by dressing up as our immigrant ancestors. We were actually told that if you were American Indian in heritage, you were still an immigrant because your people came across the Bering Straight from Asia. So you had to dress up as a Chinaman. Seriously.

A traditional Native American.

Other projects in other grades involved writing reports on the cultural traditions of your family. Again, I was very white, and so were almost all of my classmates. My ancestors lived in America before there was an America, and we have zero non-American "cultural traditions." But my well-meaning-but-ultimately-destructive teacher told us that if you have a Christmas tree, you have a cultural tradition, specifically a German one, even if, as in my case, the German line of your family wasn't Christian. Strangely enough the Asian kids who had Christmas trees weren't told that their culture is German. They could just bring in store-bought sushi and demonstrate the use of chopsticks to get an A, while I had to dig up some old-timey German dish and somehow turn it into a "traditional family recipe." But at least I can get into Harvard. Suckers.

M.B.A., Harvard, 1975

And when I wasn't being forced to make up my own culture in order to document it, I was stuck "researching" the cultures of others. Essentially all of third grade consisted of "Indian Reports," horrifyingly massive (probably like 10 pages, but hey, we were kids) tomes on a randomly assigned American Indian tribe. I gleaned almost zero skills from this make-work. Uncovering the minutiae of relatively tiny and barbaric cultures that didn't even manage to invent the wheel is *not* what studying history is about (although, to be fair, that might be why it was called "social studies" instead.)

So what was this "education" all about, then? The common thread is, of course, culture. Over and over, the education system tells us that the most important thing about a person, whether a historical figure, the person sitting next to you, or even yourself, is the culture they identify with. *Not* identifying with a culture is explicitly not an option. And so we all get sucked into the cultural (or racial) game that ends with a new social norm of casual and constant inquiries into our ethnicities, which more independent-minded folks consider inconsequential at best and impudent at worst.

All of you who were advocating "cultural education" and "social studies" and all that crap, this is what you've created. I hope you're happy, because Ms. Hatcher-Mays and I clearly aren't. It might be hard for you to understand, but we don't want to be defined by the food our great-great-great grandparents ate (or the head-dresses they wore or the type of dance they did at weddings) any more than we want to be defined by what we look like. We just want to be us. I'm white, short, and am related to the first man to fly over the North Pole. I'm also an avid reader, a sarcastic writer, and a statistician. Guess which qualities I want to be defined by (hint: it's the ones in which I had a choice.)
"Wait, was it the magnetic pole or..." ~Some Pretentious Commenter

Of course, I could always go back to my ethnic roots by invading Poland. It's good to have options.

Mono-racially yours,

S. Misanthrope

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