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This has been an amazing day.
Summer has it on the shelf next to the copy of Roots she inherited from her Grandmother.
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/food-historian-reckons-black-roots-southern-food-180964285/?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=socialmedia If you want to check out Smithsonian magazine’s coverage.
Or…if you missed this morning’s piece on the NPR show “On Point,” listen here. Its a really great conversation about who “owns” Southern food.
Want some recipes? Try this piece from the Toledo Blade.
I’m busy but grateful and I’m going to update!
Love you 🙂
AND WE STILL NEED YOU TO SPREAD THE WORD: SUPPORT US ON THUNDERCLAP, IT WON’T COST YOU ANYTHING AND IT WILL GET THE WORD OUT ABOUT THE BOOK! I NEED 212 MORE SHARERS/SUPPORTERS 🙂 WE CAN DO THAT, RIGHT?
I’M ON PBS NEWSHOUR TONIGHT!
Ok. HBO has created tremendous buzz about a show that has everybody talking, even me. It’s a show called “Confederate,” the South won, time moved on, slavery and abolitionist sentiments and battles over freedom evolved through our own day.
To put it in Entertainment Weekly’s words:
But wait, isn’t that already the reality we essentially live in micro form now?
Not knocking you HBO, seriously, it reminds me of the mockumentary “CSA: Confederate States of America” in which the most salient feature were television advertisements for enslaved Black people and “Cops” reimagined as a show about slave catching. It’s interesting that a show is being produced in the twilight of “Underground,” a show that gave Obama era passion and swag to the abolitionist movement…of course, not your show not your channel, not your problem. And yet, a whole new generation of people were tuned in to learn about slavery and the resistance against it. As an interpreter of slavery, a Black man who willingly chooses to portray and give voice to the lives of his enslaved Ancestors, this is a gift. It’s hard to get African Americans to visit and therefore become stewards of the history of their Ancestors’ plantation experience. When we dont show up, we can’t police the narratives others tell and can’t speak up for our dead. But that’s not your baggage, not your problem, right?
Your show concept is cool until we begin to think of all the other alt-history moments that would be equally provocative but seem unimaginable because of our addictive, national obsession with structurally racist ideas. What if Dr. King became president or Dr. Betty Shabazz or Coretta Scott King or Fred Hampton or Myrlie Evers? What if Haiti fomented rebellion to free enslaved African Americans? What if, and this is really crazy….if enslaved Africans were completely freed in 1776 or even 1789. Or maybe shucks, full and permanent equality and voting rights after the Civil War?
Just imagine if our 1776 hero Kwaku Walker is emancipated on July 4th. What if he got to change his surname back to Ayensu after a full apology and recompense in a land share by his former slaveholder. Imagine that some would repatriate, others would encourage the United States to abolish the slave trade. A large portion might demand representation in the government. And in the spirit of freedom of religion and assembly later guaranteed, the Orisha, Abosom and Vodu might be worshipped like Allah or Jesus in Black houses of worship. Imagine white children more fully assimilating into African culture and better health and less stress leading to Black majorities from southern Maryland to coastal Georgia where the ancient civilizations of West and Central Africa could flourish in an American context. Maybe Kwame forces Jefferson to rethink his views of racial hierarchies. Maybe he helps cure Benjamin Franklin’s Negrophobia. Imagine Kwaku’s wife Belinda passing down to her daughter’s the knowledge that no man, especially not slaveholders would ever violate her womanhood. Imagine the sanctity of their marriage, parental rights and familyhood protected by law.
Why is the inevitable scene of sexual degradation and semi-pornographic snuffery your show might well have or moments of torture a la sadism/masochism more important than a show that would show the warm promise of what America could have been, not if it had maintained a twisted romantic inspired push pull of moralities, but had in fact honored it’s cause to declare all (men) equal? What if there was no more encroachment on Native lands? Funny, we had a show on your network and dime about coexisting with vampires, but never a notion about Native peoples being able to live in peace with treaty keeping non-Native neighbors. How about if Abigail Adams was able to get her voice heard and American women were liberated long before anyone knew what a lighter or a bra was?
To another point, this show could be a means of being sharp social commentary on today’s vestiges of slavery and the racist past as prologue. If it is, I’m all for it. Indict law enforcement overreach and show it’s roots in slave catching and slave patrols and executions of enslaved people…read Africans in America…for being perceived threats. Show the history of our bizarre accepted exploitation of women of color and the baggage of identity issues we were lobbed with in slavery’s aftermath. The Black body and the agricultural, industrial and cultural products associated with it from the 18th-19th centuries were America’s most valuable holdings ever. Talk about the theft of our labor and culture, talk about our daily ongoing resistance, born of our inception in 1526.
