Fried Chicken, Black Fear and White Stereotypes

by Kirsten West Savali

The chains around the mind are the hardest ones to break.

Fried chicken came to be associated with Black folks because no one can do it better. Is that a bad thing? Many White people love fried chicken just as much as many of us do, do you see them duck their heads in shame while eating their two piece and a biscuit in front of us?

Some of us have become so conditioned to hate ourselves that we can’t even bear to see a Black woman say “crispy chicken” without being thrust back to the plantation.

I don’t think that’s Burger King’s fault and there is no way in hell they should have offered an apology that was the equivalent to:

“We’re sorry, we had no idea that Black people are still traumatized by the fact that the world knows they enjoy fried chicken, as does almost every ethnic group in creation; we’ll make sure never to assume that we’ve progressed at least that far in the racial conversation again.”

Is that what we want?

Would we rather an apology for a “crispy chicken” commercial than an apology from the Sanford Police Department for their blatant corrupt racism when dealing with the murder of Trayvon Martin?

Would we rather Mary J. apologize for the commercial being “unfinished,” than Alabama District Attorney, Ashley Rich, apologize for keeping Rodney Stanberry, an innocent man, in prison for 16 years and counting for a crime that he didn’t commit?

What about Kendrec McDade in Pasadena or Ramarley Graham in New York? I’m sure their families would appreciate an apology for the police gunning down their sons.

Instead, some of us would rather be concerned about Mary J. singing her heart out about a Burger King chicken wrap.

This is not to say that I don’t understand where the gnawing fear is coming from – and that’s what it is, fear. We don’t want to be “n**gers” by association. We don’t want to be deemed fried chicken, finger-licking, second class-citizens who sing for their supper. There is a history of judgment and ridicule that comes along with being Black in this country and the outcry is really saying, “Mary don’t make a fool of us in public.”

I get it.

Still, none of us are reflections of the actions – good, bad or otherwise — of Mary J. Blige, who also should not have apologized; nor should we feel guilty for eating chicken anytime, anywhere and any way we want it.

We must evolve to the point where we refuse to let stereotypes define who we are and how we feel about ourselves if we are ever to be truly free in this country – not just in theory, but in truth.

 

  • http://afrikanmami.blogspot.com African Mami

    Ashamed to eat fried chicken?! Ya’ll should see me eating my goat!!!! LLLAAAAAWWWWWWWD hammmmmmmmmercy.

    @j-philly,
    don’t mess my goat moment with your fruits, nuts, grains and veggies mantra-which I love boo, but not today! By the way, pick me up at the train station, it’s Friday. Coming to parrrrrry in the illy-philly!!!!

  • Mina

    If Mary J didn’t make herself look like a coon, we wouldn’t be having any problems eating fried chicken. We all eat fried chicken, just some of us eat in private. If a mass of black people (900,000 or more) just came together and made eating fried chicken look innovative, chic, modern, intelligent, sophisticated and cool, we wouldn’t have to worry about any negative stereotypes about us because we turned those stereotypes into positive ones. Koreans and Chinese love fried chicken just as much as we do, but hell, they’re proud and show it! Why can’t we? I’m still going to love eating fried chicken. I’m sort of bougie but not really. But I will continue to eat fried chicken in the face of the white man and spit it in his face too. I’m one of the most creative when it comes to fried chicken and I don’t care. If I had a TV show one Food Network about stereotypical black foods, I’d turn all those stereotypes into positive ones where they’ll no longer hold any power over our heads. Stop claiming the bullshit of negative stereotypes and change it instead!

  • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com/ Val

    Here was the problem with the BK commercial; Burger King hired several celebs to do spots touting their new menu items. People like David Beckum and a few others. But Mary was the only Black celeb, I believe, and they had her singing about chicken. There’s something wrong with that picture. If all the celebs were promoting the chicken then I don’t think it would have been a problem. But having the one Black celeb promoting the chicken was a little strange.

  • http://itsoftenbeensaid.wordpress.com Sasha

    I generally dislike everything Ms. West writes but I really enjoyed this piece and agreed with all of her points.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    meat will kill you…….

  • jamesfrmphilly

    meat will kill you…….

