Kentucky Fried Chicken

Tami Marler, MBA

Tami Marler, MBA

Award winning former investigative journalist, now devoted to saving horses from slaughter, and saving journalism from propagandists.

""Once upon a time there were two best friends who loved each other to the moon and back. Sophie and Katie were too young to recognize or adhere to social norms. They saw each other only through the prism of innocent love, so the fact that Katie was two years older than Sophie, or that their skin was different colors, made no difference to the giddy little girls who soaked each other up like biscuits and gravy.

As soon as they did their chores and met their familial responsibilities each day, they spent every waking moment together – making mud pies, building secret clubhouses, living vicariously in Barbie’s World, and sharing dreams of what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Each the youngest in her respective gaggle of girls, Sophie and Katie understood each other. They knew what it was like to be treated like babies, and to fade into the shadows of more mature and accomplished older sisters. When they were together, they were not anyone’s bratty baby or shrinking violet. When they were together, they were equals. Equally cherished. Equally valued. Equally loved.

It was Sophie’s turn to have Katie over to her house to play, since they’d spent the previous day belly laughing in Katie’s family camper. Katie loved going to Sophie’s house – so full of love and happiness. Spending the day with a “normal” family offered Katie a happy reprieve from the dysfunction and chaos of her own home. She secretly worshiped Sophie’s older sisters – all so beautiful, intelligent, witty, and confident, and she fantasized about growing up to be just like them.

Besides, Sophie not only had an impressive assortment of Barbies, but she also had all the accessories to go along with them!

Katie wasn’t sure why, but she always felt like Sophie’s mother looked down her nose at her. Katie felt unworthy in almost any company, so her trepidation around Sophie’s mom was not unusual. Still, she was relieved to know that on this day, Sophie’s mother would be at work, and the girls would be under the supervision of older sister Darla (the coolest of all the sisters in Katie’s eyes).

Barbie’s World

Katie squealed with delight when Sophie brought out the giant, well-organized case containing Barbie’s world. She inhaled the sweet smell of jasmine as Sophie flicked open the latches one by one, eager to see the rows and rows of immaculately kept dream girls – the polar opposite of Katie’s mangled hand-me-down dolls with faded features and fried hair.

In an instant, dolls, clothing and accessories were strewn from their tidy compartments to a heap in the middle of the floor, where the girls could divvy them up and begin their adventures in earnest.

Darla barely observed from the couch, one eye on the Barbie pandemonium and one on her fashion magazine.

Kentucky Fried Chicken

So busy building careers and families, the girls didn’t even notice when Darla’s boyfriend, Ramsey, entered the room with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Katie often went without meals, so she was frequently hungry; but she would never be caught dead begging. The finger-licking aroma was about to gnaw a hole in her stomach when Sophie reached into the bucket and asked, “Can Katie have some, too?”

Because Katie’s older sister and her friends were frequent partakers of marijuana, Katie was no stranger to the aroma – or how it rendered users both dim and senseless, or made everything a side-splitting inside joke understood only by those who inhale. She also recognized raging munchies in Ramsey’s voracious appetite and death grip on the bucket in his lap.

Half embarrassed and half entertained by Ramsey’s obvious buzz, Darla wrested the chicken from Ramsey’s clutches and asked Katie, “What kind do you like?”

Katie didn’t even know there was a “kind” of chicken. She only knew she was hungry; so, when Ramsey burst into uncontrollable laughter, Katie didn’t get it. Neither did Sophie, apparently, because she just kept organizing Barbies into neat, equal piles as Ramsey blurted, “Give her the white meat!”

White Meat

Darla could no longer contain herself. At first, Katie wasn’t sure if Darla was laughing because Ramsey was so embarrassingly high, or if she was in on the joke.

In tears, Ramsey spewed, “I hate white meat!” as Darla grabbed him by the head and slapped her hand over his mouth.

