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May 14, 2014 02:41 PM

The Last Great Bastion of Racism


Food Journalism: the last great whites-only club. Are there any negro food writers? Are African or Jamaican restaurants touted with gusto? If you are a racist but don't want to join the KKK, is becoming a foodie the next best thing? Are trendy white - or soon to be white- neighborhoods safer to write about? Are African-American chefs allowed in the kitchen?

Sure, there is Carla Hall... and maybe the Neelys. Are they our Denzel Washington? Good enough for a starring role evey once in a while as long as the character is not actually black. Or do our black chefs need a white saviour in order to be accepted by a white, I mean foodie, audience?

Are we enjoying the cooking of Viola Davis while Emma Stone works the hostess stand?

If they clandestinely banned black people at your favorite restaurant, when would you realize? If they refused to hire black hosts or hostesses, would you know? Or would your first inkling be on the 5 o'clock news?

  1. Come to Toronto and you will find, "African or Jamaican restaurants touted with gusto".

    Jerk, Roti and Ethiopian and other African food are discussed at length and enthusiasm in our media and in the Ontario (inc. Toronto) board - check it out.

    Search "African" for that board and you will be surprised and gratified.

    26 Replies
    1. re: DockPotato

      There is some discussion in DC about Ethiopian, but after that it looks bleak. Good to know about Toronto.

      Still, what are the major newspapers in Toronto? Do they have any black critics? Do they put out any top lists? Are there any black chefs on the list? When you think of the latest foodie restaurants, do black people go there?

      1. re: Steve

        Toronto has only an 8.5% black population.

        1. re: Veggo

          Yeah, Canada is not exactly where I was thinking of when I started this thread. And sorry if you folks in New Zealand feel a bit left out too.

          1. re: Steve

            Yes, and Mr. Anti-Racist seems to totally have forgotten about Asian food

            When in doubt or the wrong, play the racist card

            1. re: FriedClamFanatic

              I started this thread to discuss mostly the employment of black people in the sphere of the burgeoining 'Foodie' industry from writing to restaurant staff.

              You are welcome to add any insights you have regarding Asian food writers or other employees.

              Most cities have huge unemployment numbers regarding their black population. With an enormous foodie revolution going on, especially with the onslaught of interest in Modern American cuisine, I was wondering why I don't see more black writers and black staff.

              As far as the epithet of "Mr Anti-Racist" is concerned, I didn't realize that placed me in such a distinctive camp.

              1. re: Steve

                Steve, here in NY we see quite a few black staff members in upscale restaurants. The last two fine dining restaurants we went to both had black servers, for example. I would assume the same is true in DC.

                I have to note that historically there were a lot of blacks preparing and serving food in this country. Like the other trades it does not seem to be an occupation that families and schools encourage black (or other) kids toward these days. the college degree and white collar is the thing. There are plenty of black entrepreneurs who open and manage independent and franchise restaurants especially within the black community - Ive met young black college grads that aspire to this It seems to me that these young people are less likely to be attracted to the types of foodie shrines or to cheffing in them or writing about them because they are farther from their home and community experience.

                In my still largely black part of Brooklyn there are a fair number of black-owned restaurants, caribbean, southern or recently BBQ (the co-owner of Morgans is from Bed-Sty). Historically there were others, most prominently Gage and Tollners (closed maybe 10 years ago), which had at one point Edna Lewis as chef serving her wonderful southern cuisine - this restaurant always had a corps of very fine professional black waiters. Their is a prosperous Afro-American and Caribbean population to support these restaurants. In addition, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of smaller caribbean, african and soul restaurants here. They mostly serve simple food at a inexpensive price point and their cuisine is targeted at their own community, primarily. this second category of restaurants can certainly include classic chowhound type "finds" with delicious food, but not the sort of places that high end critics will frequent.

                I suggest that if OP wants to comment on issues racial, he should spend more time visiting the black community and meeting the people there. There are certainly still cultural and economic barriers which can deter crossover from minority to the larger communities, but its not a simple matter of white "racism" making crossover less frequent.

                Finally, Id like to comment on the point that was made about Indian restaurants. There are very fine indian restaurants, including some crossover successes in NY and other major cities. Chefs like Floyd Cardoz have been very successful at translating the Indian flavors into a context more recognizeable to europeans, Out of this category which is largely patronizedby prosperous expats and westerners - most Indian, mexican, african etc restaurants, like the caribbean places mentioned above, exist mainly to provide familiar food to their own communities (and takeout food to Americans) at a cheap price. Since most people whatever the race or culture tend to prefer the familar, I think that it is a higher hill to climb to popularize indian foods, say than french.Most Americans do not appreciate fine Chinese, Korean, middle eastern or japanese cuisine, either.

                1. re: jen kalb

                  Thanks for your comments, jen. Judging form what you've said, what is happening in Brooklyn is very different from DC. I believe I took your advice my last time in Brooklyn and went to Milan's for Slovakian food.

                  "I suggest that if OP wants to comment on issues racial, he should spend more time visiting the black community and meeting the people there."