  • MsDiannaT

    I didn’t really have a problem with her singing about chicken. It’s just that the commercial was overall awful and poorly executed. It looked unfinished and sounded very pitchy. I don’t see why people were offended though. I live in the south and EVERYONE eats and loves fried chicken.

  • Cyndi

    I’ve never understood this stereotype. As a (mostly) white girl in metro ATL, fried chicken, potato salad, cole slaw, biscuits and watermelon were just what we ate on Sundays after church or in the park on my Great Grandma’s birthday. It’s a Southerner thing, not a black thing.

  • Margaret

    I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s not just the product she is advertising it’s the way they have her doing it.

  • http://cupofjo-jo.blogspot.com bk chick

    My mouth just wartered while looking at that fried chicken! Guess I should start shuckin andjivin…on a serious note I hate when ppl say “where’s the outrage when…” Because a) it suggests there is no outrage within the problems plaguing the black community and b) it makes it seem like media images are trivial and have little impact on our progress”actually think its a good thing that we stick up for ourselves in some aspects cuz it shows we’ re not totally hopeless…all our other problems and ” outrage against them are not publicized because they are internal issues and not seen as relevant to the nation at large and that’s y u don’t hear much about it

  • No

    No. I don’t think you get it. There has been many a reported incident of blacks especially black women being used as selling points for food ( southern foods especially e.g. fried chicken) and food related items in order to conjure up nostalgia for the “good ole south” that never existed as well as to suggest blacks proper place. Additionally all of the other celebrities for this burger king campaign advertised the healthier aspects of the menu while Mary J. Blige the only black celebrity was given the chicken wrap. I don’t blame Mary J. for burger king’s poor marketing decision but obviously this is about more than a chicken wrap.

  • Beautiful Mic

    And that dollar menu will cause you to have high medical needs/bills. instead of the dollar menu, buy a bag of beans (not a can) and cook them.

  • Ms. Information

    I’m sorry, it’s a bad look…commercials often have us SANGIN about food…when was the last time you saw another race of people in a commercial singing about how good the food was? It is the fulfillment of stereotype and the marketing of bad food to an already poor and unfit community. Go to youtube and read some of the stuff internet racists have to say…it includes telling black people to go eat chicken with their big lips, calling black women nappy headed and every thing you could imagine.

  • GEE

    I feel no reason for Mary J. to apologize. Though I don’t know where she was raised, fried chicken is a staple, along with candy yams and a lot of “comfort” food that brings us back to “home”…that feeling of love and family. I love her and her journey….love, love, love.

  • http://www.loveaffairsevent.com Crystal Fowler

    All this did was made me want some fried chicken…Paula Dean does it best with Southern Comfort Cuisine.

  • http://www.loveaffairsevent.com Crystal Fowler

    Okay I agree with you…I loooove southern foood. Once a week ain’t gonna kill you!

  • gmarie

    Because singing is her talent. That is what she’s known for, she is a mega music star. When celebs are used to endorse products, more often than not they play up the talents they are known for. Are you suggesting Burger King should have had David Beckham singing a jingle in a commercial? sweet jesus black people are in deeper ish than I originally thought!

  • Tonton Michel

    Completely missed the mark, there is a difference between liking fried chicken and singing and bopping about fried chicken which is playing to a stereotype, which BTW not all black people like or eat. She knew it was suspect thus her apology. Allowing small missteps like this would open the door for blatant offenses which some of you would have a fit over and start crying foul, like the Obama Fried Chicken Restaurant, or Fuzzy Zoeller telling the news crews to tell Tiger Woods not to serve fried chicken next year or collard greens at the Masters Champions Diner, or the Flava Flav burgeoning fried chicken restaurant.

    It’s the subtle offense you have to watch out for.

  • http://www.purplekeychain.blogspot.com purplekeychain

    I love fried chicken. ‘Nuff said.

    Like, if anybody wants to be mad, they should be mad as hell about the ignorant Popeyes commercials. ‘Cause, you know, it’s not “fried” chicken, it’s “FRAAAD” chicken.

    I get the outrage. But that’s what advertising does — “you see one of your own/one of your fans doing/buying/wearing something, you will do it, too” — right? It’s like a less-extreme version of Minority Report: “John Anderton, you could use a Guinness RIGHT NOW!”

