Apples. Potatoes. Bananas. Oreos. Coconuts.
If you’re not wincing already, welcome to my PSA on not calling people food. Because these are all terms used against non-white people who are thought to “act white”. Red/brown/yellow/black on the outside, white on the inside.
For a start, it’s dehumanising. And these are terms often used by people against others in their particular racial group. Intraracial racism is harmful, just as interracial racism is, and it cuts in a different way when it comes from the inside. Any such narrowing us down is an essentialising of ideas of what any group can be. That does no service to people who we are trying to represent as varied, three dimensional, and absolutely human.
The idea is that people-as-food are trying to be white, but is that actually what’s going on? Let’s assume, for a moment, for the sake of argument, that that’s so. In that case, ire is better directed at the standards promoting whiteness as the only proper thing rather than at the people supposedly trying to get into it themselves, much like shaming individual women for fitting patriarchal beauty standards isn’t helping the actual problem.
Stepping away from the assumption of intent now, perhaps someone is “acting white” not specificially with the aim of emulating whiteness. If, say, one is expressing one’s love of science fiction, that should be okay. It’s important to claim these bits of existence we love for ourselves, rather than just leaving them for the pleasure of white people. Identity and pride don’t have to be gained or maintained by limiting ourselves, but can be expansive. If we don’t let ourselves enjoy what we enjoy, then white people get all the variety and fun, and we’re stuck acting according to a prefigured racial model: exactly what racism wants of us.
There are no essential racial behaviours, so be yourself while fighting racial essentialism, and let others do the same. It’s win-win.
At the end of the day, we’ve all got to stick together in the fight against racism. Regulating behaviour like this just reinforces fake and contextual boundaries at everyone’s loss. What’s the point in policing? (Perceived proximity to) whiteness isn’t something for which to be shamed; whiteness is something to be deconstructed. In doing so, we’ve got pleasures and practises to claim.