Through Darla’s tightly clasped fingers, Ramsey managed a final, “White meat is nasty!”

By now, they were rolling on the couch, holding their bellies, and laughing uncontrollably.

Katie swallowed hard to staunch the growing lump in her throat. In her innocence and naivety, she didn’t know why, she didn’t know how; but Katie understood without a doubt, she was the joke. She ducked her head so gravity would hide her welling tears in the sparkling heap of Barbie garb below.

“Shhhhh!” Darla sprayed through tears of laughter, “Ramsey, stop! That’s cold!”

Katie managed to fake a laugh as if she got the joke and lied, “It’s okay. I’m not really hungry.”

Still oblivious to the chicken exchange, Sophie thrust the prettiest Barbie in Katie’s face and said, “Here, it’s your turn to have Christy. I had her last time.”

Katie gazed through tears at the beautiful doll – so refined and polished, and reflective of all the hopes and dreams of innocent little girls. Grateful for her best friend’s tender gesture, she welcomed the opportunity to leave the real world and return to fantasy.

New Perspective

For the first time, Katie realized Christy’s skin was a different color from hers. For the first time, she realized her skin was different from all the other skin in the house. Different from the artwork on the walls. Different from the cover of Darla’s fashion magazines.

For the first time, a hungry little girl from a broken home, who already felt inferior to the world, began to see herself as Nasty White Meat.

Plot Twist

If you made it through this story feeling Katie’s pain because you believed her to be a disadvantaged black child and her best friend was a privileged white girl, you should know that Katie is me, and this is a painfully true memory about my first awareness of racial differences.

Oddly, I didn’t learn it from my mother, an American citizen who was imprisoned through her childhood along with her Japanese family members while her brothers fought for America in World War II; who suffered racism her entire life because of her exotic appearance and the slant of her eyes; whose own father was murdered, I later learned, by a group of young men who just happened to be black. No, because of the prejudice my mother suffered, she intentionally left color out of our upbringing.

I learned I was nasty white meat from a young man, high on Marijuana, clinging to a bucket of chicken like it was the baby Jesus.

I realize some will say I’m perpetuating a stereotype by daring to utter “fried chicken” in a story about race, and while details about the Barbie box and accessories may be imprecise, I recall the essence of the moment in vivid detail. You never forget being made to feel inferior, and Kentucky Fried Chicken just happened to be the device.

Racism Hurts

Do I believe Ramsey set out that morning to scar a little white girl for life? No. I think he was a product of his experiences, and that somewhere along the way, someone taught him that it was totally acceptable to take innocent little white girls down a notch. I fear too many people would agree with him. After all, little white girls will never relate to centuries of pain caused by racism. This little white girl only knew how awful it felt in the moment.

I don’t share my story to imply white people have it just as bad as black people; nor do I want pity or commiseration. I realize I am one person, and I accept that my experience may have been unique. But it happened. And it hurt. And I hate the thought that so many of us – of all shapes, sizes and colors – can so easily marginalize other human beings, whether intentionally or unintentionally, based on the color of the wrapping around their soul.

I share my story so that people will realize, when we judge others based on how they look instead of who they are, we perpetuate an age-old pain.

Racism is real, and no matter a person’s skin color or ancestral ties, leaves just as devastating and indelible a mark on a little white underprivileged girl as it does any other little girl. No human being deserves to be marginalized, and teaching children they deserve to be ashamed will never erase the sins of the past. It only creates new undeserved scars, and replaces innocence with cynicism and resentment. Doling out praise and shame according to skin color won’t end racism. It will cultivate racism.

The End of Best Friends

“Sophie” fell away from each other through the years. Somewhere along the way, it became uncool for two little girls who once loved each other without condition to remain close – either because they gravitated toward their own age group, or their own race (both cases were true).

But once upon a time, two little girls loved each other to the moon and back, seeing nothing but acceptance when they looked into each other’s eyes.

The only thing that changed was the world.




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