Ethnic Food vs. American Food

I had a conversation with a former (white) boss once. We talked about “ethnic food” and I said how I think it’s kind of funny and strange that we classify Asian, Hispanic, African, and European food as ethnic, but not American. Because technically all food is ethnic.

She looked at me confused (and as if I’m wrong) and said, “What do you mean? What’s American ethnic food..?”

I looked at her confused and said, “Burgers, hotdogs, coke, sandwiches..” She realized her mistake and quickly moved on.

From this conversation, I realized how easy it is for Americans, White Americans to classify “ethnic” as “other.” As if American food is FOOD and every other culture’s food is ethnic food. But by definition that’s incorrect.

“Of or relating to large groups of people classed according to common racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin or background” – Merriam Webster

However, it’s become so normalized to hear “ethnic” used as “other” that we don’t even think twice when we see the word on menus, when coworkers use it incorrectly, or when we hear it in class. Our complacency is in fact perpetuating a stereotype that other = different, so people of nonwhite cultures will always be different from White Americans.

I know some of us don’t like to make people uncomfortable, so we stay quiet when someone makes a general (wrong) statement about ethnicities and brush it off as a joke/ignorance/harmless. We think to ourselves, we know they’re wrong, but we also know what they mean, so it’s okay. But it’s not okay.

From the recent election, it’s become vividly clear that there are SO MANY people in the U.S. that do not know anything about race, who feel no guilt discriminating against colored people, who are proud to be white supremacists. Does this look okay to you? As a nation, are we in fact going backwards in time. Will colored people be required to sit in the back of the bus again?

It scares me to think that nothing has changed in 100 years. Do we want to be a part of the time in history we actually went backwards while other countries were moving forward?

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