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When Anger Feeds Exclusion

by Aleasa Word, FAACT’s Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

July 2022

It’s sad to hear from people living with life-threatening food allergies about the anger that is often directed at them. Frequently, this anger comes from family members who think parents of children with food allergies are dramatic or attention seekers. At other times, the anger comes from perfect strangers when we request accommodations to ensure the safety of our children or ourselves. This anger defies basic logic about how people with health conditions should be treated.

In my family, we dealt with bullying from other children who seemed filled with rage as they picked on my child because of their food allergies. When we brought this to the attention of parents and other adults, some responded with anger at the suggestion that apologies were needed, and children should be held accountable for dangerous behaviors. Even on airplanes, there are countless stories of people being annoyed with our community for wanting to pre-board a flight to wipe down seats or asking for no nuts to be served on a flight.

In reflection, I have to wonder, where does it all come from? Why is this behavior necessary? Is it just this health condition that elicits such behaviors – and will it ever end?

The truth is that Americans live in a very individualistic society. The days of “it takes a village” or collectivist thinking seem to be further and further in the rear-view mirror. It can feel like we are living a real-life episode of survival of the fittest or “who can have the most power over others?” This is not at all what inclusion or belonging looks like.

To be inclusive, one must learn to embrace the differences of others from a stance of curiosity and a genuine willingness to grow. People with a fixed mindset frequently need to control the narrative, especially when it is not their own. For example, in the case of wiping down seats on an airplane, when people have not chosen to think outside of themselves, they could become angry. They cannot control others’ behaviors – or have no desire to learn about someone else’s personal safety needs. For others, ego can cause them to feel anger if someone they might see as inferior intellectually challenges them about their knowledge regarding the severity of food allergies, and they could find it easier to blame those affected by food allergies.

There is not one definitive answer as to why people get angry with those in the food allergy community, just as there is no one way an allergic reaction presents itself in different people. There is, however, a definitive need for this life-threatening health issue to be recognized for what it is. There is also a need for schools, workplaces, and communities to stop ignoring the real dangers to those who have life-threatening food allergies. Including people with food allergies in conversations around accommodations, food selection at events, and even corporate and academic policymaking conversations is key to helping people understand that we aren’t just making this up and that our lives are worth of having a seat at the inclusion table, wherever that may be.