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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Reading the Situation

posted by on October 30 at 15:27 PM

In the meat section of the QFC, the butcher offers samples of roasted beef. Its been cut into cubes; it looks delicious; people have gathered to pick a cube with a toothpick supplied by the butcher, who today (28/10/07) is dressed like a pirate. But there is a problem. A stubborn, crooked, and old black woman looms over the pan that contains the beef bits. She looms over it and eats as is if there is no one else who wants a sample. People are waiting for their chance to eat but she will not move. As she eats (and eats, and eats), she does not hide her pleasure. The meat is making her happy.

I’m the only person whose color is the same as the old woman eating the samples. The rest are white. What are these white people thinking? This (in one form or another) is on their minds: Typical black person! She, like the rest of them, is insensitive, brutish, impolite, has a weak sense of social codes, etiquette, formalities, manners. Social skills are in the domain of the human: individual instincts are in the domain of the animal. The woman is acting like an animal.

As for someone like me, someone who has the incredible luck of coming from Africa and not coming from poverty—what does a black person in my position think? This woman is an embarrassment to the race. She is pulling us down. The play and movie A Soldier’s Story explored this kind of embarrassment, which oppresses proud and professional blacks. In the play, the complex results in a murder. An uppity and cosmopolitan black man kills a country (black) boy because he is just too natural, earthy, expressive, animal.

But what if she was white? What would, say, black people think of this situation in the QFC if the woman had the color of the other? In their minds: Just like white people to want everything for themselves. This beef, the country, the whole world. They want all of the jobs, the money, the banks. They starve all others and get fat on their own. Damn white people!

As for a white person? What would they feel if a white person was behaving in this way—eating the beef samples as if there’s no one else around them? Certainly not a sense of race embarrassment. Race embarrassment for white people is not the same as it is for blacks. Usually white arrogance (not ignorance) causes white embarrassment. The white person would not see this situation in racial terms. He/she would simply see an annoying person and correctly think: What a jerk.

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Since it's impossible to read minds, the only individual who we can know for sure was preoccupied with race in this hypothetical scene was the "Charles Mudede" person.

Posted by mattymatt | October 30, 2007 3:49 PM

More description of the subject, please? How was she dressed? Was she wearing make up? Was she wearing makeup WELL? How about her teeth? Did she have good dental hygiene?

There is more than one way to skin a cat. Could she have been Greek? Italian? Jewish? Could she have been poor? Upper class? Overweight?

The handiest prejudice is the most obivous prejudice.

If science taught me anything, which isn't much, it is that the simplest explanation most likely is the correct answer. Exchange simplest with most obvious, in this case, and you have the answer you are looking for.

When making gross generalizations about a complete stranger based on limited intelligence, the most obvious is the easiest.

So if she's black, the problem is she's black. If she's rich, she's selfish. If she's poor, she's rude and ignorant.

If SHE were a HE, I'm sure erica would have wonderful construct detailing the evilness of the man.

And what if it was TOFU!?

There's nothing softer than the luscious cushion of objectification to soothe the unsettled soul.

Posted by there's more than 1 way to skin a cat | October 30, 2007 3:50 PM

As a white person, I'd just like to say that I've been in situations where I was embarrassed for my race, but it's usually when I and the embarrassing cracker are in the company of other races. I feel like I have a similar experience to you in that same situation.

Posted by Carollani | October 30, 2007 3:55 PM

Who cares. NEXT!

Posted by Just Me | October 30, 2007 3:58 PM

Was she fat? Everybody in America hates fat chicks, right? Come on Charles, unify us!

Posted by littlejilm | October 30, 2007 4:05 PM

In my years in JApan I used to occasionally feel that whites could be an embarassment to my race (and I'm only half!)

Posted by Andrew | October 30, 2007 4:08 PM

Charles, turn off your mind. Relax, and float downstream. It is not dying.

Posted by Fnarf | October 30, 2007 4:09 PM

White people don't want Africa, Charles.

Posted by Mr. Poe | October 30, 2007 4:10 PM

When I read this I thought, "Ok, that's an interesting introduction. I'll click through to read the whole post." Then I realized Slog doesn't do that. Is there a conclusion in there somewhere or just ludicrous generalizations?

Posted by w7ngman | October 30, 2007 4:14 PM

there is plenty of white embarrassment in the world, i.e. "white trash" and our current president.

Posted by davidLBC | October 30, 2007 4:15 PM

Today I was looking at a poster in the bathroom. It was a poster from the campus health center exhorting us to wash our hands. It showed a black person and a white person shaking hands, both covered with green cartoon germs.

"What would Charles Mudede say about this?" I thought to myself. The answer is this post.

Posted by Kiru Banzai | October 30, 2007 4:19 PM

qfc deli hot plate beef equals yuck.

