Edition #46: A Salt Shaker and White Privilege
Plus, watch Katie Porter performer white board magic, exploring the "types" of people concept, and an itty bitty restaurant
A Note From the Editor
At the start of this year, an ordinary thing happened that taught me an important lesson. I was living with a roommate in my old apartment in East Village. The place was tiny, the kitchen and living room one small, shared area the way a lot of New York apartments are. We were both big into cooking and on any given night one of us would be holding court in the kitchen, hovering over a pan of glazed vegetables, checking on a rising cake in the oven, poking at a casserole cooling on the stovetop. We shared spices to maximize our minimal cabinet space, and one evening, as I grabbed for the container of Morton sea salt (like this one), I made an off-handed comment: “I can’t believe there’s still salt left in here! I bought this container for a chocolate chip cookie recipe almost six months ago.”
She was silent for a beat, gazing at me with a hint of playful curiosity. “Well, yeah,” she eventually said, “because I’ve been refilling it.” She said this without animosity, absent of the passive aggression that can be commonplace in such close quarters; she was simply stating a fact. She opened a higher, hard to reach cabinet to show me what I hadn’t noticed before, a huge jug of salt, the very jug she’d been using to refill our container all these months.
We laughed I admitted that I must be the least perceptive person in the world to have missed this obvious fact (she was pretty sure she had refilled the container in front of me before), but weeks after that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It felt indicative of something bigger, like there was a lesson I was meant to extract from the encounter, some parallel to be drawn, but I wasn’t able to place it (welcome to my overactive brain, please come in and stay a while). Months later, when the world was invariably altered in the wake of COVID and the murder of George Floyd, I stumbled across a piece about permanent assumptions. The concept stuck with me, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized why my brain kept circulating back to it: it reminded me of the salt shaker story.
The idea is that every person should dedicate time and energy into crafting a set of permanent assumptions; a handful of truths you have unshakable faith in. With these truths as your guiding light, the assumption is (see what I did there?) that you will always have principles to fall back on when guiding yourself through uncertain times, like the time we are living in now. How else can we make decisions about what to do next, or who to be, when we can’t see five feet in front of because of circumstances out of our control? To put it more eloquently, from the piece:
Realizing it’s not inconsistent to have no view about the future path of some things but unwavering views about the path of others is how you stay humble without giving up. And the good news when the world is a dark cloud of uncertainty is that those permanent assumptions tend to be what matter most over time.
I spent a lot of time thinking about my permanent assumptions, particularly how they changed from before (March 12, 2020) and after. recognizing that the things I once had unshakable faith in were only possible because of my place on the social and economic wrung of the ladder that is our country. Here’s what my permanent assumptions looked like, before:
I will always have a job if I want one. I will remain fundamentally healthy, as will my family and friends. I will continue to live in a democratic country with free and fair elections. I will be able to walk and exercise as I please. I will be able to speak to a therapist when I need help. I will get to watch the Macy's parade every Thanksgiving. I will wake up tomorrow. The world will continue to progress in a way that is more accepting and tolerant of every type of person. I will able able to see my nieces and nephews graduate and have families of their own. My children will know all of their cousins. I will grow old.
I’ve always understood that the future is unpredictable and that we are all mortal beings, but the rosy version of my assumed future dictated the way I showed up in the present. Maybe it was a coping mechanism or characteristic of my American optimism, but those were truths I truly, fundamentally assumed would transpire. Before, I would not have looked at the list and realized how nearly every item screams WHITE PRIVILEGE! Before, I would have said that I’m an optimist and that my optimism is one of the things I like best about myself. If challenged, I might have defended with an anecdote; while I am in a comfortable place now, I wasn’t always, and I’ve worked hard to get here so I must deserve it.
But on the back end of a global pandemic, a racial justice awakening, and the ample time 2020 has provided for self-reflection, I cannot read the list without seeing every way in which my salt shaker has been constantly, quietly filled for me on the backs of other groups of marginalized people, as I was blissfully unaware. To uproot to the stories you’ve spent your life planting and watering and tending to is a confining, claustrophobic sensation. To recognize the trick mirror of meritocracy, especially if you happen to be a white person who does not come from money, is entirely uncomfortable. I did this all by myself, I used to think, and in certain ways, I did. I worked hard and made sacrifices, but the systems I was navigating, the ones I was clawing my way through, were designed for me. There were no essential road blockers in my way, nothing that made it impossible for me to succeed, so long as I tried hard enough. The system was rooting for me, it was relying on its own infrastructure, its own set of permanent assumptions, to ensure that whenever I needed it, there would always be someone to fill up my salt shaker. The most dangerous part was not the system, it was that I was living in it, benefitting from it, thriving because of it, and not recognizing that it existed at all.
