A Toronto restaurant has been called out by the media for calling their non-spicy food option “White” on their menu.
Firstly, I have to point out that in a world where Black men are routinely targeted by police – in some cases fatally – and there are many many examples of systemic oppression against Indigenous people, Black people, and people of colour, I find it a little rich that we are spending time talking about a line on a menu that focuses on the dominant group with social power – White people.
That said, a discussion about racism is in order.
Is it Racism?
This is not an example of racism, and here’s why.
Racism requires social power.
It’s the embedding of a belief about the racial superiority of the dominant group into policy, practice, structures, laws etc. (the fabric of society). Dominant groups are not about numbers, but about social power. In North America (and in many parts of the world) those with social power in the race category are White. So the menu of this restaurant, because it’s Korean, is not exhibiting racism.
(By the way, other dominant groups include being able bodied, heterosexual, and male. To name a few. Obviously, people hold many different identities, so may have social power in one and not in another – but that’s another blogpost.)
Is it Racial Discrimination?
How about racial discrimination? Is this menu exhibiting racial discrimination?
No. But in order to get to that, let’s start with prejudice.
Prejudice is an irrational fear or dislike of someone (or a group of people), often based on stereotypes. For more info and definitions read this article.
Nothing about this menu suggests prejudice.
A stereotype is a belief (or beliefs) that is assigned to everyone in that group. It strips people of individuality.
And that’s what this is.
This menu is clearly using a stereotype that White people don’t like/can’t eat spicy food. This may be true of some White people, but it is unreasonable to assume it will be true for all White people. So it’s not fair to label a food as White on this basis (because it doesn’t apply to every White person) and consequently may make some people feel bad or angry to be lumped into one category. So maybe it is in bad taste, and definitely could be alienating to some customers (white and otherwise). It’s definitely isn’t inclusive.
But this is not racial discrimination.
Racial discrimination is about acting on a prejudice that is based on someone’s race. It is not dependent on social power, so someone of colour or someone Black can racially discriminate against someone White (if position and circumstance allow), and vice versa. This restaurant is not refusing service to White people, and they are not refusing to sell the spicy option to White people. Both of those ideas would be racial discrimination. But this is not what is happening
Racial discrimination embedded into the fabric of society against a non-dominant group becomes racism. Black people not being served in restaurants, not being able to get a room in a hotel in the segregated US south and other places, including Canada. (By the way, those are just two obvious examples – there are many others that are more recent and more subtle.)
So let’s recap:
- Not prejudice
- Not racial discrimination
- Not racism
- Definitely the use and perpetuation of a stereotype
But here’s what I really want to say:
Today, in a world where Donald Trump will soon be the president of the USA, in a world where racism exists, and people of colour, Black people and Indigenous people face issues around access to employment, housing, health care, education (to name a few) and are targeted by police, are over represented in the criminal justice system and in low income categories – are we really making a fuss about a menu that points out a stereotype about White people?
That, my friends, is a great example of privilege – and that’s another blog post. Stay tuned.
But in the meantime, you can read my post about Meryl Streep’s speech, which was brilliant and talked about other misuses of privilege, and the impact.