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Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Monday, June 20, 2016

Peanut Butter and Privilege

It's a joke in my family (sadly, still) that I never liked peanut butter.

Often's the time at family functions where will we reach that point in the evening where the time has come to remind my sister and I of all of our childhood shames.  And then, inevitably, my mother or father will declare, "And you never liked peanut butter."




Here's the story in brief.  Odd as it may make me for an American kid growing up in the second half of the 20th century, I never liked peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Every day for lunch we either got tuna fish or peanut butter and jelly.  (Even worse was when we got peanut butter sans jelly, because the jelly was the only part that made a PB&J tolerable, but I digress.)  Whenever I got tuna, I was quite pleased.  Whenever I got peanut butter I choked it down because, you know, it was that or starve.  Because I was eight.

To be quite frank, we never discussed the matter.  Again, because I was eight.  As far as I was concerned, my paper bag of lunch magically appeared each morning and the lunch leprechaun or whoever either smiled on me with tuna or frowned on me with peanut butter.  What child has the wherewithal to engage with their mother about her shopping habits?

Then, one day, we did discuss lunch.  I believe we were discussing what I should have on a Saturday or a summer day or something.  It was outside of the general scope of school lunch discussions.

And my mother said, "How about peanut butter?  You love peanut butter."

And I looked at her aghast.  And I said, "No, I hate peanut butter."

My mother and father both looked at me like I had a tentacle growing out of my forehead.

"You've always liked peanut butter."

"No, I never liked peanut butter."

And to this day either the idea that a young American boy never liked peanut butter, or that I ate it for years without complaint, or some combination of the two, is apparently a point of hi-fucking-larity to my parents.

Or perhaps it's the fact that I still, to this day, find it so goddamned frustrating.  My wife can't stand mushrooms.  One of her friends refuses to eat any kind of seafood.  Not liking certain foods is something so banal I can't believe I'm even wasting the internet's finite resources devoting space on my blog to explaining the concept.

I never asked them to give up peanut butter themselves.  I never asserted that nobody likes peanut butter.  I never asked them to believe peanut butter is inherently bad.  All I asked was that they accept, at face value, my personal opinion when I gave it to them.  That doesn't seem so unreasonable, does it?

And yet, they refuse.  They refuse to find my tiny little assertion of individuality, my insistence that this is my truth, anything but hilarious.  It is literally laughable to them.  And to me it is so frustrating that I could just scream.

And here's the other thing: if I even try to assert that they're upsetting me, that this petty little thing hurts my feelings - as I've done many times before - they think it's even funnier.  Because I'm not being a good sport.  Because I'm not taking their belittling behavior with good cheer.

You've probably guessed by this point that I'm not really here today to talk about peanut butter.  I mean, the peanut butter story is true, but it's just a metaphor for a broader point here.  When someone tells you their truth, whether it be "I don't like peanut butter" or "I don't like being told I'm well-spoken for my race" or "I don't like when people ask to touch my hair" do you take that statement at face value or do you insist that they're not being a good sport?

The thing is, my peanut butter story is petty.  It is.  It's utterly petty and it affects my life like, once, twice a year tops.  And yet, just thinking about it while writing this blogpost makes my gorge rise.  It is so goddamned frustrating to be told your feelings don't matter, or, even worse, they're in some sense untrue.

And I have to extrapolate (because that's all I can do is extrapolate) what it must be like to be told every day, multiple times a day, that your feelings, your truth is invalid.  That you're not being a good sport.  It must be so goddamned infuriating that you could just fly off the handle any minute.

And that's what minorities in this country have to deal with.  How often, honestly, as a white male in this country do I get told what I think doesn't matter?  That I have to be a good sport and accept abuse with good cheer?  Very rarely.  So rarely, in fact, that you can see from the temper tantrums of self-important men online how rarely they have to face up to even a modicum of criticism, let alone abuse.

Kids, privilege is a real thing.  I know it's a sticky issue.  Conservatives don't want to accept that it even exists, because it runs counter to all their ideas of rugged individualism and personal responsibility.  Even liberals find it kind of icky because it means somehow squaring the fact that you can be a good, non-racist person and still benefit from racist institutions.  To be honest, to be 100% honest, I think the concept of privilege is going to be transformative.

I know it was transformative for me.  It made me go from that happy-go-lucky liberal who said, "well, I'm not racist, so the problem's solved on my end" to someone who realized that bias is all around, that it's a constant fight.  Electing Obama didn't end racism, and legalizing gay marriage didn't end homophobia - as we were all too painfully reminded last week.

If, my friend, you can walk around without being told that your feelings and your responses to the behavior of others are invalid, then you are indeed deeply privileged.  So try to bear that in mind the next time you're considering telling someone they're being too sensitive, or that you're not PC, or any of that other insensitive bullshit.  Imagine what it would be like to be told you should damn well like peanut butter.  Except it's not peanut butter, it's the abuse you have to take for being who you are. 

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