Many dignitaries were invited to the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, among whom was Queen Salote, Queen of the TonganIslands. At 6 feet 3 inches and around 300 pounds Queen Salote was a large woman. Since she was a reigning Queen her status merited her riding in a carriage, along with a minister in attendance. The minister chosen to accompany her was a smallish man, but the contrast between the two of them made him appear even smaller. It is said that as Queen Salote and her minister drove by someone asked Noel Coward who the tiny man with the Queen was, to which Noel is reported to have replied, “Her lunch.”
I must admit to having laughed when I first heard this recounted. The more that I have read about the 50’s, however, the more I have come to see that there was more than a touch of racism in that remark. Newspaper articles of that time take great pains to describe observers being surprised by both Queen Salote’s height, massive presence and great personal dignity, not qualities that the people of the time expected of a “brown barbarian”. Given such an outlook even in modern day 1953, it is no surprise that when Congregationalist missionaries landed in Hawaii back in 1820 they assumed that the native population were no better than un-taught and un-churched children who needed instruction in growing up so that they could become like their betters, the white people whom the Hawaiians dubbed the haole.
It is easy for us to look backwards and either be amused or dismayed by such attitudes… and yet to be blind to how we do this, today, with one another. One needn’t go to a foreign land in order to look down upon someone. How about the sibling, lover or spouse who doesn’t follow the expected family rituals and traditions? How about the friend whose hair is a new color each week and whose clothing morphs by the day, and sometimes by the hour? How about the fellow office-worker of a different sexual orientation, religious affiliation, or skin color? Doesn’t their “difference” make us feel superior and “normal”, and thereby confirm our sense of rightness in what we think, say and do?
There are so many ways in which to view others as “lunch”: What’s yours?