Like, vaguely European.

We make nasi goreng fairly often because it is an easy dish to make out of the bits and pieces of a lot of meals leftover in the fridge. A zipper-lock bag of the weekend’s rice, some chopped bits of meat or tofu, and a heap of vegetables grated so that they sort of disappear and I don’t have to hear about it. I top mine with a fried egg and chilli paste; other, less civilized members of this household top theirs with ketchup.

If I am feeling very lazy, or if I have had too much day, I fry my rice with a package of Conimex nasi goreng seasoning that we buy at the Dutch store, or from Superstore when I remember to look for it there. Nasi goreng is one of our staples, a weeknight comfort food that Nick grew up eating. On his birthday, his grandmother would treat him to a pan of Conimex nasi goreng with fried eggs and bananas. His grandmother is Frisian, from one of the northern provinces in the Netherlands. Nasi goreng is a dish from Indonesia.

One of my friends in high school was a kid who described himself as “half Chinese and half regular,” and we laughed but didn’t think much of it. Whiteness was regular, a sort of bland base and we saw it everywhere and were bored by it. When Alison Roman said “I have no culture. I’m like, vaguely European,” it read very much like the kind of thing a bored teenage girl would say in 1996, because as a formerly bored teenage girl, I am sure I said something similar then and probably repeated it as if it were interesting all the way through 1999 which was the year boys acknowledged me somewhat so I had something new to talk about. I didn’t know what “whiteness” was.

And I recall being very bored by the endless Canadian history lessons that filled our curriculum, the ones that skipped over Indigenous history and left me annoyed that we’d have to learn about the Fathers of Confederation again (except for a brief overview of the life and death of Louis Riel). Whiteness is not learning until university that John A. MacDonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, was a genocidal alcoholic. You don’t think to Google what you don’t have cause to suspect.

We talk a lot about culture in our home in part because I want our son to find a sense of identity in a world he might otherwise trample through, oblivious. We talk about Scotland, where they invented deep-fried Mars bars and the men wear kilts, sometimes without underpants, and how the Romans thought the people who lived there were so wild they just gave up and walled them off. We talk about the Netherlands, where you can buy pudding in cartons and they grow tulips and have safe bike lanes and the children are the happiest children in the world.

We talk about Canada, and our city on the coast and how wonderful it is that there are so many different people here. We talk about how while our families came from places like Scotland and England and the Netherlands and the US, what we are is Canadian, and to be Canadian is to be a lot of things all at once. We talk about culture because I do not want him thinking of himself as “like, vaguely European,” because in the absence of a sense of culture, he will fail to recognize the ways he benefits from his.

We talk about our culture because we are white and it is important to talk about whiteness, and what it means in the world: it means that we are safer, and we are heard, and that we always have the benefit of the doubt.

Because my lens on the world is smeared with food, I often use what we eat as a way to bridge other topics. We eat nasi goreng because it is an easy weeknight meal, but we talk about where it came from, and how a dish that’s been served in Indonesia for hundreds of years came to be the kind of thing we’d throw together in our kitchen on the other side of the world. We eat nasi goreng because the Dutch East India Company barged in on Indonesia in 1603 and discovered they loved the food, then occupied the country for 350 years; once Indonesia won its independence in 1945, many Indonesians immigrated to the Netherlands where they established restaurants. Indonesia has flavoured Dutch cuisine for centuries.

We cook nasi goreng in our Canadian kitchen, and we are Canadian because our families came to Canada as a result of the Canadian Homestead Act, which was an open invitation to European and American immigrants and Eastern Canadians to settle in the prairies, displacing the land’s First Nations inhabitants, and later because the Canadian and Dutch governments made an agreement to make it easier for Dutch migrants settle in Canada after World War II. The road to where we are now was paved pretty smoothly, and at the expense of people who didn’t look like us. I don’t know how much an eight-year-old understands about any of this or what he absorbs, but we are going to keep talking.

We talk about whiteness and Black lives and how our “no finking” rule doesn’t apply when people could get hurt, and how we always tell on racists (even if they are our friends) because racism hurts. We get stuff wrong, but we have to be willing to say that we don’t know some things, and then follow up with a Google. We have to be open to being wrong about stuff, and then do better.

The kids came home from school on Friday having spent part of their afternoon making Black Lives Matter images for their art assignment. As I understand it, the teacher talked about the protests that are happening all over the world, and gave them age-appropriate information that I hope they carry with them. But, of course, an art project and a lesson to a class of seven kids on a Friday afternoon during a pandemic is not enough.

It’s not enough to post in solidarity on Instagram or Facebook or your food blog; we have to have conversations in our homes even if they are uncomfortable, even if those conversations make us realize things about ourselves that we don’t like. We have to talk about whiteness, especially with our kids.

We can all point to the obvious racists and declare “THAT IS BAD DO NOT DO THAT,” but we also have to teach our people how we got to a place where the loud racists feel like they can be open about their garbage opinions, and how a society that allows those idiots to be like that also benefits us. And then we have to fix it.

Start at the dinner table, and work your way out into the world.

4 thoughts on “Like, vaguely European.

  1. I’d like to offer another piece of our Canadian history that is not even acknowledged in schools. It is the settling of Homechildren from Britain to the colonies in the first half of the century by groups such as Bernardo Homes. These little kids were sent as young as six and most never saw a living relative again. The homes were paid a sum for sending the kids. I found out by accident that my grandfather was one of those kids and there are now a million plus descendants in Canada. There is a new fiction called The Forgotten Home Child that gives an unglossy understanding of what the kids lived through. It is true to what I know and people would be horrified if they did know.
    Perhaps we’ll begin to get a better education about whethe conditions our ancestors endured as well as the plight of our Indigenous peoples.

    Like

      1. You’re welcome, I think it’s an important chapter.. I purchased mine because I wanted to have it but I think it’s available at all Canadian libraries.
        It’s hard to believe it was acceptable only two generations ago.

        Like

  2. This is a good piece of writing, some seemingly random thoughts but cohesive and with a real understanding of what Canadians like huh multi hued, multi cultural.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.