I was recently having Chinese food with a (white) friend of mine who has known me for a long time – and is aware of my sensitivities towards race. After we had selected our food choices, the waitress brings out our cutlery. Chopsticks for both, a larger than usually plate (no bowls), and puts a fork in front of my friend. My friend was very offended, and started expressing his anger that he was being discriminated against because the waitress assumed that just because he was white, that he needed a fork.
We immediately got into a very heated argument over his reaction. I even scoffed at first, saying, “well, now you know how POC (People of Colour) feel everyday: We get Othered, stereotyped, objectified, all day everyday.” He replied, “It would be like going to the Spaghetti Factory, and the waiter offering you chopsticks”, to which I replied, “It would only be the same if every white person in Vancouver knew how to use chopsticks.” – and this went on and on.
After we cooled down, I really did some serious thinking (in that awkward moment of silence where we were both fuming). What was I doing?
Sure, it’s true that as a white person he occupies a form of social mobility that I don’t have (read: white privilege), where his skin colour is the norm, his culture is the norm, his language is the norm, and his choice of cutlery outside of this establishment is the norm. And sure, POC experience all day, every day, exactly what he is experiencing at that moment, and that he is taking his white privilege for granted…but what use is it for me to negate, and push down his experience of being Othered at that moment? Who am I to invalidate his experience of race?
I called him the next day and actually apologized. I told him that I felt bad about silencing his experience of racial discrimination.
In reflecting on this experience, it has reminded me of a really long journey that I have had to go through (and continue to go through) as a feminist. I think as anti-oppression feminists, we often have the desire to call out everything. We are so disciplined (this is a good thing) to check privilege, analyze power and “call out” oppression, that we often don’t take a step back and check our own positionality – in each and every one of our own interactions with people. I’ve really learned to ask my self, in terms of when I choose to take action against something – especially in this moment of The Fork and The Chopstick – is it useful? In this moment, is it actually useful to call out white privilege, in a moment where he was feeling discriminated against? What is the work I am actually trying to achieve, and by silencing his experience of race – am I “doing” the work? Or am I just being oppressive?
If I could go back in time, I wish I would have, in that moment, chosen love and solidarity.
In love and solidarity,