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.

gentrification

So I went to Brixton the other day with a friend of mine, doing what wannabe hipster folk do – eat spicy caribbean vegan wraps and eat vegan cupcakes after attending a little festival about afro hair. It was cool, it was chill, I felt a little bit cultured.

While on our way to get said vegan cupcakes, we ventured through the farmers market/hipstery restaurant bit. And I like farmers markets and rustic restaurants for all their organic, earthiness and whatnot. However, as I looked around amidst the mexican gourmet, vietnamese street food, and kitsch accessory stalls, I was shocked by the lack of black faces. And the very obvious abundance of white ones. With very obviously middle class accents. Was this Brixton? Had I clicked my size 5 Zara boots and ended up in Kansas aka Hampstead Heath? What was going on?

Real integration isn’t a bad thing. I have no issue with my white next door neighbour being my next door neighbour, even though he told my Dad to his negro face that he votes for UKIP because black folk are lazy and should go back to their country although he lives on one floor of a house the same size of the house that my Dad owns all 4 floors of. Yes, racism is irrational.

What I do have problems with is faux, shady integration. Which is pretty much the dish that black people have been served both here and in the USA for the past 50 years. Faux integration is technical integration with systematic economic segregation that ensures that no real integration actually occurs. I mean, it’s kind of smart really, isn’t it? Give people technical rights, take down the signs that say “no dogs, no Coloureds, no Irish”, but effectively orchestrate systems in terms of education, employment and housing that ensure said dogs/coloureds/Irish/ poor white folk are unable to live, work, dwell, or socialise amongst you.

(ETA: To those of you who read the above paragraph and interpret it as ‘she doesn’t like integration’, I really have nothing I can say apart from to ask you to read the paragraph again. I’ve edited it slightly for clarity but I honestly don’t understand how someone interprets that paragraph as ‘she doesn’t like white people’. Like, really?)

So, in the middle of Brixton, where the population used to be overwhelmingly black and working class, there are whole sections where young white middle class people hang out, but not with any of the people that made the place ‘cool’ and ‘vibrant’ in the first place. Nope, they set up communities of gated flats that locals cannot afford to buy. Local people have been evicted out of flats that they’ve lived in for ages to make room for these people. And social circles aren’t integrated.

I don’t expect rich white people to go out on searches to find working class black people to hang out with in a weird non-organic way, I just think the changes happening in Brixton and Peckham are sadly typical of a society that is very much segregated by class and race across the country and the capital. (As an aside, I think the gentrification  of Brixton, Peckham, Harlem, the relentless promotion of Iggy Azalea and Sam Smith, the rock and roll take over of the 50’s, are all symptoms of the cultural vulturism that seems to be endemic to white middle class culture.)

To be honest, I would be lying if I said that gentrification in my hometown of Catford isn’t something that is slightly appealing to me. I’m not averse to my parent’s house price going up a little bit – for a pair of middle aged home owners, that’s probably a good thing. I’m not against the local Costa coffee that’s popped up down the road. Easy access to a soya hot chocolate is great.

But I need to be unselfish. I need to think about those around me who aren’t as privileged. Who won’t be able to afford to live in the places they’ve called home for many years. Who find a Waitrose popping up to replace the local Lidl. What about them?

There are solutions. Some councils such as Hackney, are working on making sure that local residents benefit from changes, and launching schemes that promote integration, but a lot more needs to be done. Maybe there need to be limitations on new developments, or maybe there need to be agreements made about businesses sponsoring community programs as part of contracts etc. I’m not sure. The real problem is deeper than individual councils though, it’s a nation wide, systematic problem with certain groups having access from birth to privileges that others grapple to get.

What do you guys think? Is gentrification positive? What are the negatives? What can be done?