“For those of you tired of hearing about racism, imagine how much more tired WE are of constantly experiencing it.” – Barbara Smith
This blog adds context to another – What Makes Me Happy – Southern Cuisine – in which I highlighted southern cuisine as something that makes me very happy. Anyone who has visited the south or was raised there, knows fried chicken is very much a part of down-home cooking. As with many things in life, there is a dark side to fried chicken – beyond consuming too much leads to adverse health outcomes. When coupled with collard greens, discussions of fried chicken changes from talks of a great pairing making a delicious meal to a phrase disparaging one’s race. This is not hypersensitivity to a person misspeaking, an instance of a person from a good family not knowing the meaning of how his or her words are connoted. Referencing black people as loving collard greens and fried chicken is a deliberate act some white people knowingly utter to be judgmental, hateful, racist, and bigoted.
But, Black People Do Like Fried Chicken
Fact. Many African Americans and other Americans for that matter enjoy eating fried chicken. Why is it used and interpreted as a racial slur if spoken in the wrong connotation? I am not entirely sure. From a quick Google search, I learned the negative connotation of blacks eating fried chicken may have originated from a scene in The Birth in a Nation where black congressmen in the South Carolina capitol building are seen eating fried chicken by disapproving whites. Back then as it is now – white disproval and mockery has nothing to do with chicken per se. I think African Americans preference for fried chicken has nothing to do with an alleged genetic predisposition that forces us to eat fried chicken by the Popeye’s and Churches’ Ryder truckload. Our fondness of chicken originated from a more practical, non-biological perspective.
Chicken is Inexpensive
African Americans have had less purchasing power than their white counterparts since the founding of the United States 242 years ago. Feeding our families was done on the most meager of budgets. Consider these five states with the highest percentage of African American residents from highest to lowest – Mississippi (37.8%), Louisiana (32.6%), Georgia (32.3%), South Carolina (27.3%), and Alabama (26.8%). I left Maryland (30.8%) out of this group because it is not geographically located in the Deep South even though it has the fourth highest percentage of black residents. A collective African American population of 8,646,370 reside in those five states – 20% of the total black population in the United States. There is a per capita income of $18,615 compared to $24,820 overall among these states. The median household of those 8.6 million compatriots is $34,331 compared to $45,775 overall. These numbers are from July 2017.
According to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average costs of a whole chicken is $1.50 per pound. In comparison, the average cost of a pound of ground turkey is $1.62 and that of ground beef is $3.75 – both of which can be used to prepare spaghetti, sloppy joes, or burgers among other meals. Round roast (roast and potatoes) is $5.33 per pound, beef for stew (stewed beef and rice, grilled kabobs, or stir fry) is $5.63, steak for those special occasions lands around $7.60 per pound, and pork chops go for $3.42 per pound. I was unable to find any reputable-looking sources with statistics on the average market price of fish – I would guess some exist. The average market price of fish is probably higher than chicken, even if we were to assess the cost of catfish – the seafood world’s bottom feeder – per pound. Any of these meats that are pre-packaged in any form or prepared in the grocery store carry an even higher price tag.
My point, chicken is a minimum of 50% less than the cost of other sources of protein. African Americans have consistently chosen chicken over other cuts of meat because of this durable fact – not because our genetic composition subconsciously steer us toward the poultry section in a zombie-like fashion.
Easy Access to Collard Greens, Lard, and Flour
Most African Americans were slaves and later sharecroppers in the South. With slavery, not being murdered and physically mutilated was a form of payment for the backbreaking plantation work done from sunrise to sunset. With the onset of sharecropping, the form of payment for manual labor diversified from being allowed to live, to being allow to live on someone else’s land as payment and I would imagine some form of meager United States currency. Some African Americans were paid via landownership.
The white plantation owners would also pay the black farmers in crops – collard greens being one of them. Who would turn down free collards? With little to no money to purchase anything else, taking home some of the very produce my ancestors spent 12 hours a day tending was considered a blessing. Given the unstable temperament, arrogance, exemptions from honoring human rights and adhering to laws condemning murder whenever they felt like it, many a white landowner – former slave owner – viewed the act of turning down something they conflated with the value of gold (in this case collard greens, turnips, sweet potatoes and the like) could prompt a state sanctioned massacre of African Americans’ entire neighborhoods and families. It was easier to simply eat the cake Anna Mae.
Lard was inexpensive. Along with picking crops, black sharecroppers and farmers would slaughter pigs, chickens and other animals for protein. In doing so, every part of the animal served a purpose. Lard, which is fat extracted from a pig’s abdomen, was used as a cooking oil. It was readily available. Other parts of the pig were too – fatback, bacon, ham hocks. Given the natural blandness of collard greens, my ancestors used fatback, bacon, and ham hocks as flavor bombs – infusing the loose-leaf veggie with tons of deliciousness.
