So last week, inexplicably tied to Earth Day, Popeye’s offered eight pieces of fried chicken for 4.99. People were tee-hee-ing on Twitter and blogs about how Black folks were going to be acting up.
You know how Black folks are about fried chicken. Some of us anyway.
I don’t mess with the stuff.
Let me clarify.
I was raised on the stuff. At least three nights a week, my mom threw some wings in a heavy-duty brown paper bag, added flour and spices, shook it up and pan-fried them until they were crispy. A few were drained on paper towels. A few would go back into the pan to be smothered in gravy. These wings were served with white rice and greens or spinach.
Even at a very young age, I was very particular about what parts of the chicken I would eat.
1. This is the only true meaty part of a chicken wing. I’d take a bite into that part. And get a mouthful of white meat. Fine by me.
2. I don’t mess with this area. It’s veiny, full of gristle and weird stuff. Very little meat.
3. Unless the wing is deep fried, I’m not messing with this area either. Way too much veiny mystery meat.
I would take my one and a half bites of chicken wing and then push them to the side. My dad would say, “You done with those? Hmph.” He’d take ’em off my plate and work them over until you could literally see the ball and socket of that chicken’s wing.
Even my little sister, five years younger, could work over a chicken wing. My dad would hold up her gleaming wing and say, “See Aliya. This is how you eat a chicken wing.”
I think part of my issue with wings is that they look too similar to the animal’s actual body part.
I’m a would-be vegetarian who goes on and off meat every so often. Sometimes my body seems to crave a bloody carcass. Other times, I feel like a PETA advocate and seeing those little wings, once attached to feathers and beating hearts. Well, it totally skeeves me out.
A burger bears no resemblance to its origin. I can pretend burger patties grow on trees.
But a wing, (and a breast and a leg and a thigh), can not be disguised.
There’s another issue I have with chicken wings. And part of the reason why you wouldn’t have caught me at Popeye’s on Earth Day or any other day.
Eating chicken requires…delicateness. If I’m going to eat it, it’s with family or at my parent’s house. Not in a restaurant or at a picnic with random folks I don’t know.
I’m not so into breaking apart food with my hands and eating things that require my teeth to be bared.
I told a friend this once. And she rolled her eyes and said, “That’s ’cause you’re not Black enough to eat fried chicken.”
I was offended by this. But whatever. That’s a post for another day.
There are definitely historical issues associated with Black folks and chicken that give me pause. Like most foods associated with Black folks, (ex: chitterlings), fried chicken goes back to medieval times in Europe. It became a southern dish then a Black southern dish.
And the imagery surrounding Black folks and fried chicken can be disturbing. Ever heard of the Coon Chicken Inn?
It was a popular restaurant in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington throughout the ’30’s and 40’s. It was closed in the early 50s. Here’s a picture of the menu.
The NAACP actually sued the Coon Chicken Inn in the 1930s for this racist imagery. The company changed the background color of the logo from black to blue. And took out the word “coon” on the logo. (Though the name remained Coon Chicken Inn.)
Let’s not forget, in 2009, Black folks are still equated with fried chicken. Obama’s presidency brought up a sprinkling of pure insanity:
There is actually a point to my post.
I was embarassed when I heard about my people getting severely bent out of shape when their local Popeye’s restaurant either ran out of chicken before they could cop or didn’t honor the national campaign at all.
I cringed when I heard about people taking cabs to get to the one Popeye’s restaurant in Minnesota. Really? It was that deep? You took a cab to a fast-food restaurant to buy some friend chicken? Come on.
When I heard about KFC offering a free piece of chicken to celebrate their new grilled chicken, I couldn’t help but wonder if my folks were gonna wild out once again.
A Twitter-friend told me not to worry. Black folks like fried chicken. Not grilled.
But still, I thought, it’s free.
I thought it would be fun to go to KFC today and cop a free piece of grilled chicken. But there was something nagging at me. Did I really want to go to a fast-food joint, a chicken joint and get a free anything?
I can’t even bring myself to use coupons. I feel stupid standing there with a piece of colored paper with jagged edges. Talking about, “this says fifty cents off when you buy seven…”
It’s just not me.
And y’all know I’m on a tight budget these days. So if I went to KFC and they were on some bullcrap, I know I would end up buying something just to save face. There’s no way I was gonna just walk away looking hungry if they said, “nope. No free chicken here.”
So me and Tog hung out all day today. Library. Starbucks. Window-shopping. And when I coudn’t put it off anymore, I drove to Glenwood Avenue to my neighborhood KFC.
I stayed in the car for a while, checking the signage. There was nothing anywhere that said, “free chicken.”
Tog looked up at the window and said, “Chicken?!”
“Yeah. Maybe.” I said.
We got out. I left my purse in the car. And then, at the last minute, I grabbed my wallet.
I wait on line, wondering what I’m supposed to say.
“Hey, I just want a free piece of chicken.”
I wanted to say that. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
“Can I get a biscuit please,” I told the young man at the counter.
My throat actually started to get a little tight! Why was I so embarassed by this?
“Um. Can I get the…Are you offering the…”
Dude just stood there, waiting for me to finish.
“Is today the day you’re offering a sample of your new grilled chicken?”
Yup. That’s what I said. I wanted to kick myself. I sounded like a bougie idiot.
“Yeah. But you have to buy something. If you’re definitely getting this biscuit you can try the chicken.”
“Fine.” I said.
He gave me a warning look.
“The biscuit is 69 cents,” he said. “Is that okay?”
My teeth were on edge.
“Yes, that’s fine.”
“74 cents with tax,” he said, before ringing it up.
I think he was trying to be funny.
He picked up the tongs and started picking around the chicken.
“Do you want a wing or a leg?” he asked.
I knew better than to ask for a breast, the only part of the chicken I can really eat.
“I’ll take a wing.”
I really wish my camera wasn’t on the fritz. Because that was the saddest grilled chicken wing I’ve ever seen in my life. It had to be at least five hours old. The seasonings were barely there. I pulled off a piece from the meaty part and let Tog taste it. She chewed it thoughtfully. I offered her another piece and she said, “no thank you mommy!”
I tried it myself. Dried out. Bland. No good.
And worst of all, it wasn’t free. I saw the commercials all day long on Sunday. They didn’t say anything about free sample with purchase. They just said: free.
I don’t like chicken. But I do like free.
I’m still uncomfortable with the imagery surrounding Black folks and chicken. And I should have known that KFC was up to no good when they put this video on their homepage. What in the?!?! Is that first woman dancing like a chicken? Oh hell no.
dear readers: free chicken. fried chicken. grilled chicken. popeye’s. kfc. cultural stereotypes. discuss.
I’d love to hear from you…