Kentucky’s Kitchen Table: A Reflection on Discomfort

By Chloe

My name is Chloe and for my Kentucky’s Kitchen Table assignment, I had my meal at a cabin in Stanton, Kentucky. It was held at Bailey’s family cabin in a gated community. We were joined by her mother Barbara, some of her friends that were from Spencer and some that go to Western. Barbara said that she would make all of the food, unless people wanted to bring things. Mhari and Lydia made burgers and hot dogs on the grill, while Shaban made his special spicy-soup-that’s-sometimes-a-sauce. Tiger brought the music and Silas brought his poetry book. I brought the dessert (cookies and cakes from Kroger of course). Also present were Chris and Emily, though they did not bring anything with them besides their personalities. I had never met Chris, Emily, Tiger, and Shaban before this meal.
Lydia is from Louisville and she went to the Brown School. She is a sophomore at Western. She went there for most of her life, as it is a kindergarten through twelfth grade school. Her mom is a guidance counselor at Presentation Academy and her dad works on a boat. Lydia says that she gets her creativity from her dad and her sass from her mom. They live in a big green house with one cat. Lydia has many tattoos, though most of them don’t mean anything; she just thought they were pretty.
Mhari and Tiger are both from Oldham County where they went to high school together. Lydia says, “They’re not dating but they’re also not not dating. Ya know?” Mhari and Tiger are both juniors at Western. Mhari smells perpetually of vanilla and cardamom and has a loud infectious laugh that makes one feel included and warm. Tiger is quieter and subtler, but he’s profoundly witty once you can hear what he is saying. His family is of Asian descent, and he has proudly dubbed himself the “coolest Asian any of you all know.” Both of them wear old glasses that are now too big for their heads because they have been stretched out but they both also refuse to get them fixed.
Shaban grew up in Virginia but he was born in a small country in Africa. When asked which country, he replies, “You won’t know what it is. No American has ever heard of it.” He speaks with a faint accent that comes out more when asked about his childhood. He loves NPR, green pants, and funky sweaters. His best friend, Morgan, is in Denmark right now studying at The Danish School and he speaks of her often.
Silas was born and raised in Portland, Oregon. His house sits on a plot of land that used to be a Christmas tree farm and he says that they are still everywhere, growing in neat rows. His mom was a school teacher before she retired and decided to homeschool him. He went to high school with other kids who had been homeschooled their whole lives too. Mhari and Lydia say that Silas has the purest heart of anyone they know. He is soft spoken and agreeable, calm and fun. He says that he used to have long thick hair before he cut it over the winter break while he was in Israel.
Chris is from the suburbs of Chicago and is a freshman at Western. Bailey and Emily are both from Spencer. Bailey goes to Western but Emily is still in high school. Bailey’s mom Barbara has short greying hair that she refuses to dye, much to her daughter’s protest. She enjoys watching British baking shows and assorted cartoons. She is clever and sharp.
Silas had brought a book of poetry with him and Tiger started reading some of the poems aloud to us as we were making dinner and preparing the table. Many of the poems were gloomy and dark, but they were certainly thought provoking. It was a book that seemed to be a lot about loving people, living amongst people and leaving people. It had themes of self-worth, inner strength, identity and false love. Everyone seemed to have incredibly different thoughts about them, though we all certainly agreed that the book was a bit of a downer. The girls seemed to have more opinions and thoughts about the ones related to self-worth and inner strength. We talked about how much beauty is drilled into girls’ brains from the very start and how damaging it is. Lydia is tall and thin and was told quite often that she has the body of a model, but was also told by boys that she didn’t have enough curves to be appealing. Mhari was told the opposite; she has too many curves to be appealing. Neither one could change their body, short of surgery, yet still had to listen to these things be said to them. It’s hard to love your appearance and feel worthy of much when people are telling you that the way that you were born is not good enough. No one has control over how they naturally look. I didn’t ask to be short, Lydia didn’t ask to be rail thin, and Mhari didn’t ask to be curvy, yet that’s what we all use to base our confidence on. It’s hard to find balance in it all when there’s so many kinds of bodies and looks but there only seems to be one kind of perfect.