Posted by superyeadon | October 30, 2007 4:20 PM

If one is willing to accept the premise that Charles is omniscient, then it might seem worthwhile to read his posts. But what good are they to the rest of us?

Posted by Bison | October 30, 2007 4:22 PM

i think this is my favorite posts of your's charles. for one "the meat was making her happy" is such a delicious phrase. but, its true and i wish people could have enough empathy to understand your thoughts at that time and place. im going to have to check out that movie now. GREAT POST!!

@1,4..etc if you think this isn't relevant what about the recent obama debates where the entire african american community was painted with the same brush.

Posted by Jiberish | October 30, 2007 4:23 PM

I'll betcha a lot of people simply thought, "That old lady hoggin' the meat is straight crazy." Or they thought, "She's an old black lady, and if she's not hoggin' the meat because she's crazy, then she's cashing in the entitlement chips she earned as a young black lady living in a racist America."

Posted by DH | October 30, 2007 4:34 PM

Well, I guess someone might notice her color - if she dyed her hair bright green.

But it's more the custom - stuffing down food is what people notice.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 30, 2007 4:36 PM

Is that really how other black folk would see it? That's incredibly sad...

Posted by BillyBob | October 30, 2007 4:39 PM
The rest are white. What are these white people thinking? This (in one form or another) is on their minds...

One of the things I love about identity politics is the tacit assumption that a white man is utterly incapable of grasping the perspective of a black person or a woman, but that black people and women -- by virtue of the magical osmosis of the oppressed -- have a flawless insight into the inner workings of the white/male mind.

Posted by Judah | October 30, 2007 4:49 PM

This was a fantastic post.

Thanks for this.

Posted by arduous | October 30, 2007 4:53 PM

uh, hello? i want some meat.

Posted by infrequent | October 30, 2007 4:58 PM

actually, i don't eat meat.

Posted by infrequent | October 30, 2007 5:00 PM

Shut up and eat your fucking meat, infrequent, before the old lady comes back.

Posted by Fnarf | October 30, 2007 5:13 PM

If you don't eat your meat, infrequent, you can't have any pudding. How can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?

Posted by Superfurry Animal | October 30, 2007 5:27 PM

I liked the humanity of this post. We all think about things like this at times. And it may make us uncomfortable. Apparently to some, it is uncomfortable to read about. I think anyone (white, black, man, woman) who hovers over a sampler plate like that is probably a little bit off and very, very hungry.

Posted by homage to me | October 30, 2007 5:27 PM

Judah @18, I think you're being defensive. Charles is making a great point here: we all have our bigotries lurking just under the surface, whether we like it or not. And he was not implying that those exact thoughts would be going through every white person's mind, but--let's face it--if there weren't SOME truth to what he's saying, racism wouldn't even be an issue. We all think things at times that don't align with our politics.

The key is not to feel ashamed and deny whatever prejudices appear, however fleetingly, in your mind. Instead, accept them and examine them. Let your rational mind prevail.

And try to be a little more forgiving of people who try to talk about this stuff, rather than just dismissing them. We ALL have prejudices, and the sooner we accept them, the better we can keep them under control.

Posted by Irena | October 30, 2007 5:43 PM

If I was in France and the person wolfing down the food was the only other American, I'd be embarrassed to be an American. If everyone else was a woman and the person wolfing down the food was the only other male I'd be embarrassed to be a man. This has nothing to do with Black or White but identifying as one of a group of two where one is acting bad.

Posted by mikeblanco | October 30, 2007 6:14 PM

I'm a context person. I think I'd be scanning whitey to see what the gamut of reactions were manifesting on them. It's an interesting situation -- you never know till you're in it. You see how people react in real time.

I'd definitely be nice to and defensive of the old hungry lady; race wouldn't stack up over hunger and old.

Who, anyways, is the asshole who's gonna eject this lady from her enjoyment of samples? That's who I'm looking at.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | October 30, 2007 6:26 PM

"One of the things I love about identity politics is the tacit assumption that a white man is utterly incapable of grasping the perspective of a black person or a woman, but that black people and women -- by virtue of the magical osmosis of the oppressed -- have a flawless insight into the inner workings of the white/male mind."


Posted by Nick | October 30, 2007 9:06 PM

I'd think, "She's old. And weird. And probably poor." If I really wanted some, I'd move on and come back later.

Posted by actually not all that hungry | October 30, 2007 9:18 PM

Heh, heh. That was just me in my Halloween costume, Charles, but your concern is understandable, and no doubt every white person here should be grateful for your words.

Posted by Uptight Seattleite | October 30, 2007 11:28 PM
Judah @18, I think you're being defensive.

And I think you're taking a lot for granted.

