My sister called me once from her car parked right outside a company picnic.
“Stevie,” she said, exasperated. “I almost ate watermelon in front of my co-workers.”
She need say no more. My sister is the one in the family who got in trouble for eating a white-bread sandwich on the front porch. My mother called it “common.”
We were a lot of things, but common wasn’t one of them. We also ate whole wheat bread, and while everyone one else gorged their bellies full on Kool-Aid, we drank Juicy Juice.
So it is from this lineage that I say, on Tuesday I drove to Taco Bell with sweaty palms to order not one, but two Naked Chicken Chalupas. For the uninitiated, let me walk you through it: Take a thin piece of fried chicken and fold it over to make a tacolike shell. Then fill it with some kind of spicy sauce, lettuce and tomatoes.
I’d seen the commercial, and I must say that some innate part of me, some deeply embedded black side of me that I’ve tried to hide, had a call to consciousness. I walked in knowing that this might be my biggest coon moment, and I didn’t care.
America has food-shamed blacks for centuries. My mother had fallen into this, which is why she didn’t want her daughter eating white bread, and especially not on the front porch of the house! And my sister was having a full-on internal crisis about eating watermelon in front of white people.
“But I really like watermelon,” she said. “Tons of people do.” In the end, she passed. I talked her off the ledge. In truth, I told her not to do that shit because it’s racially embarrassing and it’s not a good look.
This is the ugly underbelly of racism. The side that makes a company picnic a crisis of consciousness. The side that I refused to respond to when I walked into my local Taco Bell and ordered a fucking fried-chicken taco!
I didn’t do it for me. I did it for the culture. I did for all those who refused to bring their leftovers to work because the glorious smell of greens isn’t company appropriate. I did it for all the people who secretly love chitlins and pigs’ feet but are too embarrassed to admit it. I did it for my old boss who once had a chicken wing wrapped in aluminum foil in her purse. I did it for Beyoncé, who’s made it socially acceptable to carry hot sauce in your bag, swag.
So did I eat the fried-chicken taco? Fuck, yeah, I did. And it was glorious. That damn taco tasted like the bridge to equality. That taco was the America that MLK dreamed about. Sure, that fried chicken is an angioplasty waiting to happen, but I was happy that it was mine.
Next time, I’m going to actually sit in Taco Bell and enjoy instead of running to my car and balling out of the parking lot before anyone noticed me.