Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When Racism Strikes the Kitchen Table (an editorial)

Just to be clear I’m not talking about apples lynching oranges, I’m talking about actual, gut-wrenching, despicable racism; the kind of racism practiced by Hitler, the Klan, and similarly intolerant groups to separate and subjugate individuals based on nothing more than physical characteristics.

I won’t be the first or the last person to acknowledge this fact, but Alabama isn’t exactly forward-thinking.  We still derive most of our state taxes from sales tax, which places a higher burden of taxation on the poor.  While we have legally abolished mandated segregation, centuries of racial stratification are difficult to overcome and it still persists in many of our public schools, colleges, and universities.  In some counties it’s still illegal to sell alcohol on Sundays, and of course we didn’t have paved roads until 1895!

Despite these maladroit quarks, the “Yellowhammer State” does have a few things in its favor.  First, the soil (especially in South Alabama) is rich and fertile, and when combined with a long growing season gives farmers a wide variety of options for planting selections.  Second, people who grow their own food seem to have a deeper appreciation for its preparation and consumption.

It should go without saying, but someone who actually knows what went into the production of that tomato or this hamburger patty will pay much closer attention to how it’s prepared.  This is a legacy that continues in the Deep South.  Fresh ingredients and un-complicated cooking methods combined with Southern hospitality summarize the South’s culinary heritage.  And it’s something that the rest of the country is starting to notice.  Places like Los Angles and New York are starting to see an influx of “Southern” or “Soul Food” eateries as a testament to the quality of this rich culinary heritage.

Despite decades of progress, Alabama’s racist past is catching up with the times and it is now threatening our culinary heritage and its future.  Instead of targeting African Americans, Alabama’s racists are now operating under the guise of “Immigration Reform.”  In last year’s legislative session Alabama lawmakers passed an article of legislation known as House Bill 56, “which turned state and local police officers into papers-checking immigration agents and imposed a grab bag of criminal punishments and deterrents on undocumented immigrants and on businesses and charitable organizations that help or hire them” (The New York Times – May 15, 2012).

I fully acknowledge that illegal immigration is contributing to wide variety of problems around the country; including state-wide budget issues in California and Arizona.  But in Alabama seriously?

Alabama citizens protesting the passage HB56 (photo from

A state that receives most of its taxes from sales taxes would guarantee that illegal immigrants pay a considerable amount of their wages in taxes.

A state that takes pride in its agricultural heritage should welcome people as connected to the land as many of these immigrants.

A state that savors it culinary traditions should extend an olive branch to a people whose culinary roots pre-date America.

Instead Alabama’s immigration law has forced many illegal immigrants to flee its borders.  As a result many of Alabama’s farmers who once relied on immigrant labor to pick their crops, are now switching to “mechanized crops” or those that can be easily processed with little human contact (i.e. peanuts, cotton, soybeans, wheat, and corn).  So much for diversity in Alabama’s fields; I suppose it’s fitting that since we’ve done everything in our power to legally limit racial diversity that we should attempt to do the same in every other aspect of our lives.

Tomatoes rotting on the vine, as a result of Alabama's immigration law(s)

For Alabama's fans of the “farm-to-table” concept, it’s probably time to invest in shovel and rake because it won’t be long before what you grow in your backyard is all that is available.

Eat good food.  Drink good beer.  And above all, stay classy!

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