Several years back, when I was working the bar in a fancy restaurant, a woman sat down, took a glance at the table setting, turned her nose up to me and asked, “Excuse me, do you happen to have a black napkin?” I’ve always been known for having an expressive face, and I would have loved to be able to see just what kind of contortion my countenance made at that instant. Initially I just thought she was fashionable, and had a distaste for white napkins (this would be kind of cool.) It took me a second before I realized that something more disconcerting was behind her request. She wanted a black napkin so that she WOULDN’T GET LINT ON HER DRESS!
This level of privilege made me want to reach out and remove her head from her body (see my earlier post on Wednesday Addams and her beheaded Marie Antoinette doll.) That this woman would assume we had a black napkin just for her specific need made me wonder what other things she expected we stock for her. Did she expect alaea pink sea salt from Hawai’i? Did she expect that we sparkle our own water? I felt a sense of exhilaration at being able to lean over the bar and tell her, “No, it turns out we actually only have one kind of napkin.”
I spent the next few years thinking about the phenomenon of the black napkin, of wearing clothes in such an uptight way as to worry about stains, spills, and even lint. If you’re going to wear clothes out in public, you need to learn how to wear them. You can’t carry them on your body so delicately and uncomfortably that while you’re drinking champagne and knocking back oysters, all you can think about is WHITE LINT on your BLACK DRESS! Get over it. Just a note, your black dress is already covered with a sea of dead skin and a colony of infinitesimally small creatures like dust mites, which are feeding on that dead skin as you mull the wine list. And that black dress of yours, which you hold so dearly that you can’t even feel comfortable in it, was probably made by a child in a sweatshop whose entire family could live for a year on what that dress cost you. Now did you want chicken or duck?
What I want to say is that you’re not important. Not even the Obamas feel important enough to make the asinine request for a black napkin. Please note their attire for the White House State Dinner honoring Mexico.
Now take a look at the table settings for said dinner. Please look closely at the charger plate and what is beneath it.
That’s right. It’s a white napkin, much like the white napkins you see EVERYWHERE YOU GO. The President of the United States is about to put a white napkin in his lap. To the ladies roaming the fancy restaurants of the world requesting black napkins: get a better question. And learn how to wear your privilege. If you’re going to drop a dime on a dress, you better wear it like one.
People might try to fight me on this one. They’ll say things like: but black napkins hide lipstick stains! Black napkins won’t show a drop of wine! Black napkins are stylish!
I won’t fight you on these notes. What I will say is that you don’t need a black napkin to have a good time. Offset that black dress with a white napkin in your lap. Don’t expect a napkin of your color choice anywhere you go. Most importantly, learn how to love your clothes enough to wear them, and heaven forbid just let a piece of lint land on one of them. Don’t be that lady asking for a black napkin. Be someone with a better question.