Readers debate the politics of being a white resident in an all-black neighborhood. Also: Obesity is a serious health problem in America, readers remind Wendy Shanker, author of "The Fat Girl's Guide to Life."

By Salon Staff

Published May 6, 2004 8:52PM (EDT)

[Read "You've Got Messed-up Color," by Robin Lentz.]

As a fellow white woman, I am incredibly frustrated by the author's response to Tyrone's question, "You're not white, are you?" While she feels her "ethnicity has never been a source of confusion," it's obviously offensive to her to be forced to speak its name. She balks at first, thinking he must mean something else. Then when she admits to being white, she gets embarrassed, feels like she should apologize ("Midwestern guilt"), but staunchly refuses to add an "I'm sorry." While Tyrone kindly decides to let her off the hook with a kiss on the cheek, she in contrast "closes the door to the block."

Seems she's pissed off -- she just wanted to be "plain old American mutt-white," invisible, harmless, accepted. But this boy, and the block itself, forced her to see her own whiteness, her own privilege, which in fact is not harmless, not invisible, and certainly not accepted by those who suffer from it. She does not want to see the system she is living in that benefits her ("My daughter is the Gerber baby"), so she closes the door. Screw that. Privilege is what it is -- the sooner white people accept it, the sooner they can find real connection rather than life behind closed doors.

-- Meredith Reitman

This reminds me of a favorite anecdote: When my son was 4 years old, he came home from kindergarten one day in a terrible state. "Something is wrong with my eyes!" he declared. "I don't see right!" I finally coaxed out of him the cause of his upset. His teacher had explained that she was black and he was white. "But," he protested to me, "I don't see me white! I see me kinda pink and she's not black -- she's chocolate-colored!" Wouldn't the world be a better place if we let children see others without labels?

-- Sally Thomas

[Read "Who You Callin' Fat?" by Corrie Pikul.]

Wendy Shanker says:

"What I put in my mouth will not destroy lives in America."

Answer: The surgeon general doesn't care what she puts in her mouth. However, what everyone else puts in their mouths will lead to an epidemic of obesity-related illnesses (such as diabetes and heart disease) that will end up killing more people than terrorism ever has.

-- Stephanie Bodoff

Wendy Shanker thinks that war on obesity is "terrible" and that her eating "will not destroy lives in America." Obesity certainly doesn't make fat people a serious threat to the national security and world peace. But consider this -- according to Harper's Index for February 2004, the percentage by which healthcare spending by an obese American exceeds that by an American of normal weight is 36 percent. Healthcare is a serious issue to the nation's welfare and economy, and obesity puts a tremendous strain on an already stressed-out system. Obesity is not some unavoidable and uncurable death sentence -- it is almost entirely preventable!

At the rate this preventable disease is spreading across America, we will have to face a workforce full of people with serious health issues who will cost the employers and government serious money, and whom we will have to treat with our tax dollars. I'd rather see my taxes spent on better public transportation, schools and other social services. I'd rather have my money funding cancer and AIDS research and helping the really poor folks in America and abroad get better nutrition and easier access to vaccines. I'd rather not pay for a smoker's lung cancer treatment. I'd rather not pay for a fat girl's treatment for diabetes, heart disease or cancer, either. And no, you may not call me insensitive, because I know what fat girls go through -- I used to be one.

-- Bo Chang

Not every woman can be a size 6 (or smaller), and it's futile to get upset over this. It's just the way life is. But most of us can work to be healthy and fit, and I see some women using the "fat is beautiful" movement as a way to get out of taking care of themselves.

I'm not talking about size-14 women who exercise; I'm talking about dangerously obese women who aren't doing a thing to become healthier.

They can't play sports or take a brisk walk without getting winded, and they are at high risk of contracting diabetes or heart disease. As a Southerner, I know plenty of people in this boat, and I worry about how long they're going to live. One of my co-workers, a 31-year-old man who weighed more than 400 pounds, died after a gastric bypass. Despite these very real risks, a lot of delusional people continue to say, "I love my fat."

I think that's a cop-out, especially when some hardly even try to be healthy. Writers and others who embrace obesity without considering its health implications are enablers, and it is their responsibility to distinguish between the fit fat person and the fat person who is at risk.

Like many other stories I've read about embracing fat, Salon's interview with Wendy Shanker completely disregards this issue. Get with the program!

-- Kate Andrews

Salon Staff

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