Why Equality and Social Justice Matter to the CD

This essay discusses why this blog – and I myself – are committed to promoting equality, inclusion, and antiracism. Black Lives Matter. Why did I feel the need to post about it at this moment? If I felt so strongly, why did I wait this long to post about this topic?

It appears in the past few weeks as though we may have hit a cultural tipping point in the U.S.A., and many of my international readers are aware of demonstrations of antiracist solidarity in their own countries. This moment – amidst the dumpster fire that has been 2020 (sorry, friends, I stole that one) – demands that each of us allies speak up to express support for the movement and to take action to move the needle towards local, state/provincial, and national policy change to reduce structural, systemic inequality on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and other aspects of individual identities. I understand the outrage from many that it has taken this long for the Black Lives Matter movement to gain momentum enough to change policy. I understand the potential among non-Black, non-dominant minorities in the U.S.A. and around the world to feel excluded from a movement focused on one group, when systemic racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, sexism, classism, phobias with similar root causes impact so many people around the world. I also acknowledge that expressions of support from persons like myself – I am an white Caucasian, Southern American woman — may be dismissed as performative.

For the Culinary Diplomat, the equal value of every race, ethnicity, and culture is not a new sentiment. I started this blog to help us connect through the shared experience of food as an expression of culture – the diverse backgrounds and experiences that make each person, locality, region, or nation unique. I believed then, as I do now, that through shared experiences, we humans can appreciate the value and humanity of others we did not know or understand beforehand. Since starting this blog, my own life experiences forced me to reckon with my own identity and context and to more objectively see the institutions, structures, cultural norms, and behaviors that promote and uphold inequality on the bases of identity. Recent events in America – the COVID-19 pandemic, the outcry against violence in policing — have made me stop and reflect, to re-examine my own words, behaviors, and context, and my own role in this discourse before putting my words out to the world.

I am a white Caucasian, heterosexual, Southern American woman. I was raised in a city that was, for a brief but historically significant time, the capital of a country that left the United States of America over the right to traffic and hold human beings as property. I grew up ashamed of that legacy, wanting, like so many other Southerners, to believe we were disconnected from that treasonous group of states and that we had evolved as a region (or at least state, because many of us were subtly looking down at the “backwards” Deep South). Yet all that time, I was failing to see clearly how much I myself benefitted – to this day – from centuries of institutional racism in America and around the world. I would like to say this shame was antiracist, but it was probably due as much or more to the depictions and stereotypes of the South in popular culture – the Southerner as ‘dumb hick;’ the white female Southerner as sweet, chaste, and ditsy. Sidebar: this popular conception of the South might explain why some Southerners are so defensive about its whitewashed Confederate “history” perpetuated in the early 20th century to make the white Southerner feel better. When I went to college further south, I worked hard to demonstrate that I, unlike many of my classmates, had no Southern accent. When I interned in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles and heard people say my accent was “cute,” I stopped using words like “y’all” that betrayed my white Southernness. With my black and minority friends, I prided myself on that fallacy of “color blindness” while engaging in behaviors that may have minimized or marginalized race, ethnicity, and national origin. So many of us find ourselves trying to assimilate in our surrounding cultural norms or ideals – in ways we’re often not even aware of. I now have begun to really understand the individual and societal toll from these social and cultural norms and expectations. In my own life, greater understanding of my own context, which defines my identity, has led to greater understanding of the depth of inequality globally.

Most Americans want to believe that they are “color-blind,” which sounds great until you realize that being “color-blind” also leads us to falsely believe that any differences in achievement or socioeconomic status between groups are failures of individuals – or those very groups, rather than systems, structures, policies, and norms. By claiming our societies do not value skin color differently, we inadvertently support the opposite conclusion. Through my travels across my own country and around the world, observing inequality within and between cultures and nation-states has led me to explore and question the factors that have created very different outcomes for groups of people. America’s continued grappling with racism is not a uniquely American problem. I have witnessed racist policies, norms, and behaviors around the world that promote a higher value on whiteness or lightness. I have witnessed preferential treatment given to whites across Africa, lighter skin tones in India and east Asia (don’t get me started on the prevalence of skin lightening creams or treatments). We all bear responsibility for reinforcing or moving away from this disparity.

All of us have shared humanity but also unique identities. The common thread of humanity, I have and still believe, can bring us together, help us understand and appreciate one another. We have more in common with our fellow humans than differences. Through travel, experience, and education, I have witnessed that our differences are not insignificant. Our differences largely define us as individuals. Our differences stem from our context. Too often, our inherited biases teach us either to minimize these differences (e.g., to say we are “color blind” which actually further marginalizes people’s differences and implies an ideal of cultural assimilation) or magnify them by dehumanizing those who are different from us (“us vs. them” mentality that implies cultural segregation). When we celebrate and include these differences, we promote equality. At the Culinary Diplomat, this means that no cuisine or culture has inherent superiority over another, and we strive to experience and share food and culture with an open mind and awareness of the influence of individual bias on those experiences.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you would not be off-base in categorizing me as an elitist. The personal travel and dining experiences I’ve shared in this blog represent someone with the economic means and empowerment to travel as only a small percentage of the global population can do. My attempts to share culture through this blog come through my personal filter and to the sheltered experience of travel as a tourist, student, or business traveler. There are many voices out there not that dissimilar to mine, because there are a fair amount of financially stable, educated, white western women privileged to experience and blog about food and culture. It’s why I’ve promoted CD Ambassadors (though I know there are many of you that are not quite comfortable sharing your voices in this format, which I understand!) and still invite those of you interested to share your stories of food and culture with this blog. It’s why now, more than when I started this blog, I see the need to celebrate and amplify expressions of culture and identity through food and the global restaurant industry. I see the need to be more mindful of biases and language in my own writing that might promote racist or ethnocentric value systems, to then deconstruct them and strive to use antiracist forms of expression. As a writer, it is my responsibility.

I will conclude this essay with a call to anyone who’s made it this far reading my post (sorry, you know by now I’m chatty): whether or not you’re a blogger yourself, we all express ourselves and our views to others – in social media, at work, and in person. I invite us all to examine – and/or never stop examining – the words you use, the views and values you express, the defensiveness you may feel when you see or hear discussions about inequality – racism, sexism, classism, and so on. These topics are uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable to deconstruct our own points of view – to understand our own identities and why we hold the beliefs we do. Doing so is a lifelong journey, and we all have work to do. Let’s all strive to understand ourselves and others, to be open to other points of view, to recognize and speak out against inequality, disrespect, and dehumanization of others.

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