    I’m beyond being outraged by advertisers. I have said, for YEARS now, that I hate the way that I am advertised and marketed to, that some 21 year old fresh out of college or some old geezer gets to decide what appeals to me. I’m a serial channel flipper — I refuse to watch commercials.

  • http://www.purplekeychain.blogspot.com purplekeychain

    ETA: “you see one of your own/one of your IDOLS doing/buying/wearing something, you will do it, too”

  • RickiTruth

    You make no sense….because last time I checked Beckham wasn’t doing anything in the commercial to highlight his “talents”….and what the previous person said still is true….the ONLY. Black one in the.series of.commercials was.singing about fried.chicken…

  • CityGal

    Amen Kirsten. If any outrage exists, it should be aimed at MJB for agreeing to do this in the first place. Nobody forced her to sing about chicken. She agreed and was paid to do it. It’s not BK’s fault that black people are ashamed of the fact that they love fried chicken.

  • golden_girl

    @ Mina wrote: “We all eat fried chicken, just some of us eat in private.”

    LMAO!!!!!!!

  • gmarie

    because she was the .only.celebrity.featured. that. sings.
    You are aware that Beckham also models right? well if not, now you know. All he really needed to do was be present…

  • The Taker

    THHHIIISSSSS… I appreciate this article. Folks was really tripping cause Mary sang about some damn chicken. Pathetic. I don’t care for the commercial but I wasn’t offended by the sh*t either. At this time, I’m really over this stupid stereotype, I’m freaking over black folks talking about ” I don’t want white folks seeing me eat chicken or watermelon in public”<<<seriously,how stupid and pitiful does this sound. Maybe it's because I'm from a younger black generation where at this point, we could give two sh*ts what the others have to say nor think about us. I think that's the only way to move forward and be confident. You can't keep letting other people's negative and ignorant misconceptions hold you down. Idk, I really just do not care.

  • Syd

    Thank you!!! I’m so over what white people think about me or my people. Who really cares!

  • CHE

    Exactly – Ashamed of eating fried chicken or singing about it….give it to me, Ill eat it!.
    Some Black people are funny and MJB apologizing…..

  • Shirl

    This whole debate is funny to me and the fried chicken in that picture made my mouth water. I’m gonna put on my big sunglasses, a wig, fake mustache, a fat suit, go to the airport pick up a rental car, drive over to Popeyes and get a spicy 3-piece. I’ll be sure and place the bag and the bones in the bottom of trash in case any of the Sanitation workers scheduled to pick up the trash tomorrow happen to be Caucasian. Oh hell I’ll just run em out to the local landfill just to be on the safe side…

  • babe

    So true!! I agree wholeheartedly! I love fried chicken and I will eat it when and wherever I choose no matter who is around, also watermelon!!! I live on watermelon in the summer. By the way, watermelon is good for you, apparently the slaves on the plantation knew that watermelon was not only good, but good for you!!!!!

    We have other things to be concerned about people! Like keeping Obama in the white House! And buying Black (goods and services). If you buy black you empower your community and take power away from those who don’t want to employ you. It sure beats begging for jobs!!!!!!!

  • babe

    Oh, and by the way, white people, minorities and pretty much everyone, excluding vegans and vegetarians, eat and love fried chicken.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    “white people, minorities and pretty much everyone”

    and they all suffer from stroke, heart disease and other disease as a result

  • Shirl

    Everything in moderation jamesfrmphilly. Everybody know too much of a good thang can killya : )

  • jamesfrmphilly

    crack in moderation? meth in moderation? some things will kill you.
    the most insidious are the slow acting poisons.
    at the end of the day you will pay.

  • E.M.S.

    I’m not ashamed to eat fried chicken, I just plain don’t like it. I prefer my chicken baked or grilled because that’s what I ate growing up.

    Whether someone is poking fun at us for being black and liking fried chicken or for being black and NOT liking fried chicken, it’s ridiculous. How about we just be allowed to eat what we want and people stop judging? We’re always “not black enough” or “too black” for SOMEBODY in society…smh.