Cheers, my dears. I’d love to hear about your permanent assumptions, and how they’ve changed from before (the events that began on March 12, 2020) and after, now.
Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming
Watch House Rep Katie Porter Use a White Board to Perform Magic. You might have heard of freshman House Rep Katie Porter. If you haven’t you’ve got her to thank for your free COVID tests, as she is the one who used her magic whiteboard to pressure the head of the CDC to offer free testing to all Americans earlier this year (it’s worth a watch). In this video, she takes her signature, no-nonsense approach to respectfully tear apart a former CEO of a big pharma company who was using his power and personal greed to raise drug prices and pad his pockets. While watching, you might just end up raising your fists shouting, “HELL YEAH,” as I did. If we had more politicians like Porter, a true public servant, we’d be in a much better place.
One of the most thrilling parts of Rep. Porter's use of her whiteboard is that it is not just a show piece; it is an essential part of a seamless choreography that includes writing figures, checking her notes, speaking clearly and decisively into her microphone. and demolishing executives who have gotten rich off of illness.
Civil War Soldiers Were Obsessed With Coffee. I found this piece to be strangely endearing and humanizing, and also quite funny. Apparently, the American obsession with coffee culture is nothing new. Caffeine is said to have been the one true love of both Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil War. These soldiers didn’t just enjoy coffee, they were borderline obsessed with it, so much so that they'd create "coffee" out of all sorts of concoctions when they ran out, using beets or rye or sweet potato, and so much so that they were willing to call a cease-fire when both sides had access to coffee so that both sides could spend time enjoying it. One depressed soldier wrote to his family that coffee was the only reason he was still living. And I thought coffee cupping was intense!
In their diaries, “coffee” appears more frequently than the words “rifle,” “cannon” or “bullet.”
What “Type” of Person Are You? If there is one thing you read from today’s edition, make it this. A parent reflects on experiences with his teenage son, who insists that being a certain “type” of person dictates his actions and not the other way around. The author calls this the “Type of Guy” theory, the idea that essential identities express themselves in certain behaviors (think: asking to speak to the manager makes you a Karen, reading Infinite Jest makes you intelligent). This idea that you have an identity first, and that your behavior is shaped around your identity, is problematic in every way. It absolves people of accountability for their actions (sorry, that’s just the way I am!) and it plays into the dangerous internet idea that a curated social media feed is more indicative of who you are than the way you show up in your daily life.
Mine recently started a conversation with me by saying, “You know how I’m a low-empathy person?” No, man, I do not know that. It turned out he listened to a podcast about how some people don’t feel other people’s suffering as deeply as everyone else, and he decided that’s why he’ll probably act selfish forever.
Perhaps You Should…
Read a Few Poems
For being such an avid reader, I’ve never been big into poetry. I’ve found it intimidating at times and I don’t always know how to discover the poet’s intended cadence while reading their work. In an effort to give poetry more of a chance, I’ve been reading (and listening to) more poems, and I think you should, too. Each of these is heady, gorgeous, and simple enough that even a poetry novice can appreciate them.
Tired by Langston Hughes / A poem that feels like it was written precisely for this moment.
Crossroads by Louise Glück / She recently won the Nobel Prize in literature, and the opening line of this poem took my breath away.
Good Bones by Maggie Smith / This one went viral a few years ago, and though it’s on the depressing side, it also feels very right (and it ends beautifully).
**Bonus Content** (You Are So Welcome)
I’m not sure I can adequately explain to you what reading this essay did for my heart and soul, and I can only hope it has a similar effect on you. I will first say that I have a strong aversion to any type of rodents, so loving this story doesn’t make a ton of sense but here we are. It sort of reminded me of My Octopus Teacher in the way that, though we pretend humans are a highly refined species, we are really just people who want to bond with cute little wild animals. In essence, a woman gets bored at home and creates a tiny restaurant for a pleased chipmunk. You can find a few more chipmunk restaurant photos here.
My best friend, Jerusha (you might remember her from this essay) recently released her first single on Spotify called Aquafina, and yesterday the music video dropped! Jerusha’s been writing music since we were little kids, and seeing her dream come to fruition feels like a gift. Might I suggest taking a quick break from work, removing your shoes (do you wear shoes inside?), and hopping around your living space to this catchy bop? It counts as a workout and is practically guaranteed to make you smile.
A Quote From A Book You Should Read:
“You know the greatest lesson of history? It’s that history is whatever the victors say it is. That’s the lesson. Whoever wins, that’s who decides the history.”
This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.
Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.”