fried chicken

 

I have to commend myself on my progress in my continuing quest towards enlightenment. 3 years ago at the tender age of 23  when I first started writing this blog,  I would have had a very different initial response to a viral video of a young black man taste testing fried chicken from various KFC imitation outlets.It would have been something along the lines of..“*rolls eyes* Yet again mainstream media picking up on every negative stereotype about black people, why has this idiot decided to go cavorting around London sampling wings and Fanta – can’t he find himself some kind of gainful employment and stop embarrassing us?

3 years later, my response is somewhat different.

For those of you who haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m on about, Elijah Quashie is rumored to be 23 (he will neither confirm or deny his age, perhaps he’s worried that taste testing Sam’s in air max’s  will be seen as juvenile?) and has  in the space of a week morphed into an internet sensation with his witty take on the quality of chicken, chips  and burgers in London’s many fast food shops. His youtube series the Pengest Munch shows Quashie, presumably filmed by one of his friends (man dem) sampling chicken from a different shop in each episode and rating their food offerings out of 5.

He is obviously charming, funny (‘burger sauce was a myth’)  and rather charismatic, not to mention innovative – he states that he was inspired by the ‘bald guy from Masterchef’, questioning why Greg Wallace’s opinion on food held any more gravitas than anyone elses, which inspired him to start his own series.

I’ve heard a bit of murmuring on the interwebs about the series promoting the same old tired stereotype about black people liking fried chicken and also a negative portrayal of young black men as lacking aspiration. Additionally, in a recent interview with ITV the chicken connoisseur perhaps performed the ultimate  negative stereotype – the interview ended with him pulling  gun fingers. In the past I would have probably agreed that not only was it embarrassing, but irresponsible on his part.

I’m not so sure anymore.

In fact,  I think that he said something particularly profound during the interview which was that he made the web series for people who eat like him, talk like him and live in his area. This wasn’t made for white mainstream consumption. Unlike some members of the black middle class who are forever obsessed with how they are perceived by the white mainstream and how the actions of inner city or working class (not necessarily mutually exclusive) black people reflect negatively on the race as a whole, Quashie’s  (initial) attitude completely ignored the white gaze. His initial audience was never the mainstream. He was making content for ‘his’ people. And ‘his’ people, are inner city, mainly black,  young people.

While I agree that mainstream media is a lot quicker to broadcast and give a platform for media that conforms to the same repetitive stereotypes of blackness, I would also argue that ‘educated’ black people often place the burden on black people of other backgrounds to carry the weight of how the race is perceived and in turn burden themselves by being embarrassed when in their eyes, the portrayal isn’t positive enough. Unfortunately, positive often means holding middle class white culture as aspirational,.Part of being black in a white supremacist society is that we  will all  be viewed via the lens of negative stereotypes – it’s inescapable. Part of living freely though,  has to be trying to live as unburdened as possible by these stereotypes. It’s exhausting to pretend to not like things you do like just for the sake of not conforming to stereotypes. A lot of young black people in inner city London do seem to like fried chicken. Weirdly enough, so do the white and Asian kids. I’m probably more concerned about what the quantity of deep fried wings is doing to Elijah’s arteries than I am to what it’s doing to reaffirm the stereotype about us and chicken.

A more important conversation that needs to be had is why inner city areas seem to be flooded with these cheap chicken shops and why healthy food is so overpriced and often scarce in these areas. It’s not true that young black people don’t care about their health.  A lot of young black people go to the gym, work out and aspire to look like an ‘Instagram baddie’ complete with flat abs and a rear end created by a million squats. They aren’t completely immune to the clean eating, soaked quinoa, fitness trend just because they live in Peckham. (I’m not even sure if Peckham counts as a black area anymore). When Caribbeans and Africans first came to this country, there weren’t an abundance of chicken shops and we definitely don’t own or start up most of them. The demand for this food isn’t really organic, the market has been created. I would love to see more conversation being generated about public health and health education and what we can do to create a more positive behaviours towards food in inner city areas.

In essence, there is room for more than one type of blackness and we need to let go of the idea that all aspects of inner city culture that other people might look down on are ’embarrassing’. The truth is, that like any culture, there are aspects that are negative and appropriately draw criticism. The truth is  that aspects of these inner city cultures are often co-opted, reworked and marketed to the mainstream without credit being given to the originators. The truth is that white people rarely feel embarrassed by what another totally unrelated white person does and we shouldn’t either. The truth is that Elijah Quashie is probably just living his truth. Which is that he likes fried chicken, and has eaten enough to be considered an expert. The truth is that as a vegetarian and health advocate, I’d rather he ate a lentil burger with a side of kale, but in all honesty, they probably don’t taste as…..well, peng.

white dance

I think there are a fair few white people (and black people) who quietly read my blogs about race and ask some silent questions. Seeing as Black History Month is like Black Christmas – season of goodwill and all, I thought I’d answer some questions. Some serious, some not so serious. Take the answers with a pinch of black salt.

1) “Obama did it why can’t other black people?” aka “If young black men aren’t achieving then could it be that they aren’t working hard enough?”

