Browsing Tag

white supremacy

Social Issues

what we lost: white supremacy, immigration, and food

Several years ago, I began to notice the patterns and connections that bind up cisheteropatriarchy with toxic masculinity. Patriarchy, with all its queerphobic and femmephobic boundary-keeping, inevitably hurts many men as it strives to keep a certain kind of man in power. Around that time, I also began arguing that one of the reasons that patriarchy should be resisted and eradicated is that it represents a nearly incomprehensible loss of opportunity. What could we have, right now, if it weren’t for patriarchy? What advancements could half the human population have contributed if they hadn’t typically been treated as property and kept chained to a stove?

It didn’t take me long to see that similar patterns exist in white supremacy and racism. What has humanity lost because of white supremacy? What have white people lost in our bigoted, racist quest for power?

For me, personally, the answer has often been: food.

If you were to meet me in “real life,” in my home– in my kitchen– you’d quickly notice that I am pretty obsessed with the entire concept of food. One of my favorite books is Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni, a thick and delightful tome I read cover-to-cover in a single sitting. I love trying new recipes, and adapting cuisines from all over the world to meet the needs of my diet and allergy restrictions. The Great British Bake Off (known in the US as The Great British Baking Show) is one of my all-time favorite things– I have watched and re-watched every single season, some of them multiple times. Nothing brings me quite as much joy as cooking for my friends and family, watching them relish roast chicken con fit or my delectable and toothsome gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.

I also read about food. A lot. I inhale foodie magazines and I’m catching up now on Anthony Bourdain’s show after reading “What Anthony Bourdain Meant to People of Color” by Joumana Khatib. Some of my favorite articles I’ve ever read and that have made a lasting impact on me have been about food: “The Struggles of Writing about Chinese Food as a Chinese Person” by Clarissa Wei has become one of my touchstones and an oft-cited resource. “How it feels when white people shame your culture’s food, then make it trendy” by Ruth Tam is what I direct people to in order to help them understand cultural appropriation. “What’s The Difference Between Ethnic Food in America vs the Homeland (And Does it Matter)?” and other articles like it, covering the immigrant experience through food, is basically a genre all to itself and one I’ll always read.

Articles that treat food as a metaphor are also a favorite. “Hunger Makes Me” by Jess Zimmerman has stuck with me for years, and the most extraordinarily, achingly beautiful article I’ve read this year is “Cravings” by my friend Hännah Ettinger.

***

I hope you’ll bookmark all these and read them later, because now I’m going to talk about a travesty of an article I read yesterday: “How Millennials Killed Mayonnaise” by Sandy Hingston, accompanied by the hilarious subtitle “The inexorable rise of identity condiments has led to hard times for the most American of foodstuffs. And that’s a shame.” I don’t often read the “How Millennials Killed _____” articles until they hit tumblr and have been properly eviscerated first, but this one was about food … so I clicked it. And then read it aloud to Handsome as we drove home from the airport, laughing so hard I cried. It’s so badly written. If I were still teaching writing, this would be the example I’d force all my students to read so they can identify purple prose.

It’s also insidiously white supremacist.

My first thought was “geez lady, so people don’t like your potato salad, get a grip.” I was also entertained by the thought that all millennials hate mayo because I use it all the time, and the people I know– mostly millennials– gobble up my deviled eggs and potato salad like they’ll never eat again. How she’s extrapolating her personal experience onto an entire generation is beyond absurd. However, I wouldn’t be writing about her today if she hadn’t written the following:

My mom was the daughter of Lithuanian immigrants, born in the era in which huddled masses clambered ashore at Ellis Island, their pockets stuffed with kielbasa and chorizo and braunschweiger and makanek and lap cheong, and were processed in the great American assimilation grinder, emerging to dine happily ever after on Hatfield hot dogs and potato salad. …

America in the 1950s was full of strivers like Mom, desperate to forget family legacies of latkes and boxties and bramboráky, poring through the pages of Family Circle and Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day for stars-and-stripes recipes that repped their newfound land. They wanted all their strangeness to dissolve into the sizzling pot of Crisco that crisped their french (not French) fries. …

