Saturday, March 20, 2021

Food Metaphors and E Pluribus Unum

I've been thinking for a long time about writing in response to one of the people I follow on Twitter, a guy named Jason Segedy, who is the chief planner for the city of Akron, Ohio. He tweets interesting geography and demographic facts and, of course, city-related thoughts, including his perspective on how the challenges of "rust-belt" cities differ from those of coastal high-growth cities with expensive real estate.

But he also seems to see himself as part of the reasonable middle in the "culture war," who is increasingly annoyed or even angry that the rest of us won't come around to his point of view. This is an example from today:

In a pluralistic democratic republic, E pluribus unum is always better than Ex uno pluses.

Inflaming divisions between people can feel good. It satisfies the drive for power. It generates page clicks and makes a lot of people rich.

But it is the way of death. Choose life.

As if it's marginalized people who inflame division by pointing out the fact that they're marginalized and oppressed, rather than the oppressors who create the division by marginalizing and oppressing. All those marginalized people should just shut up and take it for the cause of unity, according to Segedy.

Remember, this is the week that six Asian women were shot by a white male Evangelical Christian in the Atlanta area, and when Derek Chauvin is on trial for killing George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Just after reading Segedy's pronouncement, I immediately saw these three other tweets or tweet threads:

Y’all, genuinely I’m pretty shook right now. We got done with the PBS show at 8:00... I decide to grab a bite to eat and a drink at a sports bar that’s near the motel just to see what the area’s like ... as soon as we walked in it was pretty obvious I didn’t fit in for a variety of reasons. I’m in a suit, I’m Asian, I’m the only one even pretending to wear a mask... As I’m looking for a table, this dude’s just like “What the FUCK are you wearing. Why the FUCK are you wearing it” in a very angry way. I’m pretty non-confrontational, and am just like “hey man just a mask, just grabbing some dinner” and walk by him and find a booth in the back. We can kinda hear him yelling behind us but just ignore it. A minute later, he comes in screaming just like “Where the fuck is he? I’m gonna kick his ass.” He’s pretty drunk I think, which is why he didn’t see me sorta hidden behind a booth. He loses interest and leaves the bar I guess, but for a few minutes there I was really getting ready to fight or flight outta there. Especially with the Georgia story in the news, I didn’t know how this was going to go down... actually now that I’m thinking about it, one of the comments he made as I was walking away was “he’s probably carrying the virus.” So, yeah. Thanks to President Trump for all the China Virus discourse over the last year.
Rui Xu (candidate for State Representative in Kansas's 25th district)

Some thoughts after watching 2 weeks of jury selection in the Chauvin Trial: One prospective juror said he used to live near where George Floyd died, and when someone would get shot or go to jail, police would ride through the neighborhood playing “Another one bites the dust."
Deena Winter

Delania Yaun was one of the eight people murdered by a fundamentalist, racist pig in Atlanta. Cops arrested her husband Mario at the scene and held him for four hours in handcuffs so tight they injured his wrists. They would not tell him if she was dead. Delania Yaun was white. Her husband Mario González is Mexican. Police refused to believe González was married to a white woman, brutalized him, and refused to even let him see his dead wife's body.
Molly Crabapple

Back in grad school, I had a professor who opened my eyes to the melting pot metaphor (which Jason would probably be a fan of, since it's a different version of E pluribus unum). I'm sure there's an entire field of thought around this, but here's my basic version of what my professor said. Rather than melting everyone together, what if we thought of American society as a salad bowl, where lots of different ingredients come together but can still be tasted separately. There's a dressing that complements them all, but each part can still be appreciated.

Now this is me, building on that idea. Maybe we could even think of society not as a salad, but as a stew that has cooked longer — with a really unifying gravy, though there are still distinguishable components.

But what Segedy seems to want is something like humus, where everything is ground together into a paste until nothing is distinguishable at all. And even more than that, he doesn't acknowledge that the makers of the humus really only want the chickpeas to be in the paste, and not the other ingredients at all. Well, maybe after 40 or 50 years they would let the tahini in, but they will never let the lemon juice or garlic in because those are just too sharp. And really, they only want to use the chickpeas that are larger than a certain diameter because the ones that are smaller are not good enough to be used in the humus at all.

Food metaphors only go so far, but I hope that begins to get the idea across.

Segedy sets up a false choice between One out of many vs. Many out of one. There is no "one" in this country and there never has been. There have always been many, and we all have to recognize each others' existence and validity and still work together share if we want, as he says, a pluralistic democratic republic. 

Assuming an equality that doesn't exist won't get him or any of us to that end.


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