Denial and Accountability with Gordon Ramsey

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Have y’all seen Kitchen Nightmares?

I honestly hadn’t until recently. I’d always seen clips of Gordon Ramsey flipping out on people and screaming in their faces. My initial reaction was like, “That’s so mean! I don’t like it at all.”

But… My partner has been on a bit of a binge watching Kitchen Nightmares bender. He has developed a serious fondness for Chef Ramsey. I actually started to get kind of jealous. Like, “You’d rather hang out with him than me?!?!?”

In an attempt to comfort me and to convince me to watch the show, John said, “You’re actually a lot like Gordon Ramsey. You’d be surprised.” I was immediately offended, got defensive and started yelling. “See,” he said.

Now that I’ve seen a few episodes, (or more than a few…) I’ve realized that it’s literally always the same story. Gordon goes into a struggling restaurant that is about to go under. He’s there to use his expertise to make changes, to get the business back on track, and put the family back on the road towards success, happiness and prosperity. But there is always at least one member of the team, usually an owner or a chef, that is in complete denial about their part in and responsibility for why the restaurant is failing.

Chef Ramsey tries the food. It’s usually “dreadful,” old, frozen crap. He gives the owner the feed back, and they almost always say, “You’re wrong! My food is good!” And so… the intensity of Gordon Ramsey ensues. “Are you out of your mind!?!?” “Have you completely given up?!?!”

When these clips are taken out of context, Chef Ramsey may come across as a belligerent psychopath. But if you continue to watch the show, you’ll see that he’s actually a very kind, caring and compassionate person. He wants these family owned businesses to succeed and he knows that they can’t unless everyone is accountable for their piece of the puzzle, unless everyone makes their best contribution.

We can’t heal or change what we refuse to acknowledge. But denial runs deep. We think it’s protecting us (from having to face something really horrible) but… It’s actually enabling and holding that thing in place. We’ve all been there.

I was there with an ex boyfriend. I knew that he had a history of drug addiction. And when he relapsed it was so in my face obvious. But I refused to see it. I was blinded by the love and affection that I had for him. But there was also an ego aspect to it. How could I be a yoga teacher and do all this personal work and have my boyfriend be a drug addict? Oh no, I didn’t like that. So I decided to just put up a wall and refuse to acknowledge it.

Close friends confronted me and I got defensive. “You’re wrong! He’s good!” It wasn’t until he lied to me about getting into a hit and run with my car that I finally realized he was lying about everything. And that still took two calls from the insurance company. The first time, I asked him, and he denied it. The second time, the woman on the other end of the line got New Orleans on my ass. “Girl, he’s lying to you!” It was so strange, coming from a complete stranger, suddenly it clicked. Suddenly I saw everything crystal clear and it was horrible!

Needless to say, we broke up. And what I’ve realized since is that denial runs deep in my family, generationally, and within our society as a whole. We have some pretty heinous shit in our collective closet. This country is founded on slavery, rape and genocide. It has been conducted, condoned and then covered up by our (rich, white, male) government and religious institutions. (I mention both because they are clearly so separate.)

Denial of these facts is glaringly apparent and has real consequences in the present. As white folks, we never acknowledge our race and we love to pretend it’s because “people are just people” and “we don’t see color.” But really it’s so we can avoid being accountable for the ways in which we benefit from a racist system and continue to perpetuate white supremacy by refusing to name and/or question it. In doing so, we dismiss and erase the experiences of People of Color, who do want to acknowledge and talk about race because it has very real effects on their health (infant mortality), safety (murder by police) and prosperity (rates of incarceration) in this society.

So I’m gonna go a little Gordon Ramsey on your asses. Hey white people! This is our restaurant! Our denial of our racism is that rotten smell coming from the walk-in. It attracts rats and roaches. It breeds disease. It tarnishes all the food that comes out of the kitchen. And only you can initiate the process of first acknowledging it and then beginning to clean it out!

If you are looking for ways to deeply engage in this work, there are so many! Learn Black History!! Read “White Fragility,” by Robin Diangelo and check out the work of Rachel Cargle and Layla F. Saad, two black women who are generously taking the time to call white women into conversations around white supremacy and accountability.

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