                  I've been in DC for a long time now. Back when I worked on 14th St, I had three soul food places within a block, and I was the palest face around. I worked at the Source Theatre, building scenery to all hours of the night, so I was intimately familiar with the denizens of the neighborhood into the wee hours. We had three 'theatres' there at the time, one was little more than a squatters house, and we did shows in the back alley as well. As an old style Chowhound, I've traipsed around every corner of DC. I was also a basketball junkie, so I played pick up games all over town, from under the 395 highway on I St, SE to Adams Morgan. A torn ACL and miniscus during one of those games sideilned me for good. And when a guy like me walked into the old Ibex Club at Missouri and Georgia Aves, where everyone (but me) gets patted down, my presence in the audience is not lost on the comedian who introduced the acts. I am a GoGo fan (old school).

                  But I am also a soul food devotee as well as african, jamaican, and just about anything else I can get my hands on. The 'top five' in my profile lists a soul food place that I wrote about before anyone else got there - and has since become a known quantitiy- and a jamaican place that is as far out into SE DC, across the Anacostia River, as you can get. I made friends with Liberté of Chez Aunty Libe (Senegalese) before anyone knew she was there. I enjoy practicing my French with her. Unfortunately she is still struggling. Why? The press will still write up and talk about the lastest Modern American joint rather than give her an inch of attention. The Washington Post Weekend's section did a 40 best bites, and I'm pretty sure it reflected chefs, owners, and a clientele that represented a veritable "Day of Absence" for the negro. (if you are familiar with the Douglas Turner Ward play).

                  This is not to say my observations are better than anyone else's. I asked a lot of questions in the OP. Yes, I was trying to be provocative, but mostly because I am angry that this is an area of economic opportunity that African-Americans seem to be shut out of. My first point of contention, though, i think is irrefutable: the press is all-white. Not just a little white, but all-white. And I see a preference for Eurocentric dining and that means more stars and the idea that the best restaurants or best food in a city are just that. Langston Bar and Grill, in an area of town that sees few restaurants, is completely overlooked and has no foodie cred - maybe it isn't daring enough.

                  I see from your post that maybe DC is vastly different from other places, so that's good to know. Honestly, seeing multiple African-Americans working an upscale restuarant was a surprise to me.

                  So one more question, how about the Chowhounds in New York? Do they reflect the African-American presence in that city?

                  1. re: Steve

                    Curious, are you saying that blacks are excluded from taking culinary courses, applying for jobs in upscale restaurants or exploring other cuisines? As for being a big C or little c chowhound, thats wholly a matter of self selection. Perhaps since you are inclined to explore, you underrate the tendency of most people (of all sorts) to stay within their comfort zones, their own community, the familiar food of their childhood, etc. It takes an intrepid spirit and/or encouragement and education to move outside. The very size of the black community in places like DC, NY or Philly may make it less likely that people who grow up there want to or can envision options outside. While racial and cultural attitudes are clearly a factor, its a two way street. I serve meals at my church coffee hour, we have a very large Caribbean population and many of the folks will not touch any food which does not fall within familiar categories cooked in the way they prefer. Its not that different from trying to serve real thai food in suburban ohio.

                    Lastly, DC and its suburbs are geographically very spread out. Do you think the black bourgeoisie are patronizing restaurants in the district (say in SE) or are they hanging out in the suburbs? Without prosperous patrons, restaurants arent likely to be able to raise their sights, use the best quality ingredients, provide a comfortable dining experience.Without these factors, restaurants will remain chowhound faves rather than more mainstream choices.

                    1. re: jen kalb

                      This is a great discussion. What I find in the DC area (and Boston back in the 80' and 90's when I lived there but don't know if it's the same) is that, while it is diverse, it is almost a self-segregated diversity compared to an area like NYC or SF where groups tend to mix and mingle w/out thought. This is obviously very generalized. I'd be hard pressed in NYC or SF to find a restaurant that is all white. I wonder if this is a catch 22. There are restaurants which are predominantly white which makes people who are African American not want to go and because not many go, there aren't many in the industry. I don't really pay attention to racial make up in restaurants (growing up in Ohio in the 70's, I was almost always the only nonwhite so just got used to it. The next time I go to trendier/higher end restaurants, I'll pay attention.

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        There are some big changes going on right now in DC. Top 'foodie' destinations are popping up in locations that would have been considered off limits even two years ago. So talk of 'comfort zones' is being thrown out the window.

                        Restaurant critics will now send their readers to those neighborhoods that would have been unthinkable before. But what paradigms are being followed? Who is being hired? That is a big part of what I'm talking about.

                        So part of the equation is that an older restaurant like Chez Aunty Libe or Langston Bar and Grill are still being ignored. And part of the equation is that predominantly white clientele are flocking to predominantly white chefs hiring predominantly white staff in predominantly black neighborhoods - or should I say soon to be white neighborhoods- by white restaurant critics.

                        This is not just a case of white vs black, but some categories are included in this as well. So a Salvadoran place, (among others) willl also be in this situation. Despite the huge increase of a local Bolivian population and ensuing restaurants popping up, they too get ignored. High tone Indian will receive its due, but family style - no. And don't even mention the idea that Indian cuisine is hardly monolithic - specific regions or identities are not part of the conversation.

