Do You Want to Come over for Dinner, Friend?

By Ridzi, Frank | The Humanist, July 1999 | Go to article overview

Do You Want to Come over for Dinner, Friend?


Ridzi, Frank, The Humanist


A Human Approach to Overcoming the Distance of Difference

In the struggle for world equity, we should take a hint from the world around us. The United Nations sits down to a table before it gets down to business. Ecuadorians hold a dinner in honor of their guests before a fiesta begins. Business agents take their clients out to lunch--and can take it as a tax write-off. Why? Because they and our pro-business U.S. government recognize it as important agent-client relations. Don't underestimate the power of inviting someone to partake in one of the most essential practices of life: chowing down!

What does this have to do with us--those concerned with ameliorating the scars of Centuries of race division in our nation and in our world? Well, what we are trying to overcome is the socio-psychological phenomenon called in-group/out-group polarization. We are taught early in our lives that "races" are different and, indeed, they are--but not across the race lines that are prescribed and predrawn by Count Arthur de Gobineau, Samuel J. Morton, and all the others who have proposed evolutionary racist ideology according to so-called scientific standards. Races indeed are different because every person in this world is different. (There are no human clones running around yet.) And since every individual is unique, no two groups or categories of individuals will be exactly the same. This variety and diversity, however, has nothing inherently to do with the social construction we call race.

When a white man meets a black man they notice they are different. Of course! Everyone is different. When a white meets a white or a black meets a black, they, too, notice they are different from each other, despite the fact that they share the same skin color. The only difference between these scenarios is that when people of different skin tones meet they have the temptation to attribute their differences to the most obvious: skin color. This seems quite normal, right? It even seems to follow the scientific rule of Occam's razor: when faced with a phenomenon, choose the most obvious explanation. However, this rule of thumb doesn't mean that the conclusion is true; it simply suggests that the simplest rule is the first one that should be tested. (Karl Marx inferred that even though the tenets of racism have failed to be proven they persist because of their nature as ideology, which will only end, not after they are disproved, but after the material base that promotes them is removed.)

I will admit that, in the sadly divided situation of our world's unity, we do tend to observe trends in the way people act corresponding to race. How else do we come up with and reinforce such stereotypes as ghettoblaster, Jewish American princess, drunk Mick, and Colombian drug lord? But I suggest to you that the commonalities and shared features of demeanor, mannerisms, and physical presence from which these distorted stereotypes are drawn are rooted in proximity and not in so-called racial nature. It is a known phenomenon of socialization that we tend to pick up and adopt the traits and customs that surround us.

Back to our main topic of food. Breakfast is not the most important meal, no matter what the newest multigrain cereal promotion claims. It isn't even the fat, cholesterol, or protein levels that make a meal important. The most important thing about a meal is not what or when you eat but with whom.

Why? Because when you invite someone to dine with you in your home--or anywhere--you are inviting her or him to partake in your shared humanity, together. It is at this level, I suggest, that bonds of friendship and human closeness are fostered. It is at this level that we, as a global community, can begin to overcome the internalized racism that has been handed down to us in a most awful societal legacy.

Let me share a personal story. I was a youngster of eleven years of age, living in an Irish-Italian section of Brooklyn, New York.

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