Flour was plentiful. Originating from many of the crops blacks historically grew, harvested and processed for white landowners – corn and wheat – flour was as readily available as lard. As with the portions of the domestic pig referenced in the preceding paragraph, I would imagine flour and other herbs and spices made available to African Americans were used to improve the taste of chicken. Frying the meat in cheap lard was an expeditious and inexpensive way of cooking it.
Worthy of mentioning as well is the fact many African Americans did not farm under the shotgun of white supremacy. Some of my ancestors were prosperous – owning, managing, and building wealth off the farms they possessed in the eye of the law as did many of their white counterparts. When we explore facts, and look at others as people doing the best they can in dire situations, you see there is a ton of ingenuity and pragmatism underlying the ways blacks in the south prepare food. It has nothing to do with inferior genetic material guiding us to do things white people do not understand or otherwise decide to mock or discuss derisively.
Cooking is a human act serving many functions. Biologically, it is the avenue through which we provide our bodies with nutrients that fuel metabolic activity. Spiritually, it is the ultimate connector holding families, communities, and nations together. From an educational perspective, cooking is a history lesson. As with any dish – risotto, Shepherd’s pie, New England clam chowder – preparing and serving fried chicken and collard greens serves all these purposes. Yet, none of the former three examples are used in as much of a derogatory way as collard greens and fried chicken.
Kidding – Not – Kidding
Think Tiger Woods – who admittedly has a sordid history of accepting his own African ancestry in a way that pleases black America. Publicly, he has been on the receiving end of two collard greens and fried chicken quips for reasons having nothing to do with eating. Both were uttered by men who misspoken-but-did-not-misspeak during periods Woods trampled them on the green. The two comments – one calculatedly stated on television in 1997, the other willingly given as an answer to a Golf Channel reporter’s question in 2013 – were deployed as a failed tactic to put Woods in his place overall and distract him from the game specifically. They were manifestations of the unmistakable insecurities that ooze out of any crack and crevice in the myth of white supremacy.
Given neither of the men could hold a golf club to Woods, let alone a candle, they decided to give raw racism the old college try. Historically, slurs have been a surefire detonator. They were not seeking ways to connect with Woods from a planning a dinner party perspective. The goal was to reassert the so-called order of white people being on top because – birthright; black people being second-tier because – undeserving. Of course, all sorts of emotionally void and highly engineered apologies followed the loss of endorsements and public ridicule faced by the 1997 and 2013 Colonel Sanders groupies.
Even if the apologies are meaningless, having the two white golfers issue them is a form of punishment they would not have had to endure in years past. I would assume this act of accountability more so stung the perps because it is forced recognition of their non-existence superiority than it offended African Americans who saw the implausibility of their sorry-not-sorry’s authenticity. Too stupid, insecure, and blinded by their own self-loathing, the golfers who lost to Woods did not realize the collard greens and fried chicken they jokingly-not-jokingly referenced were proverbial loaded guns in disguise; safety off and pointed directly at their own feet. For all they could have known, Tiger Woods hate both of those foods.
It is this insanity with which I grapple in discussing my enjoyment of eating collard greens and fried chicken. It is a conditioned response to centuries of racism and bigotry unnecessarily infused into American life as an increasingly waning reinforcer of white superiority. When I freely discuss collard greens and fried chicken with my white spouse, black relatives, and multiracial friends, I am speaking of taking pleasure in having a delicious meal. Racists and bigots in their quips about the phrase are deriding my humanity.
Knowing what is in the hearts of people who may deliberately and/or unintentionally do and say racist things is irrelevant. It does not make any sense whatsoever to repeatedly experience and witness willful or inadvertent acts of racism and bigotry only to hear unhelpful both sides narratives about which people and acts we can(not) call racist and bigoted. The reason? We do not know what is in the perps’ heart, which is the only place from which racism and bigotry apparently originates. This supposition implies there lies a benevolence beneath all the long-lasting, painful and historically deadly racist and bigoted behavior that has reigned terror upon African Americans for centuries. Why would the people experiencing trauma from the generational effects of slavery, torture, and murder attack such benevolence? Clearly there are two sides, right?
What does quips about collard greens and fried chicken tell me about what is in their heart? Intellectual laziness. Darkness. Hate. Jealousy. Insecurity. Privilege. Entitlement. Self-loathing. False narratives about superiority. Why is this important? Why can I not rise above the fray and simply forego blogging about it? What is the point in worrying about what I cannot control? People like those who attacked Tiger Woods, took joy in the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case, perpetuated birtherism, and nowadays those burning their Nike shoes instead of donating them to the needy veterans Kaepernick never disrespected, continue to control enough of the financial capital that fuels the world’s economy. They can pull levers in ways unrelated to reliable forecasts, analyses resulting from sophisticated computations, or sound financial teachings; wielding unnecessary pain and disintegrating wealth within population groups they simply dislike because – insert distraction from real issue. Read Naomi Klein’s book Shock Doctrine – the Land of the Free has a well-documented history of doing this very thing.
Saying black people love eating collard greens and fried chicken is not malicious on the surface. Yet, we as a country have a history of saying one thing and meaning another.