Friday, April 22, 2011

Follow-Up Fridays

So, I am attempting to write this post before my son wakes up from his nap. Let's see if I can do it. I also have noticed that I start a lot of my posts with "So,". Sometimes I delete them and sometimes I don't. Just writing that because I was thinking it, and wondering if you've ever noticed it too.

Anyhoo, today's follow up friday comment comes from Rebecca. Rebecca commented on my last post about the use of the word ethnic and said:

I'm terrible at stuff like this but I'm going to try my best......I think that those adjectives are used because they refer to something that isn't the norm. If you walk into a room with 100 people all wearing suits and one is wearing a yellow shirt, you will say "the guy in the yellow shirt"

So I think what this food manufacturer is trying to do is call this ethnic because around here.......that is what isn't the norm. (Now, I'm not saying the food isn't NORMAL) but it's the thing that's different in the frozen food aisle next to the fried chicken that I've been familiar with since I could eat.

Do I even make any sense?

Yes, Rebecca you do make sense. If I am understanding what you are trying to say, you're saying that in the context that I describe ethnic doesn't mean bad; it just means different.

There are several things that I want to say back and haven't spent a lot of time trying to organize them, so now it will be my turn to wonder if I am making any sense (:

I think I will bring back my handy bullet points.

--I was thinking about this idea of difference in a more neutral way when I wrote the post. I consciously decided to use the phrase "not normal" instead of the term "abnormal", because I knew that the word abnormal would probably trigger people in a way that I was not looking to do.

--I disagree somewhat with the idea that ethnic just means different or outside the norm. If we use your example of the guy in the yellow shirt, we wouldn't look at that guy (assuming he is white and wearing an oxford shirt,) and say, "Look at that guy in the ethnic shirt." or "Or look at that ethnic guy in the yellow shirt." The word ethnic has attached to it this idea of racial or cultural difference.

--To take the last bullet even further, cultural difference alone is not enough for something to be called ethnic. For example, traditional French cuisine is not something that most people in the United States eat on a daily basis. But if there was some escargot in the frozen food aisle, it most likely would not be described as ethnic food. Ethnic is most commonly used not just for cultures different from the dominant American culture, but cultures that are associated with people of color.

--Even if ethnic does just mean different...Different from what? Outside of whose cultural norm? Why is fried chicken the "normal" food and like Steven said on my Facebook page , the lasagna right behind it not labeled in the same way? If there is an Indian family who goes to your grocery store and eats chicken tikka masala regularly, that food is not ethnic for them. Heck, if there is a white family that eats Indian food a lot, it's not ethnic/different for them either.

--This leads me to my most important bullet (er, two dashes) point: Why is it that the white people get to decide what/who is different? "Well, we're the majority myblackfriend." Yes, that is true, but according to census data, it probably won't be true for much longer. It also wasn't true in the pre-civil war South.

Numbers might seem like a convenient explanation, but I would argue that it has more to do with power. Power to make the rules, and power to decide who is or isn't following the rules. Because if it was simply a numbers game, when Latinos begin to make up a larger and larger proportion of the U.S. population, white people would happily say, "Oh, I guess you should be in charge now, Latinos--just let us know what cultural/societal changes you want to make!" That doesn't seem to be happening.

--Let's go back to the yellow shirt guy for a second. If I saw yellow shirt guy, I would just notice him and then go about my business. But other people in the crowd might stare at him and whisper among themselves, "Look at that guy in the yellow shirt! Doesn't he know we're all supposed to be wearing suits? He's so dumb/unprofessional/clueless/etc. I'm not going to go network with him." [Rebecca, I have turned your hypothetical situation into a networking event.]

But supposed to be in suits according to whom? To the white guys a long time ago that said that suits are what you wear to look professional. These same white guys decided that ham sandwiches are food, and samosas are ethnic food. To many people, difference doesn't just mean difference--it means bad. To the crowd at the networking event, yellow shirt guy isn't just wearing a yellow shirt, he now has all of these negative characteristics attached to him because of his choice to wear the shirt.

Just like someone who eats tikka masala might be called weird/not normal/UnAmericanbecause they bring something "outside the norm" to school for lunch. I have heard too many stories of kids of color being made fun of for things like this; so I know it happens.

--All of these two dash points don't talk about my original point from the last post. That if you take the term ethnic as it's actual definition, it doesn't make sense to use it in the context of the frozen meal because all frozen meals are ethnic. Rebecca, part of what I gleaned from your comment (and correct me if I'm wrong,) is that the makers of the meal didn't mean any harm in
naming the product what they named it. I would agree with that, I don't think they were trying to say anything bad.

My point is that 1) they didn't describe the product accurately and 2) By characterizing it is as different, the manufacturer is further marginalizing Americans who don't see the food as different, because that is what they eat regularly at home. They are also reinforcing the idea that non-different Americans (i.e. "real" Americans) tend to eat certain types of food.

I feel like I'm rambling a bit, and my quotes and italics are all messed up, but the little dude is calling for his mama--so I've got to go. Rebecca, I really appreciate your comment and I hope that I was able to clarify better what I was trying to say. If you have more comments about my comments, I would love to hear them. And if anyone else has a comment, leave it for me.


  1. this is a great post...very well said!

  2. I'm 100% with you yet again.

  3. .....and I don't know what this is "tikka masala" but I want to try it. Where was this kid when I was going to school?