When I say that racism is everywhere, I can almost feel the response welling up in naysayers. Racism enablers and denialists seem to think that those of us who point out racism are Oprah, handing out a racism to everyone and everything. “You get a racism! And you get a racism! And you get a racism! Everybody gets a racism!”
Calling out racism is more along the lines of the image. We’re not hunting for racism any more than we are hunting for sexism. Instead, we’re seeing it where you might not realize it exists.
Like, for example, in articles about what not to order on a first date.
Recently, the Internet has been abuzz about the possibility of a shortage of Sriracha, aka Rooster or Cock sauce. Most pieces, even from publications and blogs whose pieces I normally at least somewhat like, relegate what the residents’ complaints are to a parenthetical (literally) reference. It turns out that something truly, sincerely horrible is being glossed over by the breezy, won’t-someone-think-of-the-hot-sauce coverage.
The Oatmeal’s jokes about how gosh-darn delicious it would be to breathe air saturated by the spicy odor notwithstanding, the latest increase in Sriracha production has seriously adversely affected the health of the people living near the factory.
According to the complaint filed with Los Angeles Superior Court by the city of Irwindale, the stench of cooking peppers isn’t just unpleasant – it’s painful. Watery eyes, stinging throats and headaches are par for the course, say city officials who have been fielding complaints since the Huy Fong factory kicked up its season’s pepper production.
This isn’t an annoying, spicy odor — I’d call this capsaicin poisoning. If you’re lucky enough to have never experienced what it’s like to have capsaicin directly affect a mucus membrane, I have some stories.
During his Marine training, a friend of mine get maced, a fairly common practice in military and law enforcement. The next day, he was tased. He later received a Purple Heart for getting shot in the clavicle in Iraq. He has told me that he would rather get shot in the clavicle again or tased ten times in a row than maced another time.
A few years ago, I was slicing a pepper when I hit just the right (wrong?) angle with my knife. A gush of serrano juice went straight into my eye. The pain rendered me senseless. I ran around my apartment, writhing and screaming in agony. 30 minutes in the shower and a whole bar of tea-tree oil soap later, my eye looked like it had been punched and felt like it had been repeatedly stabbed. I’ve had multiple surgeries on my diseased knee and, as a nulliparous woman, have had an IUD inserted into me without any anaesthetic — and getting pepper juice to the eye was far more painful than any of those procedures.
People are being harmed by the by-product created by the processing of a condiment — a condiment, not even some kind of essential nutritional staple — and the best most of the coverage has done about it is make oh-so-hilarious puns, jokes, and references to the matter and wring collective hands over the lack of hot sauce.
Why do we care more about hot sauce than people? The answer may lie in some very telling coverage of the matter via Youngist (emphasis mine).
According to the 2010 United States Census, about 90% of Irwindale’s 1,400 person population is of Hispanic or Latino origin, and about 95% is of color. The median household income of Irwindale in 2009 was about $55,000, which was close to the California median. However, during the same year, the median per capita income for Irwindale was at about $17,500, while California’s median per capita income was close to $44,000.
Everything from sub-standard housing conditions to poor urban air quality to reliance on walking and public transit to employment in outdoor or factory work means that the economically disadvantaged are far more exposed to environmental hazards. That the poor, especially those of color, experience the worst of pollution is a well-studied, well-established, uncontroversial phenomenon covered by the American Lung Association and studied by Yale.
It really isn’t much to ask that the Sriracha factory raise its community health and safety standards to match its increase in production. If the company is truly growing in popularity, it will need to continue to revise such standards in the coming years. For now, it’s not really that hard to look for alternatives (Google and your local Asian market are your friends).
What is hard? Looking at your priorities and seeing that they, however inadvertently, are classist and racist to the point of dehumanization.