We all agreed that the book was an odd contrast to Silas’s personality, which is generally light and pleasant. It’s a weird thing to think about the differences between what people think and what they actually say out loud to other people. I wasn’t sure if this was an instance in which Silas was reading the book because he wanted to expose himself to thinking that doesn’t really coincide with his own, or if he chose the book because the thinking does coincide with his own.
When I asked the group about their thoughts on the meaning of citizenship, Shaban was perhaps the most passionate. He was the only one out of the bunch that is not a natural born American citizen and you only have to speak with him for a short time to realize that he is incredibly proud of his heritage. He was born in Africa, but he didn’t live there long and America is what he knows best. He believes that citizenship goes beyond documents and regulations and dives deeper into passion. To him, citizenship is how one feels about their country. Documents are necessary but so is genuine love and appreciation. The rest of us at the meal can’t ever fully understand what he was saying to us because we have never experienced what he has. We, as natural born citizens in an incredibly fortunate country, take for granted so many things: grocery stores, indoor plumbing, cars, electricity. Obviously, I know that my life has been a cotton candy cloud compared to people living in third world countries and impoverished places. This wasn’t a new revelation to me but it was still a jarring experience. It’s always weird to be hit in the face with your own privilege. I take so much for granted, as many people do, because we haven’t ever had to live differently. I will never go hungry or lack electricity for years, but Shaban has. He got out of that and he came to America. Now that he’s here, he faces entirely different problems. I will never get pulled over by a police officer based upon the color of my skin or be discriminated against because of the way that I speak, but Shaban has. American people meet him and make up their minds about him without even really knowing him. Why bother coming to a new country when people there are going to treat you terribly? You have to choose between two evils. At least here you can survive, though you won’t always be treated respectfully. You choose survival so you can be around people that are terrible to you. How is that okay? It’s not, but it seems to be reality right now.
How can we live better together? Maybe we could start by not being racist. How do we do that? How do we change the minds of people that have it so ingrained in their brains that they are superior because of the color of their skin? We moved on from this topic to talk about where we live, our neighbors, what we want to do with our lives, and so many other things but I really got stuck on this first topic. I couldn’t move past it. I just wanted to grab all of the people that have ever been terrible to people of different races and shake them. Why are you like this? Why do you believe this to be true? I don’t think that any of them would have been able to give me an answer I was okay with, and maybe that’s what I want. I don’t want an answer I’m okay with because then I have to forgive them and stop being angry. Obviously, that goes against everything that we’ve learned in this class this semester. We can’t live better together or have more of a say over our lives if we’re so blinded by anger that we can’t even see straight.
The whole time Shaban was talking, I kept thinking about Claudia Rankine and Citizen. Rankine wrote about little micro-aggressions that she’s dealt with her whole life. People talking to her in “black talk” or saying stupid things that they didn’t mean to say out loud. Things that I don’t and won’t ever have to deal with, but she deals with every day. I don’t know if I’m really allowed to be angry about them on her behalf but I am.

Throughout Honors 251, we have talked about social issues and wicked problems. We talk about the things that no one wants to talk about and the things that people don’t know that they should be talking about. It has been eye opening in that it has forced me to not only see the point of view of others but also figure out how I myself feel about things. I have avoided thinking about heavy things for the longest time because they generally seem to bum me out or make me anxious. Having to do this dinner and this assignment was wonderful because I met new people who are very different than I am but I also got to know some of my friends better than I did before and it forced me to think about things that I don’t usually like to think about. I think that everyone should be forced to confront the things that make them uncomfortable because that is when you really seem to figure out who you are and what you believe.

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Shaban’s special “spicy-soup-that’s-sometimes-a-sauce” : chicken edition

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Making dinner on the grill!                   (Left to Right) Tiger, Lydia, Mhari, Silas, Emily

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