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.

rosaparksnah

 

So #brexit happened. Cue weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth etc. The leave campaign have effectively galvanised over 50% of the voting population with a campaign that was essentially a single issue campaign – immigration. Those of you who voted leave for various other reasons are at this point protesting- not all of you voted on immigration, it was do with democracy, sovereignty, freedom, TAKING BACK CONTROL!!!! Sure. But regardless of your very legitimate reasons for voting leave, all the polls show that the majority of people voted based on immigration or issues related to it.

Since #Brexit, many have noted that xenophobic and racist incidents have been on the increase. It’s not Eastern Europeans that are the only targets for xenophobia (which I would add is different from racism and we should no confuse the two), but Black and Asian people have been targets of both xenophobia and racism. People are tweeting that they have been told to go back to their country. I myself have walked into shops in my local area in the Midlands and felt an atmosphere of tension that is palpable – more palpable than before.

What’s fascinating and frankly slightly hilarious,  is watching mainstream media collectively lament this new dawn of racism that has apparently been ushered in by Brexit. The white working class are demoralised and disenfranchised, they say. How awful that neglect from the left wing politicians that were supposed to look after them has pushed them into fear and bigotry. How can we rectify this? By creating more jobs, by ushering in a new semi-socialist dawn. We can TAKE BACK CONTROL!

This is a complete and utter piffle.

White working class racism has always been there. It was there in the 60’s when my Grandad walked through Wolverhampton with his six children and had rubbish and bottles thrown at them. It was there in the 1970’s and 80’s when gangs of working class white youth used to target and beat up young black men and women. It was there in the 90’s at Milwall football matches. It was there when, age 7, my next door neighbour who lived in the bottom flat of the house next door that had been split into council housing, threw a knife at my head and called me a nigger. It was there when a few months ago a patient called me a Paki. It was there when a few weeks later another patient told me the last doctor who screwed up his treatment was coloured.

Framing post-brexit racism as something new is another way of the white middle class pushing the stigma of racism onto the working class instead of admitting that white supremacy is part and parcel of what this country has built it’s legacy on. Overt racism from the white working class is no better than the institutionalised racism legitimised and upheld by the middle and upper classes. The foundation for bigotry was laid many hundreds of years ago and there has been little attempt to destroy the foundation- only half-hearted efforts to build flimsy structures of seeming equality over it’s rotten core.

The positive outcome of this is that maybe for many of the younger generation of African-Caribbean’s this referendum has been a wake up call. Perhaps, the casual xenophobia and racism that has been unearthed will serve as a timely reminder of how tenuous our position is in this country. Too many of us have been comfortable in an identity of Britishness based on the fact that we felt accepted and at home in the bubble of big-city diversity. The cosmopolitan nature of London  is not reflective of the mood of the rest of the country. In London you are British. In Devon you may well not be considered so. For some of us, we are adamant that we will not allow what is British to be dictated by the prejudice of others. For others, myself included, we have decide that Britishness is a label that is fairly dispensable depending on its utility at any given moment and feel uncomfortable feeling attached to a country where a good proportion of the population seem to be uncomfortable with our presence. However you decide to define yourself, now more than ever is a time where we can focus on unity as a community. We need positivity, support and kindness towards each other at a time when the atmosphere seems to be one of hatred and fear. We don’t need to prove to others that we are worthy of respect. We don’t need to beg for acceptance.

Brexit was a reminder that as sinful humans, we react with fear when we feel we have less than others. We lash out and hurt others when we think they have something we should have. We become insular and closed instead of open and warm. I am determined that I will never excuse or be sympathetic to the racism that was always present before Brexit and that will be there long after the dust has settled. Poverty does not excuse bigotry.  I will not be more sympathetic to anyone’s racism because they have less than I have. I will not allow myself to be fearful or hateful. They have chosen to do that.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18