If you’re going to do this, there must be no moral ambiguity. The institution of racial chattel slavery was one of the greatest moral evils in the history of humankind. There is no waffling here. Facts: our world has been shapes by this institution and it’s dregs and aftermath. Slavery keeps claiming victims (and to hell with anyone who dares wince at the word or suggestion.) If you’re going to do this, do it right or not at all.
We live in a country where apologists for this system still exist. Where websites written by so-called neo-Confederates talk about people like me as “feral Negroes.” This is not a time to be merely provocative but preemptive. Voting rights have been under attack ever since they were granted. The so called Alt-Right has introduced Nazi era tactics and is led by Richard Spencer, a spineless racist who once suggested the white West find a “humane” way to exact genocide against African Americans.
We don’t have room for error here. Not one inch, lest others take a mile.
Ever since our one on one phone call, I’ve received a lot of questions about the content of our conversation. You were up front with me at the time about a few issues in your life causing you to withdraw a bit and redirect. Until now I’ve held them close in the spirit of confidence and respect. Now that you’ve gone public about your condition, myasthenia gravis, and journey into sobriety I think we can have a slightly different conversation.
Fate has had you and I cross paths more than once in person. We have never met in person and perhaps that will change. Inshallah, as they say in Senegal—and thank you for the pictures and recommendations you sent along, they came in handy.
As I reflected not only on the recent profile, but on our sparse but pithy interactions and initial conversation, I gave myself a long time to think and reflect on matters. It grieves me that instead of my ideal meeting of the minds—in 2012 when I began The Cooking Gene project—that sensationalism had to intervene before we could get to the bottom of why either of us should give a damn about the other, let alone his opinions.
It has been pointed out by some that the current conversation in Southern food, especially over cultural politics and culinary appropriation is very male. You and I are both male, and with maleness comes a deep measure of privilege but I don’t apologize for the issues of masculinity at play here or at stake. I don’t want to in effect water down the bigger shadows behind us.
It wasn’t until some comments I made about Rick Bayless were re-mixed and taken out of context that I realized what people on either sides of “the debate” were really seeing. I was being incredibly naive. But my critics showed me exactly what they thought of me. I was a loud mouth, pseudo-intellectual, “social (culinary) justice warrior who just wanted to bring down hard working, accomplished white men. Oh, I forgot to add “Black,” loud mouth. The very people decrying my call for greater awareness of the racial politics of food put me in the “Black box.”
Our larger politics has been dominated by people salivating over whether or not our former president, Barack Obama, would be able to survive and come out alive in his various contests against white men. It still is a leitmotif in our current time with the election of The Great White Male Hope. The backdrop of our conversation is an age of an American racial cold war, although some say it’s far from cold, and even I would argue against my phrasing by saying it’s certainly not just tepid.
But to boil it all down to your whiteness or my Blackness is to miss the finer details. I would hope that whatever happens from here on out our efforts are known as more Reconstruction than ever brewing Civil War. “Us” and “them” is not a good look for two people who have never quite exemplified the part. I do not desire to see us portrayed any further as opposing teams or combatants but rather two Southerners grappling with what has been handed down and hopefully, poetically, tastefully leaving a legacy rendering future flashpoints moot.
Why are we here, in this America at this time? Why do we both have fond memories of moms and grandmothers and deep roots in the Southern soil? We both could have done what plenty other people did–gotten the f…. out. Instead we went deeper. We are about the same age. We both have notebooks going back to childhood scribbled with precious food facts that make us guardians of something indescribably transcendent.
We have had, with some very few exceptions, the same goal. We have the same Holy Land, with slightly different maps. We both care that this cuisine of survivors, Antean champions and storytellers be preserved. We both recognize more is at stake than the food. Sean Brock and Michael Twitty are among the many for whom the foundational truth is clear: The Southern path to salvation is within itself, and inasmuch as saving and healing can take place, so will go it’s original sins and with them the ability of America to truly fulfill itself. The South’s phenomenal ingredients, passionate scholars and brilliant culinary minds pave the way for something that can bring true egalitarian power, Appalachia to Lowcountry, Chesapeake to Gulf Coast.