                        So, yeah, that's why we have Chowhound, and I recognize that already. But now it seems more economically impactful than ever before.

                    2. re: jen kalb

                      your post also reminded me of a book I read when I was little called "The Tap Dance Kid" about a blackboy who wanted to tap dance and his father didnt want him to. Not because it was dance but because he equated it with days when "tappin' for the white man" was really like being a court jester and a way regulating blacks to to a serving class "cook for the whites clean for the whites entertain for the whites" . Food and the importance of it on more than just a "eat to live" way is becooming more widly embraced across all demographics.

                      1. re: girloftheworld

                        This is the perfect example of what I was saying about it being a self-selecting group Because no one does it, no one thinks or wants to do it. I think of skiing, too, having been a predominantly white activity (lol, literally, too). But in the past decade or so, there has been a big outreach at my little mountain and the numbers of other races has increased substantially. Enough that it's a fairly diverse place.

                        1. re: girloftheworld

                          Oops, meant to reply to girloftheworld:

                          Are you talking about "Nobody's Family Is Going to Change" by Louise Fitzhugh? I read it when it came out, around 1974. The boy who wanted to tap dance was the little brother of the middle-school-aged main character, Emma, who wanted to be a lawyer. Their father opposed both of their ambitions. It was a great portrayal of how race/class/gender issues are inter-twined.

                          Any mention of Louise Fitzhugh makes me want a tomato sandwich. Sigh.

                    3. re: FriedClamFanatic

                      And don't forget Hispanic food also....

                      BTW, when did the Volunteer Thought Police force start using the word "negro" again?? I have seen it on Facebook also being used by the same type of person. What is this, 1962??

                      1. re: PotatoHouse

                        It's really not pejorative - United Negro College Fund tells me so.

                        1. re: MplsM ary

                          Really? You think "Colored people" is still ok because it's part of the name of the NAACP?

                          1. re: Bob W

                            People of color vs colored people. If they are ok with it, I will abide.

                            1. re: Bob W

                              Only Lou Reed can get away with that....

                          2. re: PotatoHouse

                            Gosh, I didn't know I had been nominated to the Volunteer Thought Police Force. That's very nice of you, though I am unclear how I am preventing or denying you from thinking.

                            "What is this, 1962??"

                            This has been covered before, but just in case you didn't know....


                            1. re: Steve

                              "I am unclear how I am preventing or denying [anyone] from thinking."

                              I don't know how you did it either, but there's been a lot of evidence here to support the notion that you may have.

                      2. re: Steve

                        "Do they have any black critics?" Quite possibly. Who knows? Who cares?

                        1. re: DockPotato

                          Would you be so dismissive if this translated into another career, like judges?

                          1. re: Steve

                            I think his comment was more that our critics go by pseudonyms and no one knows what they look like. Hence the "who knows, who cares" comment.

                          2. re: DockPotato

                            I should have elaborated. By my remark I mean that race is simply not a factor. None whatsoever.

                            Racism certainly exists in the city, no gainsaying, but our bigots are themselves the minority.

                        2. 'If they clandestinely banned black people at your favorite restaurant, when would you realize?'

                          Almost instantly.

                          'If they refused to hire black hosts or hostesses, would you know? Or would your first inkling be on the 5 o'clock news?'

                          I'm pretty sure I'd notice. I have a repertoire of favorite restaurants in my area and I'm friendly with most of the servers and hosts/hostesses.

                          Many of my favorite places are run by and staffed by Hispanic people. I've never seen a white person working there. Does it bother me? No.

                          I eat where the food is good and the atmosphere is fun, mostly on recommendations from my friends. I trust their opinions.

                          Food journalists? Who do you mean? Can you give an example?

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: thingmaker

                            The primary critic of a newspaper. Are any of them black?

                            1. re: Steve

                              Have you checked with any of the associations of food professionals and culinary journalists to get current data on membership statistics, minority recruitment programs, etc.?

                              1. re: Steve

                                Who would know? How many black journalists want to be the food critic? Do you think a newspaper should force one of their black reporters (of which there are many) to do the food column just because the industry as a whole needs more black representation in that area? The proposition is ridiculous.

                                Newspapers are struggling. What they want are good writers who will increase readership. No paper which needed a food reviewer would reject someone who was knowledgeable about food and who was a good writer for reasons of race. If you feel you have been rejected because of race, you'll just have to sue and try to prove it.

                                  1. re: Steve

                                    Well the new managing editor of the NY Times is black

                                1. While after reflection I have to confess that my Feedly food blog list is darned whitecentric, I have to ask: why aren't minorities firing up their Wordpress accounts and writing about food? There is nothing stopping any person of any ethnic background from writing about anything they want.

                                  (The actual answer is that 9/10 of contemporary food writers are former hedge managers/spouses who fled the rat race and are eating their way through their 401(k)s hoping there's a payday at the other end. And those folks are all white.)

                                  1. The original comment has been removed
                                    1. This is going to be an amusing thread to follow!