Reconciliation, Reparations, and Regeneration: The thing about white people is…

Author: Orion Kriegman

I am white, and yet I have never self-identified as “white.” When asked about my identity, I have often used the shorthand term Pizza-Bagel – that oddly appealing mixture of the Jewish bagel with the Italian tomato sauce and cheese. Yet the tomato, originally a “New World” crop, was appropriated by the Italians, while the bagel originated from Polish gastronomy and was adopted by the Jews. Indeed, I never thought much about my Scottish ancestry, until I married a Celtic lass who pointed out that I am in point of fact a deep-fried pizza bagel.  All of this highlighting a basic fact of cultural hybridity, that culture is living and always fluid and evolving, and that human societies have continuously traded ideas, cuisine, music, etc., while absorbing, blending, and innovating.

Still, in our highly unequal and stratified society, I was born at a time when an American Mutt like myself can without fear or effort pass as white with all the privileges that entails (it was not so easy for my ancestors). I was also taught that how we behaved at home was “too ethnic” to be tolerated in mainstream settings – my mom told me that Grandpa Joe decided to ditch his Italian language and extended family to become as Waspy as folks on TV.  As a swarthy Mediterranean white person, I grew up thinking the American Dream was for me because my immigrant grandparents were refugees while my parents were now professionals.

I suspect that one reason many white Americans have a hard time reconciling with their privileges is that they don’t identify their own family history with that of  “white America” – even when society defines them that way. The language we use to discuss race makes it hard to reconcile with history. Without reconciliation with our history, we will not expand our solidarity and be able to come together to fight for justice. Facing into our histories requires blowing up constructed categories of black and white. In doing this we do not cast aside the first part of the discussion on the peculiar institution of race in America: we must still acknowledge America’s unique historical context and the pervasive inequality as manifested in the Racial Wealth Gap, and the many other ways of measuring and demonstrating that black and white America still exist such that we are in no way a post-racial society.

I bring this all up to help explain why I believe that transforming our identities is at the core of the work needed to transform our industrial food system to a sustainable one rooted in racial justice. The New England Food Vision suggests a dietary shift that for many of us raised in fast food nation would be radical. A serious commitment to creating a sustainable regional food system that is equitable requires the “3 Rs”: Reconciliation with our history of injustice, collectively facing the truth; Reparations that address how the past hasn’t gone anywhere, but remains with us now; and, Regeneration to heal ourselves, our communities, and the land.