June 19th is Juneteenth or Freedom Day, an annual holiday which commemorates the abolition of slavery in 1865, first in Texas, then across the Confederate South to the surprising number of places where slavery still existed after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Most celebrations tend to be local affairs, but Juneteenth-inspired menus typically pop up in restaurants and corporate kitchens around the country. And that’s where things can get interesting. But for Michael Twitty, culinary historian, chef, TED fellow and writer, it’s rarely interesting enough. Who gets to decide what’s black food and what isn’t is a complex bit of business. (Remember when Whole Foods (WFM) tried to cook collards?) “People are trying to be sensitive by serving “classic” soul food dishes,” he says. “But we can do better than fried chicken.”
It takes some work, however. “When you grow up African American, you grow up with a sense that you’re not ethnic, you’re just ‘racial’,” says Twitty. “And ‘racial’ doesn’t come with any sense of heritage.” For African Americans, discovering how food was a part of life before forced immigration is a cultural bridge to the past.
In service of his fascinating quest, Twitty has become a full time explorer. He travels to historical sites — including plantations — recreating southern antebellum kitchens, wearing 19th century clothes, and serving historically accurate meals that would have been prepared by enslaved cooks. He cheekily calls it The Southern Discomfort Tour. And his current project, The Cooking Gene, is an attempt use serogenetics to find genetic relatives to chart their collective history over time through food, and culture. “Forty percent of African Americans today had a relative who was sold through Charleston,” he says. “It’s all complicated.”
So, it’s no surprise that the complexity of history gets played out, in sometimes troubling ways, in modern industrial kitchens. “Who are the people preparing the food?” he asks. “What I know from my own travels is that the people who are working in the kitchens of the restaurants, corporations, schools and other big institutions are rarely the ones who are eating well.”
And Latinos and the other new immigrants who increasingly populate these kitchens, are losing access to their heritage and culinary traditions, raising families in food deserts, and forced to rely on cheaper, more convenient American fast food. “This is something we’ve become used to.”
The solutions must live beyond an ethnic holiday, he says.
For more – and some special Juneteenth recipes from Michael – click here.
Happy Freedom Day! raceAhead returns June 21.
|A Father’s Day tribute pokes fun at tech|
|Gillette deserves props both for this touching YouTube ad on the importance of father-son relationships, but also for the authentic diversity of the cast they used. “It was the only way to do justice to the power of the idea,” John Mang, VP, Global Gillette told raceAhead. Bring tissues.|
|Budget-crunched schools have more cops than counselors|
|One of the first jobs to go when money gets tight, school counselors provide essential support for kids who are struggling, stressed, depressed, anxious or experiencing abuse. Yet there is plenty of money for police: A recent report released by the U.S. Department of Education shows that 1.6 million K-12 kids go to schools that employ cops but no guidance counselors.|
|Certain races at a disadvantage in credit markets|
|The St. Louis Fed’s June working paper, “The Demographics of Loan Delinquency,” examines demographic correlations between problems paying loans and things like race, ethnicity and education. “Even controlling for “good vs. bad choices and behavior,” being old is an advantage and being black is a disadvantage in credit markets,” finds the report.|
|St. Louis Fed|
|A historic museum prepares to open its doors|
|The National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, is scrambling to complete preparations for a month of high level celebrations before its official opening September 24th. Dignitaries and stars from around the world will be attending a White House reception, among other events. The museum has raised $273.6 million, including $20 million from Oprah Winfrey, its largest single donor.|
|Your network doing work|
|Damien Hooper-Campbell has been named Ebay’s first chief diversity officer. Previously, Campbell was the first Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Uber. He starts July 18. He’s promised raceAhead readers an inside look at his first 100 days.|
The Woke Leader
|When hair is a radical act|
|In a surprisingly touching series of interviews, Marion Giovalucchi asks ten African women from across the continent to talk about their natural hair and what it means to them. That the conversations happened at The Natural Hair Academy in Paris adds an element of cultural defiance to the conversation.|
|Asian-Americans talk candidly about race|
|In this New York Times mini-documentary, a series of people from an array of Asian backgrounds recall their earliest encounters with racism, race anxiety and their own identities. “’You’re the color of poop!!’” one man recalls his sandbox crush telling him in first grade. Another was warned by her father, “I can tell that you’re Korean on the phone,” and then encouraged her to sound more white.|
|New York Times|
|The world is off limits to Indians|
|Deepti Kapoor begins this hilarious first person account of the travel limitations placed on her by her government – specifically, how hard it is to get visas for her passport – with this question: How many Indian backpackers have you met? Turns out, not being able to travel freely has some pretty unfunny implications.|