Every time I find myself grappling with the complex issues of racism in the U.S. – struggling with the million things I’d like to say and feeling tongue-tied or inadequate to write them – I end up at Afroculinaria. Afroculinaria is “a food blog authored by Michael W. Twitty, (Twitter: @Koshersoul), a food writer, independent scholar, culinary historian, and historical interpreter personally charged with preparing, preserving and promoting African American foodways and its parent traditions in Africa and her Diaspora and its legacy in the food culture of the American South. Michael is a Judaic studies teacher from the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area and his interests include food culture, food history, Jewish cultural issues, African American history and cultural politics. Afroculinaria will highlight and address food’s critical role in the development and definition of African American civilization and the politics of consumption and cultural ownership that surround it.” (Read more at About Afroculinaria.)
In the midst of all the real and manufactured outrage on the Internet, Michael’s voice is refreshing: His opinions are strong and clear, he frames them in a personal and historical context, and he makes no excuses or apologies for anyone–yet there’s always a sense that deeper understanding, genuine compassion for one another, and redemption are always possible. As a mother, I was especially touched by what Michael wrote, in “Oklahoma, Damn!!????” about the shameful behavior of the SAE frat boys from the University of Oklahoma. It’s easy to demonize these young adults – not for their use of “the n-word” so much as for their shocking and celebratory reference to excluding and lynching people. It’s easy to make the short leap from being disgusted by “offensive, reprehensible speech” to calling for the destruction of “reprehensible and pathetic excuses for human beings.”
But the “punishment” Michael proposes, instead, is humbling. Unlike the public outcry – “off with their heads!” – Michael suggests an experience that might actually redeem them and turn them into good and decent men. And without hope of restitution, redemption, and forgiveness, what is the point of punishment, anyway? To further alienate people and ensure that their racist nonsense becomes well and fully entrenched?
It takes courage to have patient, persistent, meaningful conversations about racism, but that’s part of what’s going to get us past it, eventually.
I come away from Michael’s blog with hope for humanity, instead of despair. And he serves up a rich stew of history, humanness, and irresistibly intriguing flavors and colors, until you want to sit down with him at a wide, butcher-block table over dinner, wine, and a lively, challenging, yet somehow safe and comforting conversation. That is soul food – food for nourishing the body and the mind, together.
For this, I’m awarding Michael Twitty the Flaming Red Pen of Death™ Award:
This award can only be earned by consistently exhibiting at least 5 of the following traits:
- Ruthless honesty in writing;
- A knack for irresistibly engaging the reader, compelling him or her to immediately act – or at least to leave thought-provoking comments;
- Ability to argue one or, preferably, both sides of an argument effectively, without being wishy-washy or Namby Pamby as to which one they agree with;
- Ability to make clear distinctions between personal opinions and assertions of fact;
- Ability to distinguish truth from cruelty, tact from “political correctness,” and worth from popularity;
- Unflinching appreciation when presented with constructive criticism, and the ability to let hateful negativity fall off their shoulders like chocolate cupcakes off a well-greased pan;
- Fearlessness and uncompromising honesty when giving constructive criticism, coupled with the ability to find something positive and encouraging to say without “sugar coating” the truth.
I am delighted to say that Michael has demonstrated all of them and I am thrilled to give him this award.