Archive for January 10th, 2012

January 10, 2012

On manners, etiquette, and the white man’s rules

I’ve posted a few times about the issues with rationality and logic. It is a more abstract version of what I wish to discuss in this post. In this post, I wanna talk etiquette. So, here is one example, here in Canada, of a Filipin@ child being reprimanded for eating with a spoon and a fork. It took the family until last year to receive any justice for this. Now, I know that of all the racial injustices perpetrated by the white supremacist society called Canada, this is a fairly minor one.

But this type of cultural difference is actually at the heart of many of the debates surrounding immigrants and the inclusion of non-white cultures in white dominated societies. Because this basic disgust with how those people over there live and the even more vehement disgust when they bring that way of living to your country, feeds into the xenophobia of many cultures. Your average Canadian, European, or American is wary of immigrants because they don’t know whether or not they’ll fit in. I mean… What if your children go to school with their kids and see them eating with a spoon and a fork? Maybe it’ll confuse them and lead to children with bad manners. Maybe you’ll be disgusted by their terrible manners every time you go to a restaurant. Every time you have to share you space.

Etiquette is merely one type of arbitrary social construction. It serves a purpose in society, sure. However, the normative overtones to etiquette are so interconnected with people’s notions of humanness. You wouldn’t believe the amount of crap I’ve seen heaped on Chinese people for simply not chewing with their mouths closed. The most common reaction is disgust. And since disgust has been linked to moral judgements, this is important.

It is important that so many white people use standards of etiquette to judge how civilized and human some people are. It is important that within the last ten years there is an incident like this in Canada. That children of colour are being held to and judged on some arbitrary white standard of etiquette. That they are being shamed and policed.

And something like manners really gets to a lot of people. Even my Chum has adamantly said that he’d always consider a person rude if they started eating before everyone was served (this is apparently a French Canadian thing). So a person would be rude for not following some rule they never knew about. And they’d be judged on this account *for life*. Branded an uncouth swine. I wonder how often I’ve been considered rude or disgusting for not being able to meet these arbitrary standards of manners.

I have trouble eating with a knife and fork. I’m always awkward with them and often end up creating a mess. I never use them. I’m a pro with a spoon and a fork. With chopsticks, even. Knife and fork? Clumsy, awkward, and just not the best utensils for the sorts of things that I eat.

I also wonder how many people thought I was cold and unfriendly when I was still learning to shake hands. I never shook a hand until I was 17. It probably took me the next ten years to figure out the in and outs of doing so. I can do it now… Except for the whole timing thing. I can never, ever tell *when* a hand shake is needed. Ever. No fucking clue.

This latter standard of etiquette is especially important for things like job hunting and in your career. These seemingly small and insignificant aspects of life are so very, very important. Because if you live in a white dominated area and you don’t play by their rules? You will always suffer consequences. They may not be overt like the Filipino boy getting in trouble at school. You can loose opportunities. People will judge, and use these judgements to cement stereotypes they may have about your people.