By Emily Erickson
There are two reasons you shouldn’t read this article. If you are either of these things, I encourage you to simply flip the page, pressing the picture of my face flat against the words opposite me, continuing through the rest of this publication in undisturbed Reader bliss.
The first of the reasons is if you are hungry. The contents below are going to describe, in great detail, a meal. It will be my goal to place you in the middle of a dinner, and if your hunger pangs are going to drown out the rest of my words, you may as well just come back at another time.
The second of the reasons is if you are uncomfortable with thinking about one of the most contentious issues we face as a human society, and especially as a Sandpoint community. It’s my hope to approach this issue singularly, and from a place of contemplation, without the constraints of partisanship. But again, if you are uncomfortable experimenting with perspective, please — smoosh my face, flip the page.
Made it this far? Well, then let’s begin.
You are sitting in a broad chair with large armrests and a cushion beneath you. This chair is tucked up against a sturdy wooden table, stretching nearly completely to each end of the dining room. The space is warmly lit, with the smells of a feast hanging thickly in the air, and wafts of steam from the kitchen quarters bounce playfully off the flickers of the candlelight.
You are sitting alongside a group of people, each in their own chairs, with their own hunger pangs echoing the grumbles inside of your stomach. There are excited whispers about the impending meal, each person describing the aromas in erratic and tantalizing detail.
“I bet it’s going to be roasted chickens and potatoes,” your neighbor surmises.
“I smell freshly baking biscuits and pies,” you reply eagerly, the saliva in your mouth gathering in the pockets of your cheeks.
Finally, a loud bell rings, it’s chimes reverberating around the room. Each person at the table straightens up and cranes their neck in anticipation. You join them in trying to get a glimpse at the meal to come.
Suddenly, like a parade, the service staff enters through the doorway, the black of their aprons like backdrops for the platters resting on their fingertips. Your stomach leaps as you take in the scene. Large, golden-brown birds are followed by heaping piles of mashed potatoes, boats of smooth, thick gravy and deep basins of roasted carrots, parsnips and corn.
At the end of the line, pitchers of wine, beer and cider are carried in the trained hands of the staff.
The servers begin plating at the opposite end of the table from you, each adding large helpings of the dishes they are carrying to the plates of your table-mates. Your stomach growls ferociously as you watch a large dollop of potatoes slip off the silver spoon onto the man’s platter next to you.
Your neighbors’ plates slowly fill up with each passing server; large, flaky biscuits sitting atop savory stacks of stuffing, with scoops of butter dribbling over the edges of the cobs of corn.
As your turn approaches, you can barely contain the excitement that’s been building in your gut, your hands nearly shaking in anticipation.
But then, something strange happens. You look around, with each of the plates of your table-mates piled high with food and cups brimming with liquids, and watch as the servers begin filling silently out of the room.
They are leaving without filling your plate. You haven’t received any food or drink, and they are walking away.
As your stomach screams in protest, you raise your hand, trying to get their attention.
“Excuse me, you seem to have forgotten me,” you say trying to keep your voice steady and polite. “I haven’t gotten any food.”
A server replies, “Well, obviously, everyone wants food.”
You look back perplexed, now turning to your neighbor. “They’ve skipped me. I haven’t gotten any dinner, and I’m so hungry,” you relay, pointing at your empty plate.
And sputtering through a mouthful of chicken, they retort, “Of course, everybody wants dinner. We are all hungry. We all deserve food. You are no different from the rest of us.”
You are in disbelief. Of course everyone deserves food. That’s not the point. Your plate is empty while everyone around you has heaping plates. You are not requesting special treatment, but rather, you just want the same portions everyone else has.
This is how it feels to be discriminated against. When we reply to groups of people’s requests for equal rights with, “We all deserve rights,” we are missing the point. Only when we are all served the same portions, can we say we’ve achieved equality.
This exercise can be applied to many movements throughout our country and our community. Whether it’s Black Lives Matter, women’s rights or other minority movements, when people are merely asking for their portions, our only response should be to listen, making sure we aren’t too focused on our own helpings to notice the empty plates of our neighbors.
In gratitude and respect to Martin Luther King Jr. and all of his work toward inclusivity and equality.
Emily Erickson is a freelance writer and bartender originally from Wisconsin, with a degree in sociology and an affinity for playing in the mountains.
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