Racializing Fried Chicken

For colored girls who can’t enjoy a damn piece of fried chicken without worrying about the racial ramifications of their culinary choices

Source: BusinessWeek

As a non-American, I don’t get a lot of things about America- why chips are called fries; why pickles are an actual thing; why some slices of pizza are almost bigger than a 15″ MacBook Pro; what the ACTUAL rule is for tipping rates (no, seriously, what is it?); why American college kids are so fascinated by alcohol (seriously, those kids don’t drink for drinking sake; they drink to pass out, potentially die, and most definitely lose functionality in their faculties); why some restaurants are open 24 hours (the simultaneously terrifying and impressive fact that you can walk into a store at 3 AM and get yourself a to-go order of a heart attack with a side of atherosclerosis, all under 5 minutes)… the list is endless.

You might be wondering why all my sources of confusion are centered around food. Well, it’s not my fault that America’s social fabric is spun around eating copious amounts of food with potentially lethal portion sizes. For the most part, I’ve been able to attune myself to this culture, even though I don’t get it. I’ve learnt not to be shocked when my friends do Cookout runs at 3 am; I’ve learnt that 1000+ calorie pizza slices are a thing; I’ve come to understand that gluten allergy is an actual medical condition, not one of those made-up diseases that Pfizer commercials try to convince me that I have. By and large, I have gotten with the program.

However, there remains one thing that I consistently fail to wrap my head around: the question of fried chicken and why it seems to be a black people thing. As a non-American black person, I’ve had to learn a lot of things about what it means to be black in America. Coming from a country with 99% (I’m making this figure up, but you get the point) black people, I never really grew up having to be conscious of my race. I mean, I knew I was black, but it’s not something that Nigerians walk around thinking about. When a Nigerian tells you that “you’re black,” they are more than likely referring to your skin pigmentation, not your race. Thus, coming to America, where race seems to be the central theme in any and all social interactions, I’ve had to learn and re-learn what being black in America really means.

One of such lessons is that fried chicken is a racial thing, a black thing, maybe a ghetto thing (smh, America will racialize anything, EVEN chicken). This, guys, has been a hard pill to swallow. Why? Because I LOVE fried chicken. I don’t care about your broiled, grilled, sun-dried, or cold-pressed chicken; the only way chicken should be eaten is fried.

So you can imagine my horror when I learnt that fried chicken was a racialized thing. At first, I was conscious- I didn’t want to be labelled or judged. I didn’t want to be that kind of black (whatever that means), so I’d grudgingly munch on shrimp or turkey while I was out to lunch with my friends. Now, I eat my fried chicken with pride. I don’t really care about the societal markings of my choice of bird. I will eat that crispy bird like it’s ’99, and you will deal. Too many people have toiled and fought for my civil liberties for me to be constrained by the racialization of fried chicken. You can make me drop the Kool Aid and watermelon (actually, no you can’t. I just don’t care for them), but you can’t take away my fried chicken. I have rights!

Anyway, the story is not all gloomy; at least once a year, I get to hop on a plane to Nigeria, where I can enjoy all the fried chicken I want without wondering if people think I’m less “young, black, and gifted” than the next non-fried chicken-eating black person. I leave the country in about two weeks, and the thought of all the non-judgement-inducing fried chicken that will be at my disposal keeps me warm at night.

I have no idea why I’m ranting about fried chicken at 3 in the morning. This is what being on a clean-eating diet does to you- you find yourself up at 3 AM, editorializing about fried bird. In a perfect world, I’d be writing an ode to quinoa and extolling its virtues, the same way I am currently doing for fried chicken. However, this is not a perfect world (if it were, I’d be birthing Idris Elba’s kids. Yet, here we are), and quinoa tastes like pan-seared saw dust.

Off to try and get some sleep, and (attempt to) fantasize about my healthy breakfast the same way I’m fantasizing about chicken.