Thursday, June 24, 2021

But If Memories Were All I Sang, I'd Rather Drive a Truck

For Juneteenth, I brought my lunch to work.  I'm trying a new stir fry 'no meat' beef.  I added tomatoes and spinach.  The texture is amazing and as long as you don't look at it with your glasses on in the light, it works.  My workplace offered a special menu as a celebration of fried chicken, mac and cheese, sweet potatoes, chocolate cake and......watermelon slices.  (queue dramatic orchestral music).  

I read yesterday in the New York Post that there was much dismay in one particular store, with coworkers very upset, threatening to quit and a bunch of walkouts.  I asked our head cook if he heard any similar issues at our location.  He was surprised to hear it and said to me, But you have to understand, This is the food that our people like to eat, so I'm not sure what the problem would be. He looked at me, puzzled and I could tell his feelings were slightly hurt because he cares about the food he serves.  I said, I thinks it's the watermelon because of it's particular connection to the slaves. Some staff found it offensive.  He's black, about my age and when I'm not complimenting his food, we joke at our lockers about how weird the world is getting.  People our age tend to be taken off guard at how huge problems get so quickly. We shake our heads and end a lot of quick talks with, it's crazy out there, be safe, be well.      

The rest of the day I grilled coworkers for their thoughts.  It became, as always such an enlightened Brooklyn take on the subject, meaning, the opposite.  My Chinese coworker right away remarked that for Pan Asian heritage, they simply put a slide on the screen with useless trivia and threw all the Asians together in one week with No food, no celebration!  She went on to say, How hard it is to make some rice or some fuckin shits!?  Her voice is elevating now saying, I don't need to fucking know how many people live in Korea yo, just give me some fucking food!  Yo! but I'll take the time and a half, thank you very much!  Make it a paid holiday like Juneteenth.   

This throws me off a bit, so now I digress remembering, for Latin Heritage month, we barely had anything either.  No screen slide even, just the weirdest taco made with asian spiced meat, broccoli and fake cheese sauce. That's it, no salsa or beans.  And I remember that taco bar was shameful and laughed thinking, I was glad my parents weren't alive to see it.  But even worse, the majority of Latinos working there are Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican, so bad tacos were further off the mark.  It feels silly to complain or have deep thoughts on what my store decides to serve in the staff cafeteria for these holidays.  And of course they fuck it up, we fuck everything up in that store from soup to nuts.

On the other hand, the Mexicans and Central Americans, as well as the Chinese sort of kept this city going foodwise during the pandemic, running the restaurants, produce markets, grocery stores and delivery services.  NO ONE was out there at some points except for these kind folks and at risk to their own families.  But it's ridiculous to expect the store cafeteria to take on the cities job of honoring these silent heroes.  This isn't a backhanded slight to my people, I realize, and come back to the conversation.

My coworker has more to say,  For St Patrick's Day they pulled off that amazing corned beef and cabbage spread that was slow cooked all night, yo.  Rice takes 20 minutes! she said.  The Russian girl starts talking and we all go internal because we can think of no example of Russian food period.  Then, in a simultaneous eruption of fervor, we all made note of the no holds barred, extraordinary celebration of Gay Pride going on as we speak.  We not only have banners, we raised a flag outside with a ceremony, we have table graphics and giant rainbows hanging from our ceiling.  There is a big screen with a tutorial explaining ALL the sexual orientations and a game at the end to make sure they really drilled in all the ways you're to behave and talk around these individuals as if they are suddenly another species entirely, further separating them as far as I see it.  They made actual flags, hundreds, each color represented. Plus, there is a photo booth complete with hats, boas, funny glasses to take photos.  We replace our store bags with rainbow bags.  This will be up for the entire month of June!  As a side note, I found it interesting that even though we have a huge population of LGBTQ+ in the store, no one participated in the photo booth and when I have witnessed folks taking a flag, they pick it up like they're taking holy communion at church all quietly walking back to their seats for some odd reason.  And when is the too colorful, boa wearing flamboyant gay guy portrayal going to be offensive? Any minute.  

So, everyone so far, had more of a 'where is my celebration' angle rather than reacting to the menu faupaux, which is the refreshing thing about Brooklyn, bad or good.  With only a few people, the conversation will quickly grow very lively, loud and boisterous and never stay on point.  I asked the Afro Rican and he was ready with his somber take, It was Horrible!  What an incredible fail for the company.  He was visibly ruffled, which was expected for this person who is a gossip monger, a bully and is very rude to ethnicities that he does not prefer.   I've witnessed this hundreds of times through the years, so it's a little hard for me to be there for his level of righteousness on this subject. He tells us, this has gotten very serious, the president of the company had to made a statement about it and went on to inform us that several people would not eat that day at our store and were very upset.  I asked, Was it....the watermelon, specifically?  Wondering if possibly it was the entire menu.  He went on to tell me the story I had just read verbatim on Google about how owners fed watermelon to their slaves.   

This ends the conversation and we all disperse.   On an issue so sensitive, it does me no good to doubt his sincerity or to notice how some individuals seem to relish in finding new ways to feed their victimized story these days. 

Moe's Bar, a famous local black owned establishment where a white artist paints the black artist themed mural.  

I have to laugh at the irony of it, not for any reason other than because this poor company has gone ALL IN on each and every issue of social integrity.  At this point, we're floating in graphics, posters, banners, takeaways, videos, overhead announcements, walls of information on global warming, racial equality, gender relations, community outreach, diversity, recycling, exercise importance, diet awareness, we have a green roof, an oyster farm on site, a foodbank, they made a waterway park, we're working to be a 100% sustainable, and we have tons of programs to promote mental health.  

Somehow, an amazing summer treat got thrown in a menu by it's own staff and now after the New York Post article, the higher ups at this same company might as well be wearing black face.  The local NAACP is now looking for more acceptable apologies and answers.  And it was a mistake.  That's why it's so funny.  Another reason it could be more funny is that black staff were most likely in on the decision making, we're hearing both sides internally.  The reason it's not funny is that some people truly were offended and hurt.  Our store basically served the exact same thing and most definitely included many black staff.  I'm just saying, it was a mistake.  And hey guess what, we're all dumbbells, as Don Rickles used to say.  This doesn't have to turn into a deliberate racist action ESPECIALLY from a company with such a track record of I would say almost overdoing it on the correctness.  

An unpopular theory of mine is all of this honoring of specific groups started from a good place and was needed, but now perhaps it only serves to keep us centered on all our differences and ways in which we've been mistreated in the past, to continue identifying ourselves by it, which is not where we want to be.

Also, let's face it, one retailer can never please everyone and as we continue to correct more and more questionable stereotypes, it's only going to get much worse.  Soon every single characterization of a group for a celebration will most definitely offend multiple people. That is very clear to forecast and for that reason, I think businesses should stay out of politics altogether.  Or only delve in issues that directly relate to the business, like being green and sustainable.  

1 comment:

Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home?