Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Stereotypes, Realities, and Comfort Food

A few years ago I went to the funeral of one of my aunts, and I saw people I hadn’t seen in about 40 years. People I grew up with who grew up to be teachers, accountants, financial planners, engineers, architects, doctors, nurses, ministers, statisticians, lawyers, etc. All middle to upper middle class people, and all African-American…and all raised in the “golden age” of the 1960s and 70s when changing attitudes and generous financial aid from schools, the federal government, and state governments, meant that we could follow our dreams to some extent, and go beyond even what our own already middle class parents had done. These people all lived in “nice neighborhoods” drove “nice cars” and wore “nice clothes.” You wouldn't find any of their kids wearing pants that hung down off their asses.

But then again, people often confuse high concentration with high numbers, and the behavior and tastes of people in a particularly visible subset of a group with the behavior and tastes of the group as a whole. Stats say that roughly 30% of blacks live in poverty, but that means that roughly 70% of us don’t. Put simply that means that while 30% of us may live in “the hood”, most of us don’t. So while there may be a higher concentration of us there…more of us together in one place there…there are actually more of us in numbers spread out among the “nice neighborhoods” in the suburbs.

Anyway, my point, and I do have one, is that after the funeral, when we all came back to the church to eat, the food being served was traditional African-American fare like fried chicken, green beans, seasoned rice, biscuits, and a few other things I can’t recall. Later on, my wife commented on how these people who had obviously done well for themselves were eating “poor people’s food.”

I responded that this wasn’t necessarily “poor people's food”, it was the food they grew up on. It was “comfort food.” It was food that the planners were pretty sure that everyone would like. This was not a place for tofu and lentils.

Was serving this stuff playing into a common stereotype about us? Ya, you betcha. Was it stuff that everyone liked? Ya, you betcha again. Sometimes the “stereotype” is spot on.

And what would’ve happened had the planners served what they thought that people of our social status should like? What would’ve happened had they served tofu and lentils and veggie burgers?

It would’ve sat there, uneaten, while we all formed a caravan to the nearest KFC.

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