I have never known black people to go crazy over store-bought pie. Store-bought pie is the sort of thing that I’ve only understood to be permissible on a weekday when you don’t feel like cooking but you really want to get into your feelings and sweets (with Sade playing in the background). Like, more often than not, a relative will be cursed smooth out for daring to bring a store-bought pie to a holiday dinner. I can literally hear the voice of an auntie judging a cousin as I type this.
Yet, over the past few weeks, nearly every black person I’ve ever met has been obsessing over Patti LaBelle’s sweet potato pie. While that is quite the coup for Patti-Patti, much of the fanfare is rooted in James Wright’s now infamous YouTube video endorsement. If not for that man screaming, shouting and singing about that pie, I would have never known of its existence.
And based on reports now, neither would you.
Sales were described as “just OK” before Wright’s very enthusiastic endorsement, but skyrocketed not long after. The pie has since been dubbed the “Tickle me, Elmo” of food. LaBelle herself reached out to Wright, calling to thank him for his video and even complimenting his singing voice. However, when TMZ caught up with LaBelle more recently, she dismissed the weight of his contribution.
When asked about Wright and if there would be some sort of future collaboration, LaBelle said, “I did it myself.” After the paparazzo noted that the viral video—which has amassed 10 million views—helped the pies sell out, LaBelle said in response, “I was selling out before the guy did his wonderful video.”
We live in an age of media in which people are afraid to call a thing a thing. I know this is not as bad as Donald Trump’s flat-out lies, but a lie is a lie is a lie. And Patti-Patti, what you told that TMZ cameraman is a lie.
You were not selling out those pies before James Wright turned on his camera and devoured that pie like it was his last meal. Those pies were not flying off the shelves before James Wright acted as if he had just climaxed before lodging that pie down his throat. Those pies were not being marked up and sold on eBay until James Wright started eating that pie—without heating it up, but different strokes—and singing your songs as only one of “the kids” would.
All I can hear right now is President Barack Obama’s “You didn’t build that” commentary. It takes a team—starting with Kinna Thomas, senior buyer of cakes and pies at Wal-Mart, who got this whole Patti LaBelle sweet potato pie chain going.
I feel like I’m being disrespectful to an elder, and I may or may not have to go and cut myself a switch for writing this, but Ms. Patti-Patti, you have got to sip some chill, topped with reason. You may be known as a crooner and quite the cook, but the masses were not scouring the earth for some store-bought pie sold only at Wal-Mart until James Wright sent them there.
Does that mean you owe him a check? Technically, no. I mean, no one told him to upload that video and essentially create the best commercial ever. It would be nice, but Wright created that moment of his own volition. That said, you do owe the man the credit he is due.
I’ve been waiting for LaBelle to fix this mistake. She did not do that in her interview with Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club Monday morning. It’s not too late, though, Patti-Patti. This week we will celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday rooted in a damn lie, but I digress. Point is, it’s packaged as a day of giving thanks.
Ms. Patti, you’ve got to show a little bit more gratitude to Mr. Wright. I know that it is “just a pie,” but that dismissal of his contribution reminds me of the way many elders are quick to dismiss the impact of social media. Y’all have got to cut that out. Not understanding something doesn’t make it any less significant and impactful.
James Wright got black folks to go crazy over some store-bought pie. This may be the first holiday in which bringing home a pie from Wal-Mart might not get you told off by your relatives. Sure, some will say their pie is much better, but it might not garner an automatic side eye.
We needn’t play down this moment. Again, give the man his due, Patti-Patti. You didn’t do this on your own.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.