  • Bee

    Thank you for this post! I was disturbed by the hubbub over the commercial, that black folks could dedicate such energies to protesting a chicken commercial, so much that the corporation caved and pulled the ad. If we can get that worked up over fried chicken and be that effective in our indignation, imagine the sh*t we could fix if we got that indignant about the important things. Again, thank you for this post! I agreed with every word of it.

  • Bee

    +1

  • apple

    Today i went try that new chicken wrap. I see why she was dancing on tables ! That sh*t was delicious!

  • Shirl

    Oh my God jamesfrmphilly unclench your buttocks and lighten up a little…geesh we are talking about chicken

  • QoNewC

    Girl you had me laughing at work.

  • dragonldy73

    I don’t get it. It is not a racial incident. We black folk are so overly sensitive that I can take it no more. EVERYTHING is racist if you let us tell it. I have been seeing for nearly two weeks where people are screaming and crying over this dumb commercial. I pose this one question–has no one seen the Zatarain’s commercial with the big greasy black woman playing that spice shaker over the veggies like a tambourine? Now, THAT one bothers me to no end. It’s the one where the black guy is playing the piano and the veggies are being chopped up by a series of knives and as they pass a point she is playing that damn spice shaker like a tambourine in a southern black church in the 80s. If you are going to get mad get mad over that one.

    If you think about it back in the slavery times we blacks didn’t even get to eat the fried chicken and watermelon that was served for the masters. They ate the scraps. Yeah, everyone eats fried chicken. If anything it would be considered southern comfort foods. And as many have stated–I stopped eating fried chicken years ago. I am too lazy to stand over a stove so bake. Not to mention that it’s healthier. But let’s stop being ignorant and playing into the stereotype.. And on another note–if it’s such a misrepresentation someone please explain to me why it was that when Popeye’s had that 8pc for $5 last year they sold out nation wide within a few hours. I heard of lines being down the streets. So, stop stuntin’. BTW, who eats fried chicken in private? I’ve never heard that one. I would just say leave the hot sauce at home, but if that’s what you like do you.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    fried chicken will kill you. stroke. diabetes. heat disease.
    isn’t it funny that some people react negatively to life saving knowledge?
    the typical black diet is poisonous. if you do not change you will suffer and you will die.
    i have suffered and i have seen my friends and family die. that is real.

    i would like to save some young person from the same fate.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables………

  • edub

    lol. i love this because it’s so true, james.

  • Travis

    This is a commercial. Take it for the entertainment it is and stop reading more to it than it really is.

  • JessicaMercedes

    1) Burger King has used an “urban” style of advertising for years. So has Sprite. It didn’t shock me or seem out of the ordinary for them to come out with this toe tapping commercial (uh oh – was that racist?). I don’t think this commercial is racist in the least bit.
    2) Just because there is a crazy stereotype about black people and fried chicken, does that mean we should never be seen with fried chicken? Just like a black person should never be seen in a hoodie because of a stupid stereotype that we look like criminals. GTFOH with that.
    Every race around this country eats fried chicken and enjoys it! Fried chicken is a southern comfort food. Black people aren’t the only ones that enjoy it. I’m not saying that its okay to eat it for dinner every night, but every now and then is not going to kill you.

  • Shirl

    Jamesfrmphilly: my apologies…I know you meant well. I just think the whole commercial thing is ridiculous. I still believe in moderation when it comes to certain foods though. If fried foods are your daily diet, like you said, it can and will kill you.

  • TheBestAnonEver, Part 2

    Sooooo you want to alter your behavior based on youtube comments? I am sorry to be rude, but that is beyond pathetic. Live your life and drop the burden of appeasing to white people. Stop giving them power over you. Look around you, look at the non-black people in your everyday life. Are these the people you are giving your power to? Have you seen them? SMH.

  • Dan Costalis

    Thank you for this. Had I chosen to write about this, my sentiments would have been almost identical. Now I return to my…. whatever it is us white people are known for eating. I guess grilled cheese and diet coke or something. organic cheese of course.

  • MsQuita

    I love this and TOTALLY agree.

  • Jones

    This article made me laugh at the subject matter being discussed! The fried chicken saga rolls on!

    The author is absolutely correct, mind you.

    White people and Black people – we both have our unique challenges in life, don’t we? (I am a YT)

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