Guest Column: You don’t get to be disgusted by my culture

By: Radia Khan

Imagine opening your lunch in the middle school’s cafeteria and finding your favorite, home-cooked meal. Now, imagine the smile disappearing from your face as other people notice your food, but in a negative way.

“What’s so smelly?” 

“Ew…that’s disgusting.”

“Indians smell like curry…HAHA.” 

Many immigrants face various types of racially motivated comments, and this is an accurate example of one. This happened even when I tried escaping to another school to a different state, just to avoid it but turns out the “problem” was me. Ignoring the voices floating around the room about my Bangladeshi mother’s cooking became harder with each passing day. What surprised me from their comments was that we aren’t even Indian.

Disgust is a universal emotion and emerges as a feeling of hatred towards something offensive. We can feel disgusted when our physical senses are triggered or even by the actions or appearances of people. As humans, emotions are uncontrollable, but how we interpret the concept of disgust can have both positive and negative impact. 

Disgust is a natural response to things that are considered harmful or even taboo in a particular culture or society. It’s believed to have evolved as a protective mechanism to prevent humans from consuming potentially harmful substances. 

For example, it helps prevent people from consuming spoiled or contaminated food, certain drugs, or engaging in risky sexual behaviors. 

Disgust is also a complex emotion that raises important ethical questions. What role, if any, should disgust have in human lives, and who, if anyone, gets to decide what is and what is not disgusting? How does it help humans survive in today’s world? In what ways can disgust be used to harm others? 

The subjective nature of disgust means that what one person finds disgusting may not be the same as someone else. Who, then, should be the gatekeeper for what is and what is not disgusting? 

For centuries, museums have played an integral role in preserving the history of society. Exhibits tell stories about how nations, communities and cultures came to be. Their artifacts and displays are links to other worlds. 

However, they also create a space for gatekeepers of disgust in real-life. “Museum of Disgust” in Berlin, Germany, where visitors are invited to explore the world of food and challenge their notions of what is and what isn’t edible. Many try out different types of food, and everyone has a different reaction to the food like some throws up just from the smell of one. While it’s designed to be fun and educational, allowing food from different cultures to be described as disgusting can encourage society to be insensitive, perhaps even hateful, toward other cultures. 

Western society creates hate around what it considers disgusting and tends to deem minority cultures inferior. Consider the stigma surrounding Asian individuals about the COVID-19 pandemic. Scientists believed bats carry around various viruses, so the majority of western society, including the president of the US at the time, made hateful comments about Asian people, like that they consumed the bats. This was wrong and discriminatory. 

At the start of 7th grade, I stopped bringing my favorite Bengali dish and started bringing Nutella sandwiches since that is more American. I never thought food that is made from a different culture could be found so disgusting in one’s eyes and could make someone dislike the person who is eating it.

As years passed, I matured and earned my true identity back. Like coming to High school, especially a diverse school such as Riverside, where it’s encouraged to be yourself, I became more connected to my culture, inside and out. This taught me that it’s best to be your authentic self within your culture.

In conclusion, the ethics of disgust are multifaceted. While it can serve important biological and sociological functions, disgust can also be used to harm others and perpetuate discrimination. It is important for individuals to be aware of their own biases and prejudices towards certain things while also recognizing that what disgusts one person might appeal to another. There shouldn’t be any judgment towards what someone likes and or how they express their culture.

My mother’s chicken curry is unmatched. I will never get tired of eating it. It is up to individuals – not society -to determine what is acceptable or not, because everyone is different. 

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