At the same time our individual and distinct journeys to Senegal, West Africa, source of thousands brought enslaved to early America, especially Charleston; have taught us we are both heirs to a deep in the bone African legacy. In some ways you are more socially equipped to advocate for a greater understanding of just how much Africa lives on in contemporary Southernness. In breaking down that wall we are eliminating the idea held by a growing extreme right that purity is what makes Southerners distinct, or that a meaningful conversation can be had among folks of African descent in the South without reference to the largest groups of Africanized Northern European whites on the planet. It is our job to use our plates to revise the mental family tree.
I will say this. I stand by my advocacy against saviorism, against a food media and gatekeepers who privilege certain people and scrutinize others mercilessly. I did not like how some used your story to obscure the legacy of others. I am not sorry that I’m sitting with you at the welcome table by way of nudge, otherwise this important conversation could not happen. We’ve spoken about that. I wish to apologize however if my tone or words have in the past caused you excess stress or impeded your healing process or journey towards a new self. It was never my intention to cause you harm on any of those levels. I am sorry if the agendas of others were allowed to interject what really was a conversation of a personal nature and not as it were a 21st century stand in for Schmelling vs. Louis.
It brings to mind the hymn Amazing Grace, written by a man who formerly traded in human beings from Africa, John Newton wrote what has ironically become the most endearing American hymn if not the unofficial spiritual anthem of the South. Replete with metaphors about seeing the world with new eyes, renewed by spirit, transformed by heartache, it is a sufficient shelter for us both. Much like kintsugi, the Japanese folk art of healing broken vessels with laquer and gold, it is the life beyond our breaks and ruptures that is more powerful, more meaningful and sweetest to recall.
Any man who can take a needle in the eye is braver than me. You have chosen to make your way out a way in for many and this will join your legacy in food in sealing your place. You are right, suffering, is the root ball. In my own journey it is hard to sort out my personal demons from those handed down through the generations. It is difficult for men to discuss how we suffer and how we cope, because the expectations from within and without are so damn demanding. We often forget we didn’t get sick alone, and that healing need not be a solitary journey.
We all will look inside ourselves with you and will take a deeper look. We will all support you in your journey because it is important not just to you but to not. You are approaching 40, I’m already there, which is the season of wisdom. Nothing could be more on time than your seasons aligning. As any good chef knows, she must know her seasons wherever her feet may be.
You are at a moment where your Ancestors are key. I can tell yours are as present as mine in your life’s path. Perhaps when we meet we can pour some of that premium bourbon on the ground, talk to them, and get the healing we both need from the ground up.
In a spirit of healing, wholeness and health, your cousin,
Michael W. Twitty
July 5, 2017
Tammuz 11, 5777
The Cooking Gene is not a cookbook but it does have treasured family recipes and reconstructed recipes from history.
The Cooking Gene is not a diatribe on race and food nor is it about how you have to be Black to be a great cook, but it does talk about great cooks past and present that are Black. 🙂 It is a food memoir that incorporates genealogy, genetic research and culinary history into a conversation on the complexities of Southern food. This book is about having awareness of our common history and making commitments to stem systemic racism’s long term effects owing to racial chattel slavery using food as a vehicle for change.
Me and The Cooking Gene’s illustrator, Stephen Crotts.
The Cooking Gene is not a regurgitation of other histories of Southern or African American vernacular cuisine. It focuses on my family to give a lens into the very specific journeys taken by our Ancestors to arrive at this cultural moment. It also gives folks looking for a way to trace their own lineage in slavery and West&Central Africa a blueprint and discusses ways to turn our findings into a culinary narrative that can be passed down through the generations.
The Cooking Gene is for a diversity of readers from African Americans, African Diasporans, and Southerners of all types, living history and reenactment enthusiasts, museum professionals, genealogy buffs, culinary historians, foodies of every stripe, readers interested in Jewish culture, readers interested in LGBT narratives (especially the G lol), it’s for people exhausted with our current national exhaustion…its a birthday present to my people and friends alike, two years shy of the 400th anniversary of African arrival in British North America (1619-2019). It’s a table for all people to have a seat and feast.
Be a part of this moment. See you August 1, 2017, the release date for The Cooking Gene. 🙂
If you’re on Twitter, help me celebrate #DeenDay by helping me to get this tweet retweeted 1,619 times. Today 4 years ago, I wrote my Open Letter to Paula Deen that changed my life and career for the good. Because of the opportunities I’ve been blessed with I’ve been able to be more accessible to youth and communities that need my engagement. The Cooking Gene presents a similar but bigger opportunity to be able to engage others on a deeper level and to start a national and international conversation about heritage, food, culinary justice, and racial reconciliation and healing. If you’re on Twitter please help us get to 1619.