Black Folks Admit It: We Are Napkin-Holics

February 7, 2013  |  


Normally I don’t like to engage in stereotypes however if there is one behavior, which could be classify along racial lines, I would think it could be black folks love affair with napkins.

Yesterday I was at McDonalds, getting some sort of salad with what tasted a lot like crushed up Doritos on it (that is what I get for getting a salad from McDonalds), when I notice that the drive thru cashier forgot my napkins. I asked her for a couple. She apologized and then reached behind her cashier’s terminal and came back with what can be best describe as a small evergreen shrub. The stack was so fat that if you counted the leafs, you could probably determine from what tree in which deforested part of the rainforest your napkins originated.

Why would she think I wanted all of these napkins? Oh I see: it’s because I’m black. I give the cashier the side eye. She, overworked, underpaid and probably not knowing what my problem is, gives me one right back…

Yeah I know, generalizations are bad and most times are not reflective of an entire community. Hello? Like, some of us actually use paper towels. However with my years of experience in the restaurant industry (working through high school and college in some capacity as a waitress/bartender), has made me witness to how glaringly neurotic our napkin consumption is at times. A good server worth his or her apron in tips, knows that if your guests happen to be folks of a darker hue, you better make damn sure to come to the table fully equipped with the right amount of disposable napkins. What is the right amount? Who knows for sure. But to be on the safe side, just bring about half a sleeve.

I have never been a napkin hog. Two to four (depending on the ply-count) disposable napkins per dining experience is enough for me – unless I am eating something messy like ribs. In which case I will grab about two or three more. However in instances where the napkin distribution power is out of my control, I also end up with more napkins that I could possibly need. So then I am stuck with all this paper product, which I really don’t have a use for but as an Eco-friendly citizen, just can’t seem to garner the necessary fortitude to throw them away. So I stick them in my drawer in the kitchen with intentions of eventually finding some purpose or task around the house to us them. That chance never comes. Mainly because I always forget that this accumulation of fast food restaurant disposable napkins even exists – until I come home again with a fresh stack to add to the collection.

The most contradictory thing I have noticed about black folks disposable paper consumption is how even in our waste, we can still manage to conserve. For instance, last summer my brother and I, along with my four nieces and nephews, were having lunch at the buffet (Oh shut up! It was the kids choice and the children love the buffet). After noticing that none of us grabbed anything to clean our hands with while eating, my brother goes, retrieves some napkins from the dispenser and then plopped them in the middle of the table. The pile was so thick that it made a thud sound when it hit the table top. I spent the rest of the lunch counting how many napkins we used. The answer: sixteen. Out of the gazillion napkins my brother took, we only ended up using less than a third of them. Curiously, I asked my brother, “Why the heck did you get all of these napkins?” He shrugged, “they free, why not?” Then he paused, thought about it some more and said, “Plus the kids stay spilling stuff.” Well I guess in some instances having lots of napkins makes sense but what about the fate of the rest of these napkins? My brother shrugged again, “I dunno. I usually leave them on the table. What they [eatery] do with the unused ones is on them.” He has a point there too.

Internationally, but more specifically to Western countries, our environmental policies are pretty warped and there are certainly a lot more impactful ways we can reduce our carbon footprints as a species than worrying about how many disposable napkins black folks have stuffed into the glove compartment box of their vehicle. And according to this article in Treehugger, the disposable paper napkin produces less grams of greenhouse gas emissions than its cotton counterpart. However as it has been reported that the average American goes through 2,200 napkins a year, I can’t help but also cringe at the little ways in which we basically co-signed the mindless degradation of the planet – even if we are just talking about a flimsy napkin.

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