Beyond that, you might like to take a minute to appreciate the irony here: Charles writes a post predicated on prejudgments and expressed as a short list of stereotypes. I point this out to him and you come down on me for not being tolerant enough of people who criticize prejudice and stereotyping.

That's funny.

Posted by Judah | October 30, 2007 11:50 PM

Judah, Charles's post was CRITICIZING those prejudices. Look what he admits are his own thoughts: "This woman is an embarrassment to the race. She is pulling us down." He is more than willing to expose his own stereotypical reaction. That's why his argument is convincing.

If you are concerned about people making unfair generalizations, you might want to address them in your own post, where any discussion of "identity politics" (a conveniently vague term) involves:

"the tacit assumption that a white man is utterly incapable of grasping the perspective of a black person or a woman, but that black people and women -- by virtue of the magical osmosis of the oppressed -- have a flawless insight into the inner workings of the white/male mind."

Consider admitting your own prejudices before casting stones at another.

Posted by Irena | October 31, 2007 7:38 AM

mad cow

leave the meat alone...

Posted by old timer | October 31, 2007 8:06 AM

I was in the QFC a couple weeks back and the guy was grilling up some flatiron steaks and cutting them up for samples, and a white woman with a four-year old in a stroller speared one of the uncut steaks, about a pound, and gave it to her child. What can you say about that?

Posted by --MC | October 31, 2007 8:07 AM


Was the woman in question an African immigrant, like yourself, or an African American, like most of the blacks in this country? This is an important disctinction. While there is a certain sense of solidarity among many blacks irrespective of nationality, there are also tremendous differences. For you, as an African immigrant, to write as though you represent the voice of blacks in this country, who are overwhelmingly African American, is a little naive. Outside of your black skin, you have virtually nothing in common culturally, historically, or even ethnically (American slaves didn't come from Zimbabwe) with the vast majority of blacks in this country. So what exactly qualifies you to speak as though you understand not only the thought processes of the white people in this QFC scenario, but also those of American blacks in general?

Posted by Buddy | October 31, 2007 9:26 AM

Good call!

Posted by BillyBob | October 31, 2007 9:33 AM

the five racial or cultural groups that i feel close to (as a result of long experience--I was once a british subject, for 8 years my father was a pastor in black american church, i lived in black and white africa, i have lived in seattle) are: black Africans, white africans, black Americans, europeans, and white Americans.

Posted by charles | October 31, 2007 9:34 AM

@34 that's the point he's making...when you are a member of the minority group you get the mentality that you and your peeps have to be better, nicer, more than the majority to show them that you are not the stereotypes they have of you. white/majority people can be individuals, minority people (whatever minority you are) are often the "ambassadors of their people", not to everybody im sure, but in my lifetime i've met many liberal/progressives who can say the most fucked up shit.

Posted by Jiberish | October 31, 2007 9:36 AM

The steak belongs to QFC, and they give it away for hours at a time several times a week. Eating as much as one wants isn't depriving anyone of their pure beef enjoyment.

Similarly, giving a sample (even a big one) to a child does not affect you. Believe it or not, children as young as 4 are people. They have preferences. Maybe she didn't want to buy a steak her kid doesn't like.

How much of that stuff goes to waste, anyhow? When I go to QFC, there's usually a pan of that stuff that's been out so long that it's carmelized to the skillet. I wonder how many people would have liked to try it but though, "Gawd, I'm too blackorfatorpoororfemale to let anyone see me want something."

Those free samples aren't just for white and well-dressed. Although that would make a fabulous commercial: Well dressed, young, white people demurely nibbling their beef-on-a-toothpick. Appropriately aloof, yet satisfied. Actually, I think that is a commercial.

Posted by tabletop_joe | October 31, 2007 10:08 AM

Thanks for clarifying Charles. Given your checkered personal history, it's now quite clear to me why you have such a confused and confrontational perception of race.

Posted by Buddy | October 31, 2007 11:05 AM

I am sometimes embarrassed by my race. This lady seems pretty harmless though. QFC meat, sick.

To witness greedy people in general hogging shit please visit your nearest Costco.

Posted by hunh? | October 31, 2007 1:12 PM

@39 but people DO think that they shouldn't do something because of how they feel they might be perceived. because often in our lives we hear people saying things to that effect. i was asked why my group were a bunch of drunks, while i was getting physical therapy, not relevant to what was happening.

Posted by Jiberish | October 31, 2007 1:31 PM

Maybe she was reviewing QFC's meat counter for Yelp -- or the Stranger's Eat & Tell. Then here comes Charles, assuming she's a poor first-generation immigrant, so ignorant of social norms that she detracts from a whole race. Heck, maybe she just loves roast beef!

Posted by Troy | October 31, 2007 2:46 PM

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