Journey to Starbucks: A White Way of Knowledge

Terese Mailhot

Inspired by Carlos Castenada’s ethnography where he follows around a made-up, “magic” Native, I did some of my own ethnography, and followed around a few made up white people from various regions, to log their mysterious ways of life and states of being.

I had only seen white people on TV and in movies, so I was familiar with their ways. But nothing could have prepared me for how beautiful these mysterious people are.

In the summer of 2015, I was an anthropology student at the prestigious Devry University. I was making several trips with my guide to Starbucks when I came across a wise, ancient-looking man. My guide whispered, “That’s a bike-riding white. They’re magic, and can sustain tremendous amounts of heat without dehydration. It is said they shape-shift into lizards.”

With this information, I approached the magic white person, who wore peculiar shorts, which hid nothing from the world. These noble creatures didn’t know to be shameful of their bodies.

“I’m from New Mexico,” the biker said. “My name is Randy.”

“Teach me your ways,” I said to Randy.

He told me about his knees, which “aint what they used to be,” and discussed how they got sore “when a storm’s a-comin’.” Noble Randy thinks he can predict storms, I thought. But then I realized I was the ignorant one for doubting his power. After all, this man had biked 20 miles on a vision quest, with cleat-like shoes to make it harder.

He then began a ceremony, where he received a blueberry muffin, then proceeded to tell his friends, “Starbucks doesn’t even use real blueberries!” This circle of complaint seemed to be endless, and I slipped into a trance, listening to older white people talk about last night’s 20/20.

My guide took me to another Starbucks, where an Indiana white was said to be. “They like corn,” my guide said. “They also enjoy casseroles and fish fries.”

I approached this man, who had remarkable blue eyes. He was taking pictures of his coffee when I made myself known to him.

“I’m Gary,” he said, with a wise smile.

I asked him to teach me his ways. He became reticent, then said, “Okay. Well, I do know some things about lawn care.”

This generous lawn-magician took me to his backyard. We journeyed through a rock garden to a place called a gazebo, which seemed to be an unnecessary outdoor shack with no doors. We literally sat there for two hours, while he told me about Chevy Chase, and a machine called a VCR. He used the machine to conjure Gremlins, and even the sequel, which isn’t as good according to Gary. After his rambling, he said something so profound I am not sure I can convey it in writing.

“A lawn is a reflection of a man’s soul,” he said.

It was then I spat my lemonade in his face with astonishment. I told him, “But I don’t have a lawn, Gary.”

He nodded a knowing smile, and then told me about the benefits of a 401K.

We went inside where his wife was knitting her cat a shirt. The woman made me a ham sandwich with so much mayonnaise I wondered if it was a healing medicine to them.

I asked her if she had any secret knowledge to impart from her culture, and she said she had a “mean egg salad recipe that’ll melt your butt off!”

“The secret is Tabasco!” she exclaimed.

“Too hot for me,” Gary said, shaking his head.

I was confounded. Two of the same tribe of white people, but different opinions? How could this be, I wondered.

I ran out of the house, in shock at my discovery. Could it be that defining white people by their geography was a grave mistake? My professors at Devry had led me astray. I began to get sick after eating so much mayonnaise in one sitting. Or maybe it was shame. It was then I realized that I was wrong to study people this way. If Gary and Carol were different, but raised in the same location, my analysis of all white people could be misinformed.

So, now I’m sharing it with you all. Do not judge all white people based on their geographical locations, or even their biking outfits, or their casseroles, or their love for Chevy Chase. They’re all varied and beautiful subjects.

I have since retired from my ethnography, but every now and then I see a peculiar white person and jot down a few of their traits. They’re all beautiful, like a rainbow, but in various shades of pink and beige.

Terese Marie Mailhot is from Seabird Island Band. Her work has been featured in Carve Magazine, Yellow Medicine Review, and The Rumpus.

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alexjacobs's picture
Visiting the American Indian Program at Cornell University, there’s a gorge across from the campus, so we Mohawks took a secluded spot in the rocky spillway, communing w Mother Earth, then we noticed a regular pattern of these white folks who would come and conduct secret ceremonies, they would disrobe and then dance in and out of the water trickling down the falls in what we called the Dance of the Pink Bunny Rabbits. The white folks would dance and hop in and out until they turned the proper shade of pink, then put on their clothes and leave, only to be replaced by another group of white folks ready to perform the ritual Dance of the Pink Bunny Rabbit. Fascinating.
niijii's picture
This was funny. Migwech