Thanksgiving is a few days away, and your office, department, lab or whatever may be hosting a Thanksgiving lunch of some sort. Undoubtedly, there will be a sweetened, orange substance offered to you at this lunch. Depending on your upbringing, cultural affiliations and the activity level of your melanocytes, you may decline said orange substance with varying degrees of zeal.
There are a lot of stereotypes regarding Black peoples’ affinity for certain foods. Many of us actually don’t like chitterlings, pork rinds, orange & grape soda, rap snacks, over-sweetened Kool-Aid, Ranch sunflower seeds, or even (*gasp) fried chicken. But I have never witnessed a Black person decline an offer for sweet potatos or “yams”, and certainly not to leave room for a slice of pumpkin pie. My office threw a Thanksgiving luncheon last week and our managers served the food. I grabbed a plate and started down the line of comfort food and execs wearing plastic gloves. I looked down the serving table and noticed that the only Black manager in the office, Erica, was serving sweet potato casserole. I don’t know shit about how White people feel about sweet potato casserole, all I know is that many a caucasoid passed on the delicious side dish. When I approached Erica, she looked at me and said,
“I know YOU want some sweet potatoes”
I looked right back at her and said, “You know it”, as she piled spoon after spoon full of comforting orange goodness onto my plate (no lie, I still have left-overs in my fridge). I sat down with my cohort and sure enough, every Black person had sweet potato on their plate. Then I noticed that some of my White coworkers had pumpkin pie and some of them had apple pie, but all of the Black folk had apple pie. Pumpkin got no love.
One of my Black coworkers, Tiffany, told Katherine, a white coworker, that she had never had pumpkin pie and wanted to know if it tasted good. Several Black people shared Tiffany’s sentiments, stating that they too had never had pumpkin pie. As my white coworkers displayed confused countenances, Tiffany got up from her seat and came back with a plate of pumpkin pie. She shared it with two other Black employees and they all hated it. I wasn’t surprised. If you’ve been eating sweet potato pie all of your life, pumpkin pie is ass. I understand it all. Although pumpkins and sweet potatoes are indigenous to the Americas, pumpkin pie arrived with the pilgrims in New England while sweet potato pie developed in the American South and has many ties to the U.S. slave trade. Blacks in America likely adopted the sweet potato because it resembles the yam, which is commonly found in West Africa and was often given to slaves instead of pumpkin. Even though sweet potatoes aren’t yams, the name stuck in America.
Like a lot of “Black foods”, sweet potatoes are more popular in American southern cuisine. And the southern influence on Black cuisine is as undeniable as these Black population maps.
It’s also as undeniable as these recipe search term maps
It all makes sense, but I have a concern.
This aversion to pumpkin, that often stems from Black people’s experiences with pumpkin pie, is severely limiting our palettes.
I went Caribou Coffee and ordered a slice of pumpkin bread last month. The Black barista asked me if I had ever had it and if it was any good. How do you work at a coffee shop and not sample every over-priced treat in your glass case?
I went to McDonald’s last December and ordered a pumpkin milkshake in the drive-thru. When I pulled up to the first window, the Black cashier leaned over and asked,
“Is that pumpkin milkshake good?”
I told him that I hadn’t tried it yet. He gave me my change with the skeptic face.
I went to Kilwins ice cream and chocolatier shop in Atlanta and ordered a scoop of pumpkin ice cream. The Black woman behind the counter looked me dead in the face and said, “You sure?”. After I told her that I was certain, we proceeded to offer several alternate flavors, including vanilla.
Clearly, this aversion to pumpkin has gotten out of hand. Yes, pumpkin pie sucks in comparison to sweet potato pie, and sweet potato is just all-around better. Nevertheless, pumpkin is a seasonal item that finds its way into an increasing number of foods around the holidays. Yet, many Black people around the nation are discriminating against this squash without even tasting it first. And I, as an author for 40AC, cannot stand for this type of discrimination. My people, I implore you to partake in these seasonal treats without immediately thinking of the pumpkin/sweet potato pie paradigm. We must expand our horizons of flavor. Eating pumpkin is not like getting a shape-up at Supercuts or not wearing lotion, Black people can do it.