Pass the mashed potatoes (why no one in my family wants to sit next to me at dinner & other musings)

Pass the mashed potatoes (why no one in my family wants to sit next to me at dinner & other musings)

By: Natalie McCabe Zwerger

No one wants to sit next to me at family dinner because they’re afraid I will bring up the fact that America is a myth. But it is. Let me tell you why.

First, I should clarify that at our Boricua dinner, we won’t have mashed potatoes, but pernil con arroz y habichuelas. Maduros and maybe sorullos if I am lucky. But, I digress.

America is a myth we must confront by abandoning holidays that honor our own history as colonizers. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, our warped performance of giving thanks each November rests on ahistorical and whitewashed narratives that further nothing more than white supremacy and hate. Neither of those being things we should be grateful for.

A true history would require confrontation of our ancestral colonization of Indigenous land, enslavement of Indigenous peoples and genocide of millions of Indigenous people over generations.

But that doesn’t make for polite dinnertime conversation. My issue is that now is no time to be polite. The United States is engaged in the active support and arming of a country perpetrating a genocide in Gaza. We are active participants in the eradication of Palestinian people. The deep irony here is that we will give thanks while telling ourselves a mythical bedtime story of pilgrims civilizing the world, while we are participants in an active genocide. This is exactly the myth of America.

Rules of the myth require a few ingredients: 1) maintain a glorified impression of a savior nation, 2) that has civilized worlds and earned a superpower status, 3) while whitewashing the slaughter, enslavement, and rape we have engaged in, 4) in furtherance of growing more power, 5) to repeat the cycle by distinguishing a “third world”, 6) all the while pretending we are the moral, values-based country of our dreams (McCabe Zwerger, 2023). I would rather not eat those mashed potatoes.

I want truth and criticality. I would rather discuss what we know about Gaza, learn more, make informed pleas to our politicians, share on social media what we can within our spheres of influence, and speak to our children about injustice and inequity truthfully. The past is ugly but the present isn’t much better when white supremacy and hate continue to reign over truth and love and justice.

My hope for us- white folx in particular- and folx who benefit from light-skinned privilege but identify as Latinx/e like many in my family- is that we don’t wilt like the soggy corn flakes at the bottom of a cereal bowl. There is a particular invitation to us this week to float in the milk of privilege that protects us from confronting how anti-Black and Brown this world remains. Sopping up the privilege that keeps us safe- not just in physical body but in spirit as withering beings who cannot grapple with a violent history that is our ancestry. The soggier we get, the more we melt into the mythical whitewashed narratives that allow us to confront who we were and where we came from. My ancestors owned people. My ancestors were violent. My ancestors colonized. I work everyday to ensure I don’t become soggy under the weight of an arrogant disavowal of real and true history. I fight to remain vigilant and declarative in my support of justice and my recognition of the deeply troubling history that replicates and reverberates today. If you have an opportunity this week to do some education for yourself and others, take it. If you have income and resources you can redistribute to folx of less socioeconomic advantage, do it. Let your gratitude include space to leverage and, dare I say, exploit any pillows of privilege on which you rest.

I am grateful I am able to participate in creating a world that doesn’t have to be this way. I give thanks that my energy remains crisp and sharp to envision a more just world where my daughter can both confront her ancestry and create a new legacy for future generations

Why can’t we have this conversation over mashed potatoes? Will you sit next to me at dinner? 

Natalie is a white Puerto Rican, cis hetero non-disabled educator, advocate, non-profit leader, & mami with significant class privilege. She rejects the invitation to be a soggy corn flake.

This post was originally featured on the Everyday Race blog.