Besides, the impetus seemed righteous. In a world torn asunder by the Great Depression, the Holocaust, and two World Wars, our citizenry needed to come together, be united, rally behind a collective vision of what it meant to be an American: You lived in a single-family house, you drove a station wagon, you wore bowling shirts and blue jeans, and you slathered mayonnaise on everything from BLTs to burgers to pastrami on rye. …

My mom’s side of the family have a similar history– except my reaction is not a mastubatory “patriotic” celebration, but a sense of longing and grief. I don’t see the fact that my family’s cultural heritage was beaten out of us by decades of racism and bullying as a good thing like Sandy does. It’s a horrible reality that surviving in America as an immigrant often means exchanging kifle, csirke paprikash, and dobos torte for Waldorf salad and Spam.

My great-great grandparents immigrated from eastern Europe after the death of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and my great-great grandmother brought with her the recipes of her homeland. My great-grandfather taught us to make kifle for Christmas one year the way his mother used to, in pinwheels instead of little rolled crescents. She’d gotten tired of making the individual cookies for the entire family and decided to cross kifle with another Hungarian desert: beigli. For years, I made csirke paprikash by adding corn to the tomato-sour cream sauce and cooking it all up in a pressure cooker because that was how Grandpa did it: it was quick, and he liked corn. It surprised and delighted me when I found out csirke paprikash doesn’t traditionally include corn– it was what happened when my immigrant grandfather grew up in Ohio. Another family favorite is my grandmother’s spin on halupki: stuffed cabbage in a creamy bechamel instead of tomato sauce.

But so much else has been lost. My grandfather had a cookbook his mother had put together with her Hungrian/Czech/Polish neighbors, and even as a teenager I was thrilled with the discovery. I peppered him with questions: how often did she make this? What does this taste like?

It was a difficult conversation, because his answer often was “I don’t know. She’d stopped making it by the time I was old enough to remember.”

One of my grandfather’s most vivid memories is his mother shouting at his father when he occasionally reverted to Hungarian: “We’re in America now! We speak American!” There is also a thread of resentment woven through his childhood: he grew up being labeled a “Hunky” and eventually anglicized his name from “Vincze” to “Vincent” when he joined the Army Air Corps during WWII. White supremacy burdened both him and his mother with a desperate need to conform– to become bland, homogenous, and uniform. In order to be safe and successful in this country, they had to give up a centuries-old “perfect blend,” as Sandy would put it, of paprika, sour cream, and stewed tomatoes for jello molds and mayonnaise.

***

I fight white supremacy through my cooking.

There’s nothing wrong with mayonnaise– I love my potato salad, made with orange and red peppers instead of celery, and sour cream and paprika mixed with the mayonnaise– but I know in my bones that I have been robbed. White supremacy stole a whole legacy of flavors and dishes and enrobed my family’s meals in a banality of beige.

So, now I cook the delicious food we lost. The recipe I shared above for csirke paprikash is a show-stopper, and easily transformed to be gluten free (Jovial’s GF egg noodles work great). I plan on making dobos torte for my birthday in a month, and can’t wait to indulge in layers upon layers of chocolate and caramel. I’m still struggling to adapt kifle, since yeast-driven rising methods are difficult to accomplish with gluten-free flour– but I swear I’ll get there, and it will be delicious. My family also just discovered that one of my grandmothers immigrated here from Sicily as a mail-order bride, and now I’m happily buried in Sicilian-American recipes.

Arancini seems like a great place to start.

Photography by Windslash
Theology

see, here is water

If you grew up going to Sunday school, you’re probably at least a little bit familiar with the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. I’ve never been entirely sure why, but this story, which appears in Acts 8, has always been one of my favorites. I’ve always been fascinated by everything about it, especially since it reads almost like a sci-fi/fantasy story.

