I wanted to take a break from my regularly scheduled health/ability discussions to talk about race, ethnicity, and white privilege. I don’t view issues such as racism as distinct or different from health issues, because they are intrinsically linked. What about the soaring HIV/AIDS rate among young African American women? What about folks with multiple identities (e.g. dis/abled and Asian-American)? I could go on, but I hope you get the point.

Anyway, I was eating in an “Asian fusion” restaurant today with someone, reflecting on table manners and the process of eating. I know someone who is Indian-American (as opposed to American Indian), and I’ve noticed her instruct her son to remember not to eat with his hands when they’re at a restaurant. At home, it’s okay to scoop up curry with naan bread. In a restaurant, he has to use silverware.

I always use naan bread. It’s the way the food is meant to be eaten. It’s really hard to scoop up all of a delicious lentil dish with a fork. Bread (or rice) is a necessary and delicious part of the eating process.

I mentioned this to an Arabic friend of mine, who said that her grandmother and mother always insisted that she use silverware in public when she was growing up. She said they didn’t want her to look “common” or like she was “from the country.”

This seems to me to be an issue of racial/ethnic self-censorship: “We must eat with silverware to prove how white/upper-class we are.” I don’t say this to chastise folks who decide to eat with silverware instead – rather, I see it as another facet of privilege and oppression.

I have much more freedom and privilege eating in a restaurant as a white person, particularly since I’m a white person who grew up with class privilege. (I’ve noticed that people who grew up poor/working class often have similar hang-ups about not seeming “common.”)

If I eat with naan bread at an Indian restaurant, then I am (purposefully or not) showing that I know how to eat Indian food the way it’s “supposed” to be eaten. I can fill a role as an urban, worldly person. Even if I don’t use the naan bread very deftly, I’m still making an effort to fit into another culture – another thing that can get me cultural bonus points.

In writing this, I’ve decided to tie it back to dis/ability issues. I’ve found that I sometimes want to “prove” that I’m still able – either to myself, people who know me personally, or to the general public. I end up trying to be a super-productive superwoman, just to show that fibromyalgia hasn’t got me down. Sometimes I feel frustrated when I start feeling pain or fatigue because of all the work I’ve done. It’s then that my friends have to sit me down and tell me that anyone would be tired accomplishing what I’d just done. My disability isn’t the only thing making me tired, it’s how much I try to do. Feeling the need to overcompensate – to show my disability who’s in charge – causes more pain and suffering than I would encounter if I allowed myself to follow my body’s lead.

Advertisements