The next time someone tries to tell you that Black people in America have no culture, give them four dollars, point them to the nearest Walmart and tell them to get one of Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pies.
Because seriously, what is more Black American than the weekend we had debating the authenticity of Patti’s sweet potato pie?
Patti’s pies are blacker than the “Black Jesus” Ned the Wino episode on Good Times. Patti’s pies are blacker than the first Black president of the United States of America. Patti’s pies are even blacker than Colored People Time. And you don’t get no blacker than showing up late to things. Heck, even this essay is late…
The point is, Patti’s pies are pretty Black.
And ever since YouTube sensation James Wright promised that eating a slice of her pie would turn you into the legendary diva, many Black folks ran to Walmart just to see if the review measured up to the hype. But don’t get it twisted: this wasn’t about wanting to sing like Patti. And it wasn’t even about seeing if Patti, who brags religiously about her ability to burn in the kitchen, could really bake.
I guarantee you that had this pie been apple, key lime or even peach pie, folks would not have given Wright’s video a second view. I mean, what self-respecting Black person would stand for 45 minutes in the only open checkout lane in Walmart out of 75 unopened checkout lanes for a damn cherry pie?
Nobody I know.
Instead, this was about the sweet potato pie. And honor.
After all, nobody makes sweet potato pies like a Black grandma. And everybody swears that their Black grandmas make the best pie. Not to mention, there is no greater symbol of Black people’s ability to turn our tragedy into triumph than the sweet potato pie.
In fact, sweet potato pie is almost the antihero to the villainous pumpkin pie. As we all know that pie is a symbol of conquest. As some questionable history of the sweet potato pie suggests, it was the Europeans who first brought pumpkin pie to West Africa. Because that’s what Europeans did back then. They would show up on indigenous shores, waving around a welcoming pumpkin pie. And while the native people were gagging because of how awful it tasted, they stole our land.
That’s why you’re not supposed to touch the stuff (that includes the pumpkin spice). It is a trap. Don’t believe me? Ask the Native Americans.
Anyway, after our conquest and kidnapping to the Americas, Black people took the pumpkin pie, threw it in the trash and used the pie tins to invent a whole new kind of pie made out of local potatoes and spices that White people stole from all the colored people in the world.
And that’s the story of how the sweet potato pie helped us survive all these years.
While I certainly can’t prove this, I am almost certain there was sweet potato pie around when General Granger read aloud the special decree that ordered the freeing of the last enslaved Blacks in Texas. And I am also certain that the kitchen ministry evil-eyed and slapped the hands of anybody daring to touch that sweet potato pie they made special for Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was still in the pulpit giving his “I’ve Been To The Mountaintop” speech. And I am also certain that long after civilization ceases to exist, the only Black person left in the New World Order will be trading and bartering her possessions for some nutmeg and a pound of North Carolina premium sweet spuds.
Of course, those New Negro weirdos who say they don’t like sweet potato pie do not count. Obviously, there is something wrong with them. Obviously, they’re trying too hard to be “different.” These are the same folks who use words like “classy” and “professional” (Bougie black people love calling things “unprofessional”) and who won’t eat watermelon and fried chicken in front of White people out of fear of being called the n-word. And these are the same folks who then act shocked when those same White people they have been hiding their proclivities from, still treat them like the n-words even without the chicken and watermelon.
I’m telling you, those people are just jealous. They are jealous because they spent most of their lives suffering through the nasty taste of conquest pies while depriving themselves of everything Black. Meanwhile, there you are: acting both blackly and proudly as you enjoy your chicken and sweet potato pie in front of whomever while wishing somebody would have something to say…
Also not to be counted are the folks who have used our celebration of the sweet potato pie as an opportunity to rail against Black people for supporting the White man’s capitalism. Those folks are just jealous too. And despite their proclamations of saving us from ourselves, they’re the reason we can’t have nice things.
According to Jenice Armstrong of the Philadelphia Daily News, Patti’s pies were selling at one pie per second during the weekend blitz. As a result of the hype, Walmart is unable to meet demand. As Kerry Robinson, vice president of bakery and deli for Walmart said to Armstrong, “We need probably two million pounds of sweet potatoes.”
What that means is that not only did Black people help to put money into a Black woman’s pocket (to the tune of $2.3 million in a single weekend), but we achieved what no recent boycott could ever do: We shut it down!
That’s right Walmart: You are not getting our pie money during this holiday season.
But seriously, what’s really special about the Patti’s pies hype is that it was a true testament of our love for one another. It shows that we support each other, despite what most believe. And that we do want to see one another prosper.
It also showed that we do value our culture. There is no doubt in my mind that if those sweet potato pies had tasted like oppression, Patti would have been “On Her Own.”