Last weekend, on Saturday morning, I opened up the group chat and was met with a flurry of indignant messages about a Roman/Teigen situation. I’m loathe to call it a controversy because I think the problem was clear and simple: her white privilege shielded her from seeing the problem. To sum up the situation, Alison Roman, a popular food writer, cookbook author and columnist at the New York Times, called out Chrissy Teigen and Marie Kondo for ‘selling out’, when it came to expanding their businesses and opportunities. It was in a for-public interview, and the words she chose to use were less than savoury.
“What Chrissy Teigen has done is so crazy to me… That horrifies me and it’s not something that I ever want to do. I don’t aspire to that. But like, who’s laughing now? Because she’s making a ton of f***ing money.”
“The idea that when Marie Kondo decided to capitalise on her fame and make stuff that you can buy, that is completely antithetical to everything she’s ever taught you… I’m like, damn, b—-, you f—ing just sold out immediately! Someone’s like ‘[you should make stuff,’ and she’s like, ‘OK, slap my name on it, I don’t give a s—!’”
Before I continue on with this post, a few people that have previously bought into Roman’s work have said that the tone [of the quotes] felt very ‘Alison Roman’ in that it was matter-of-fact, no bullsh** and off-the-cuff. However I don’t think this is a satisfactory excuse for what happened, and whilst she has publicly and privately(?) apologised to Chrissy and Marie, I still want to comment on a wider problem.
Black people and people of colour are regularly held to higher standards than those of white people. It was not a coincidence that Roman spoke ill of two women of colour who’ve carved success in markets usually dominated by their white counterparts.
I dithered for a few days about a) writing this post, and b) sharing this post, but ultimately I still felt somewhat compelled to share my own thoughts. (Plus, I’ve had a similar blog post title in my ‘working copy’ document for a while.)
For years, people of colour — and especially women of colour — have been discriminated against, whether purposefully or not. We’re forgotten about, we’re racially abused, we’re the second, third or fourth option in rooms full of white people, despite being equal in skillset, we’re side-stepped in streets, we’re forced to prove ourselves constantly… we’re even blindsided by online algorithms. In Alison’s apology shared on Instagram, she notes that the comments were ‘rooted in [her own] insecurity’. And I think we’ve all been there, haven’t we? I know I have. But never have I consciously knocked another person down in order to further myself. I’ve had it happen to me before: a fellow blogger once tried unsuccessfully to take me to court after I launched a magazine, and six months later helped them launch an online magazine! (But that’s a story for another day…)
What I appreciated from Roman’s apology is that she willingly accepted and recognised that she benefits from her privilege, and that that privilege is ultimately what led to these comments.
“Was jealous she got to have a book with food on the cover instead of a face!!”
Chrissy’s response on Twitter broke my heart. Truly. As a person of colour, I’ve been held to higher standards my entire life. I originally wrote entire adult life there, but on reflection? It’s been through my whole life. When I was little, I had a little extra help (so I didn’t take Religious Education, P.E., or the reading hour, sob!) at primary school because I couldn’t speak English — I’d been raised speaking Cantonese. I had additional reading and additional homework to take home, and… I excelled. But I had to prove myself before I could integrate and take the same lessons as the other 5-year-olds.
When I moved to secondary school in a different town, I was faced by cruel kids speaking at me in a racist ‘Chinese’ accent. I felt compelled to use my most British accent — funnily enough, it’s just my accent. Then, they called me posh, and made a whole story up for me that I was a boarding school kid. When I applied for a degree in fashion journalism, I was sent an English aptitude test. Nobody else on my course had been. These microaggressions and discriminations are a result of white privilege, and white people being blind to others’ experiences. Why are people of colour constantly being held to higher standards than those who are white?
And on the flip side, after news of Ahmaud Arbery broke just a week ago, I felt… saddened? Deflated? I felt something after floods of white people took to sharing an Instagram post to their Stories, and saying nothing more. Box ticked, job done, they’ve shown they are Not Racist. Meanwhile, people of colour are told to either stop being attention-seeking and loud, or called out for not speaking out enough. A double entendre. It’s a double-edged sword, in many ways, for PoC must rally the help of white allies in order to be heard. Can you see the problem? In order to eradicate racism, we must be vigilant to behaviours of those around us and active in calling them out and encouraging them to be anti-racist. We should all work to be and do better. I could do better. I will do better, in the future.
If you are reading this, and you are white, I appreciate that some of this may be difficult to read, a tough pill to swallow. For fellow people of colour, I also appreciate that this may be a difficult read, and I’d hazard a guess that you’ve nodded along in passages. What I’ve learned is as a Chinese woman, I’m privileged myself. Chinese people have been used somewhat as pawns in the machine that is white supremacy; to be silent, passive and try not to draw attention to ourselves is to be complicit in racism.
We must continue to confront and challenge both actions and words that target people of colour, even subtly. Especially when it is subtle. Of course this is a nuanced issue at its core and I’ll put my hands up and say, ‘no not everything is rooted in racism’, but more often than not, it is. Without even knowing it, many of us have been conditioned to think in a particular way, not paying a second thought to how several people can experience one scenario in myriad wats. Even as a woman of colour myself, I recognise the privilege I hold a) living in the UK (… apparently!), b) having light skin, c) being bilingual, d) being educated… I could go on.
Let’s collectively do better, be better. Let’s even the playing ground, and stop holding people of colour to higher standards.