Is Flavor Flav Just Cooning with His New Fried Chicken Joint?

January 25, 2011  |  

I know this subject is a little touchy but I’m going to ask it anyway: what is it with America’s obsession with fried chicken and black people?

I ask this after getting into a debate not too long ago via Facebook about whether or not black folks should eat stereotypical foods, such as fried chicken and watermelon, out in mixed company.  The person that I was chatting with said that he was so fearful of being stereotyped for his dietary preference that he had totally eliminated every food group that is associated with the black palette.  That means no macaroni and cheese, collard greens, sweet potato pie and definitely no fried chicken and watermelon.

I thought that this was ridiculous if not teetering on the line of paranoia.  Who cares what folks think about what you eat?  But apparently some black folks do care, so much so that they have worked themselves into a tizzy over Flavor Flav, the legendary hype man for the 80s radical rap group Public Enemy, and his new fried chicken business venture.

Flav first made the announcement at a PE show some months ago about his forthcoming fried chicken chain restaurants, along with his grape-flavored vodka venture. No one knew then if he was serious or just being Flav, so naturally folks shrugged it off. But yesterday, some folks’ worst nightmare had been confirmed when news stories began to surface about Flav’s Fried Chicken, which is set to open its’ doors sometime this week in Clinton, Iowa.

The outrage against Flav’s Fried Chicken reminds me of last year’s brief frenzy over the black chef at NBC studios, who in honor of black history month, decided to serve a soul food menu of collard greens, smoked turkey wings, white rice and black peas, as well as the forbidden fried chicken. Much of the protest came from black folks, who thought that the chef’s menu violated the secret black commandment, “thou shall not serve fried chicken and collard greens in mixed company.”
Not to make too light of the situation as I do totally understand the historical significance of this particular racial stereotype. No one knows for sure when this idea of traditional southern cuisine began to exclusively be attributed to blacks, but some have theorized that it started during slavery when black slaves, in small acts of defiance, would steal chickens from the coup and watermelons from the patch of their plantation owners.

And of course, the denial of real nourishment by our ancestors gave racist white folks the justification needed to use chicken and watermelon as a way to dehumanize blacks, and subject us to public ridicule and spoofing. The particular stereotyping of blacks remained with us until the first half of the 20th century, when restaurants such as the Coon Chicken Inn, would use exaggerated depictions of blacks as mascots to sell fried chicken sandwiches and hamburgers.

Even today, there are some bigots who still take joy in harassing blacks with the chicken and watermelon references. But unfortunately, there is nothing we can do to or about them since those folks will always find fault with anything people of color do. In those situations, it’s best to chalk it up to another sign of the ignorance of racism.

Now back to Flavor Flav. When thinking about his antics on his various reality TV shows, and the big clocks and Viking horn helmets that make up his various costumes, it may make one cringe, especially since he plans to decorate the walls of his new chicken joint with his costume accessories.  But, this venture may not be as absurd as we may think since Flav has a culinary degree and plenty of restaurant experience, including creating his signature 99-cent wings at a restaurant in Las Vegas.

Moreover, Flav has always been the jester of sort of Public Enemy. Consequently, it was his eccentric style that has made him one of the best hype men in the rap game. Why shouldn’t he honor that legacy?

Not to mention, it’s ironic that Flav is opening his first store in Clinton, Iowa, a college town with a racial makeup of 93% whites. Not saying that there aren’t black folks there but it’s not exactly the ‘hood either. It’s as if he is taking the stereotype, turning it on its head and selling it right back to the very instigators of the stereotypes in increments of a two-piece or four-piece with biscuits.

So, who likes chicken and watermelon now?

Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.

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