(US-nc) Not being default
- [opinion from Duke University The Chronicle Online]
What do vegetarian food, Lady Foot Locker and ethnic dolls have in
common? They're not default. If you're a vegetarian on a transatlantic
flight, the default meal isn't going to work for you. You have to
request a special meatless meal in advance.
If a girl doesn't want a default white doll, she's got to specially
request an ethnic one—just like the vegetarian requesting the meatless
Having a set of defaults is of course not unique to American culture.
In India, for example, people use the term "non-vegetarian" to refer
to meals with meat. Last December while on a domestic flight in India,
the flight attendant asked me whether I wanted a "veg or non-veg"
lunch. Vegetarian is the default. Meals with meat are specially called
I mention this distinction between nameless defaults and specially
termed non-defaults to bring attention to what it's like to live as a
non-default person relative to the larger society. As a vegetarian
woman of South Asian heritage living in the United States, I am not
default in many aspects of my identity and lifestyle.
Presently, I believe these issues of identity can't be resolved; they
can only be managed. Reminders of which categories of people aren't
default—whether vegetarian food, Lady Foot Locker or ethnic dolls—are
simply part of the human condition.
Preeti Aroon is a graduate student in public policy. Her column runs
every other Wednesday. Toss in your two cents at:
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