An angel comes and tells Philip to stand by a certain road at a certain time, and when he sees a chariot the Holy Spirit instructs him to approach it. He does, and in the following conversation converts him to Christianity and baptizes him. At that moment, Philip is transported to Azotus and continues preaching. In the Bible I used growing up, I had “beam me up, Scotty!” written in the margins. Anytime this passage was used in a sermon, I used to daydream about the Eunuch returning home (to probably somewhere in Sudan) and telling everyone about what had happened, including Queen Amanitare.

My view of this story was simplistic, shaped by the conventions of the people who first told it to me. It was a traditional missionary story, told in the same way that I heard other stories like “The God who Made my Thumbs” or the journeys of David Livingstone. We gawked at this story about Philip teaching the black man just like we gawked at pictures missionaries would bring back from Kenya or Japan. All these things reinforced stereotypes I had about “unreached people groups”– in an attempt to provoke my empathy I was taught to see non-Western nations as backwards, dirty, savage, war-torn, hungry, poverty-stricken, and in desperate need of Christian Missions (aside: please take same time to look at the #TheAfricatheMediaNeverShowsYou tag on twitter).

But, thanks to my need to re-think and re-imagine the Bible stories I’ve been imbibing since I was a child, I was struck by something interesting in this passage:

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” and he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

I’ve been thinking about this story fairly consistently ever since I first heard about the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson. Since that time we’ve seen more protests, more killings, more violence, a massacre, and now eight black churches that have been burned down. I remain hopeful that in the midst of all this terror and pain that Christian America will finally wrestle with the long-entrenched sins of racism and white supremacy, but in all this time I have been disappointed by a typical Christian response.

They’ve called for patience, for love, for forgiveness, for mercy.

They’ve demanded that black people silence the cries of their suffering.

They’ve said that they will not listen as long as any black person is not submissive and compliant.

And while they say that, I think of the Ethiopian Eunuch and the way he interacted with Philip. He listened to Philip’s explanation, and then he acted. He chose, for himself, what he wanted to do with this information, and then says “what can stand in the way of my being baptized?

In our church tradition, baptism has always been and will ever be about identity. When we baptize our children or our new converts, we are proclaiming to everyone that this person is one of us, that they belong. They are as much a part of us as we are a part of them, united in one catholic church.

When the Eunuch– a queer man, a black man– says “what can stand in the way of my being baptized?” he is forcing all of us to acknowledge the truth: he is one of us. He is our equal. He is as much a beloved child of God as any straight white man. He deserves the same love, grace, and compassion as any other Christian, and he claimed the right to it.

Rachel Held Evans said something about this story in Searching for Sunday that stood out to me:

At another time in his life, Philip might have pointed to the eunuch’s ethnicity, or his anatomy, or his inability to gain access to the ceremonial baths that made a person clean. But instead, with no additional conversation between the travelers, the chariot lumbered to a halt and Philip baptized the eunuch in the first body of water the two could find …

Philip got out of God’s way. He remembered that what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in. Nothing could prevent the eunuch from being baptized, for the mountains of obstruction had been plowed down, the rocky hills made smooth, and God had cleared a path. There was holy water everywhere. (39)

Christians are still doing what God told Peter to stop: we set up insurmountable roadblocks and maintain them with fierce hatred and misplaced loyalty. We tell black people, queer people, exactly when and exactly how we will accept them. We will not love you until you do everything I think black people should be doing. We will not listen to you until you match the completely imaginary version of Martin Luther King Jr. I have in my head. We will not bestow our sacraments upon you until you do as your are told. Deny who you are. Deny your community. Deny who you love.

But the Ethiopian Eunuch didn’t stop for any of that. He ordered the chariot to stop, he got out, and he stood by the water until Philip baptized him.

Today, it’s men getting tear gas away from the children the police had thrown it at.

Today, it’s Bree Newsome climbing a flag pole and taking down a symbol of hatred and bigotry.

Today, it’s a woman marrying her partner of 72 years.

Today, it’s Isasi-Diaz teaching that everyday struggles are a source for theology.

We need to listen to the people who are saying what can stand in our way? and finally admit that the answer is nothing.

Photo by Dennis Jarvis