There are multiple reasons, including the fact that Obama was brought up by his white, middle class mother and grandparents, personal factors like innate ability and a commitment to hard work, and a mixture of luck (or faith, depending on your belief system). And of course, Michelle (#smartbrowngirls rule the world).

Essentially, institutional racism in the school system, employer discrimination, low expectations, socio-economic conditions and the stress of living in society where you are constantly ‘othered’ are all barriers to success. You can google to discover how significant these barriers are. It’s well documented. Can it be done? Of course. Good parenting, a strong community around you that values education (i.e. church community) hard work, and a thick skin can work wonders. But why should Tyrone have to be good to get to the same level Tim, when Tim can get away with being mediocre? I’m fighting for Tyrone to be able to get a a 2:2 as well, and get called to as many interviews as Tim.

2) Who is your black history month hero or heroine?

I think humans are flawed and we shouldn’t place anyone on too high a pedestal. Having said that…..so many. I love Lauryn Hill. That may be surprising, but I think she speaks truth in a way that is really meaningful and considered. Ruby Bridges showed such great strength at such a young age. Paul Bogle – the Jamaican freedom fighter. Mae Jemison, first black female astronaut – black women (women full stop) in technology and science are inspiring because there is so much ground to break. My grandparents and the whole generation that came to England after the war. they broke down so many barriers for us, and they deserve our respect and gratitude.

3) Why are black people better at dancing or singing?

Unfortunately, growing up in church circles, I can tell you with hand on my heart, signed in blood, that a significant proportion of the black community could wake Martin Luther King from his grave with their tuneless wailing. I would agree though, that if you take a random selection of black women and white women, there would probably be more black women who could sing.

The reasons for this are largely cultural. Quite a few black people grow up in church, so they sing often and to a good standard on a fairly regular basis, from a young age.Aside from church, music is integral to many African cultures in a way that it might not be to many Northern European cultures, so white people have less regular exposure to a certain type of music or singing.

Same with dancing. I can’t dance, because my conservative Christian parents weren’t big on grinding, two stepping and the like. Generally though, African derived music tends to have more emphasis on drumming than European music, so with the musical exposure comes a sense of rhythm that some white people seem to lack. That probably translates into being more likely to dance well. White kids who grow up in black neighbourhoods with black friends from a young age tend to have the same dancing abilities as the kids they grew up around from my observation. So, no, there is no innate sense of rhythm that we have. I will admit though, that the first time I saw a room full of white people dancing, I was slightly amused. Talk about pot calling the kettle black.

4) Don’t you think talking about race so much alienates people? 

White racism alienates me from white people. It prevents meaningful friendships, it causes stress in the workplace, it roadblocks potential romantic relationships, and at worse, it kills people. Literally. It is killing little black boys. If they are alienated by me highlighting it, or if other black people are alienated because it makes them uncomfortable, then may I politely suggest that they label themselves as the problem.

5) Do you hate white people?

I’ve answered this in a previous blog post. If you hate someone they have power over you. I resist white supremacy exerting any power over me, and part of me resisting that power, is resisting hate. I believe love will win the final fight. But love can be angry. And injustice makes me angry.

6) Do you think all white people are racist?

I think everyone who lives in this system has adopted white supremacy as their modus operandi unless they make a conscious decision to resist this. Black or white. Racism comes in varying degrees. From the KKK, to the white girl who partly dates black men because it makes her feel a little bit rebellious but does actually love her boyfriend, to the well meaning liberal who loves Obama and asks me how come I’m so ‘articulate’. I think there is a difference between intentional, malicious racism,  and socialised ignorance.

7) Why are black people obsessive about food hygiene?

I don’t want to offend anyone…..but I don’t think this a complete stereotype. From my experience, my white friends seem to not think twice about buying an apple from Asda and eating it on the spot.  My black friends…erm, no, not so much. They want to wash it, sanitise it, peel it or something. Maybe we just feel like our lives are more fragile. *shrugs* White people on average live longer though, so clearly the buy it and bite it tactic is working for y’all.

8) Do you think about being black all the time?

Nope. Especially not if I’m with other black people. If I’m in a environment where everyone is white, I’m often aware of it. And if I’m not, give it a while and someone will undoubtedly say something to make me aware of it.

9)Why can’t white people say nigger when black people can?

Why would you as a white person, whose ancestors have historically used that word while enslaving, beating, raping, or abusing a black person, want the ‘right’ to use it?  Why would you want to use it knowing that people still use it today when trying to abuse or hurt black people?

The fact that you feel indignant about not being able to use it, makes you an extra shady individual. An individual that needs to have a little talk with Jesus. And your black friend that tells you it’s cool has their own issues. I don’t care if you’re a ‘rapper’ or feel like you’re part of the ‘hip-hop community’.

Some young Pakistani people call themselves Paki’s. It’s never entered my head to want to use that word around my Pakistani friends. They have a right as individuals belonging to that community to address themselves however they see fit. If they call each other that, I respectfully listen and then address them by their names. You should do the same.

10) Why do black people like chicken?

Every race of people likes chicken apart from vegetarians.

Any more questions?