feature: my multimedia dinner series to explore blackness in america

March 21, 2016

“Nothing of what we design is politically innocent. Architecture, furniture, clothing, art, books, but also laws and policies constitute artifacts that are important to critically question at a political level.” – Leopold Lambert
I’m a cook and restaurants are a political space— spaces where broader social dynamics play out yet we are invited to ignore them “at least for the evening.”

and we think it’s okay to suspend our critical selves. to escape for a bit and descend on dishes desperate for our approval, served on preened plates in pinched portions.

no it isn’t. each bite reinforces forcefully, systems that most of us quarrel with.

i’m launching a new dinner series to explore, more explicitly, themes that are politically relevant. because dining spaces have more to say than what is served on their plates.

my current dinner series explores blackness in america through conversations about ideas such as colorism, black excellence, structural racism— over nigerian food.

the dinners are being held in spaces specifically contrived as a “black spaces”— places where the perspective of black folks is priority. the food, traditional nigerian food, is another important element of the dinner because it also prioritizes non-american, specifically african cuisine, over the dominant eurocentric flavor profiles.

By Tunde Wey, AFROPUNK Contributor *

i journaled my preparation leading up to these dinners and i want to share them with you.

  • with my iPhone i recorded some friends as we discussed blackness and race. the conversations were informal, and usually in public places: restaurants, bars, the riverfront. each person i recorded is a guest at my dinner.

  • i decided to sketch/ illustrate the folks i recorded. dont ask me why it was just fun.

  • i wrote a few essays, all in a way related to the topic of blackness in america. theyre mostly personal and autobiographical, and not necessarily a literal examination of the topic.

  • finally, i read.

it was a self-purification process of sorts, getting my mind right and ready to talk about these things. i am still reading and re-educating myself about blackness in america.

queens + kings

dr. rashida govan.
rashida is an all-around dope lady. shes dimple-cheeked and tall, with wonderful locks, sometimes plaited intricately. you may find a dash of ankara in her clothing ensemble. shes a scholar, doing research work around education. she also runs a non profit, project butterfly, where she works with young african american girls.

fattoush cafe and restaurant. new orleans, la.

as a nigerian, who was born and raised there, i have been uncomfortable with the afrocentric narrative that depicts african americans as descendants of kings and queens. rashida offers her perspective.

liner notes:

  • the narrative is problematic. its a misleading because it isnt represented in reality the reality of africa. this narrative romanticizes africa and presents it as some mythical place. it perpetuates the fetishization of the people and the place.

  • however regarding africans as kings and queens is an important and necessary counter narrative devised to push back against the popular stereotypes of black folks as violent, hyper sexual and promiscuous.

  • this narrative is not allegorical. it is a literal reference to the authority and power that is possible to black folks, even in their current circumstances. the power possessed by other black people on the continent. africa after all is continent replete with black lawyers, physicians, teachers, inventors, jurists, presidents kings and queens.

  • theres a systematic miseducation of black folks, that defines blackness through the lens of white supremacy. this lens creates a limited view of the possibilities and esteem of black folks.

  • africans who are turned off by the afrocentric orientation of some black folks have to realize that as africans they have been indoctrinated into a system that is for the most part self affirming. this indoctrination happens through folklores and stories in which africans are the protagonists. this affirmation is also visibly evident in the systems and power structures africans live in, which are populated by people who look like them. this is a visually powerful reinforcement of the self worth of africans, despite whatever hardships they endure.
    african americans do not necessarily these affirmative cultural reinforcements, at least not in the abundance africans do.

  • the white supremacist version of african american history is a truncated one that suggests a beginning at the transatlantic slave trade. we need counter narratives to offer rebuttals to this.