When you think of milk, what first comes to your mind? If you’re a millennial, you probably think of strong bones, Got Milk? commercials, or maybe eating your favorite cereal while watching cartoons on a Saturday morning.
What about racism? White nationalism? If you’re having trouble finding the connection between these institutions and milk, you’re not alone. You, along with the rest of the nation, have been so accustomed to hearing the benefits of milk that you probably didn’t even realize the subtle racism hidden in our health facts.
It may not surprise you that the United States was founded on racism. That every institution we uphold has racist roots that are sometimes difficult to catch and even harder to fight against. This phenomenon affects our voter ID laws, state testing and, yes, even our federal dietary guidelines. But how can our health guidelines, a system meant to be built upon scientific fact alone, have racist messages? Where there is a deep-rooted tradition to suppress an entire race’s existence, there’s a way.
The federal endorsement of milk in American diets contributes to the problem by uncritically pushing people to drink milk, despite the potential detriment it has on non-white people’s health.
Our current federal dietary guidelines urge people to drink three cups of milk a day, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The main health benefit of milk is to guard against osteoporosis, a disease that weakens your bones — hence the “stronger bones” rhetoric. While this is a very practical health benefit, osteoporosis affects Africans at a significantly lower rate than it does most Americans, according to an article on Mother Jones.
These facts about milk were brought to attention by a scientific magazine that got trickled down into the world of 4chan, where the facts were distorted and exaggerated to fit a racist rhetoric for white supremacy. The online trollers decided to take their milk jugs to the public using Shia LaBeouf’s social experiment livestream project, “He Will Not Divide Us,” which began as a protest against President Donald Trump. The installation has since been shut down by the host, The Museum of Moving Images, for being being “a serious and ongoing public safety hazard,” according to a February article by USA Today.
This is the basis that white supremacist milk chuggers used for their bring-your-own-milk-jug party using Shia LaBeouf’s camera to advance their hateful message. In an effort to prove their masculinity, a dozen middle-aged white men showed up shirtless, shouting about how they need to “secure the future of our diet and the future for milk drinking.” One man proudly displayed his neo-Nazi tattoo while spitting milk into the livestream camera.
This odd form of white supremacy also received cinematic attention through Jordan Peele’s horror movie “Get Out,” a movie that highlights racism in a post-racial America. Peele artistically addresses the new medium of hate with one of the film’s most eerie scenes, which shows a white woman meticulously sipping milk from a bendy straw. The scene would have gone unnoticed in the movie, but audiences were forced to notice the long, drawn-out frame of the woman taking a sip; Peele wanted people to notice.
These seemingly coincidental acts of racism are backed by the way milk continues to be represented in American diets.
The Mother Jones article states that not only is milk non-beneficial to Africans, but following the guidelines may actually be detrimental to their health. There is a strong correlation to calcium consumption and an increased risk of prostate cancer, unproportionally affecting African men. Furthermore, both black children and adults generally secrete less calcium on a daily basis than white people, making them less dependent upon milk.
Remember that this is the dietary guidelines for Americans. I want to emphasize that last word. These guidelines are for Americans. This means they should reflect the health needs of the ethnicities that make up America which, news flash, isn’t just white people. And since the African American community in the U.S. is continuously rising, it seems only logical to acknowledge that while something may be beneficial for one group of people, that may not be the case for another.
These differences are now leaving the world of health and spilling into our political and social lives. Milk has now become a symbol of racial superiority for white nationalists and neo-Nazis, claiming that their ability to process milk makes them racially superior.
That Peele came up with the idea for the scene days before shooting began, not knowing that the release of his movie would be perfectly timed with the sudden rise of interest for milk among white supremacists, is proof that the connection between milk and white supremacy is gaining visibility.
“That scene is just one of my favorites,” Peele told the LA Times. “There’s no dialogue in it — just this beautiful psychotic image that gives me glee when it happens in the film.”
The milk scene in “Get Out,” along with LaBeouf’s livestream, turned what started out as internet trolling into yet another form of nonsensical white superiority. And while there is little logic to the train of thoughts involved in choosing the next inanimate face of racism, our country’s health guidelines certainly take part of the blame for this one.
Until we recognize the racist roots in our own systems of government and fight to remove them, we are all in part responsible for the white, creamy form of racism currently taking hold in our country.