Open Letter to Michael Steele Upon His “Fried Chicken and Potato Salad” Remark

Note: This open letter is in response to RNC Chairman, Michael Steele, who, in response to a question regarding more diversity within the RNC, made the remark, “Y’all come!” prompting someone to yell out, “I’ll bring the collard greens.” Mr. Steele’s response: “I’ve got the fried chicken and potato salad!”

Dear Mr. Steele,

I am a conservative of color deeply offended by your suggestion that we can woo more Blacks to the Right by offering “fried chicken and potato salad.” While I am sure you intended this as a light-hearted response (known in some circles as “a joke”), I believe the joke is on you.

This statement paints you exactly as your critics would have people believe of conservatives of color: that we are all “sell-outs” dancing to the “White man’s” piper. Should you actually speak with conservatives of color, as I have, you would find people such as Michael Williams of Texas who has incredible ideas for harnessing natural resources for his state – the savings thereby trickling down to the Black community – that he can discuss in this speeches, giving concrete examples of how the Conservative agenda directly benefits those of color (and all in his home state).

You might also consult Craig DeLuz, a young, conservative, Black man seeking political office in my uber-liberal home state of California. He is well known in his district and has been working with the faith-based community, and the youth in particular, to get the conservative message out by example. He is the furthest thing from an “Uncle Tom” (another unfortunate label conservatives of color often hear). He espouses traditional values, and in his hands-on work with his community, he shows how conservatism is better for all. He directly correlates statistics such as the abortion rate in the African-American community (1,452 per day), to show how our people are preyed upon by the Democratic Party – the largest funders of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. You could learn much from someone like Mr. DeLuz.

California, despite our grave liberal bias and tendency to vote Blue, passed Proposition 8. Did you ever stop to think how that actually happened? First it had to get on the ballot. Not once, but twice. And then get voted on, not once, but twice. People of color made that happen, Mr. Steele. People of color who might receive ballots marked “DEMOCRAT” but who are people of incredible faith, and vote their values and conscience. So, while you are waiting in line at Popeye’s or KFC for “the fixin’s” to woo us with, maybe you can think about how to bridge the disconnect between these voters of color and their stated political affiliation, and look at strategies to draw them in by exploring our common values.

Or, you could look at the unemployment rate, and see that though grim for many Americans, affects the Black community even more. You could have called out our Commander in Chief, who has a similar skin color, and ask him why in response to this question by a Black reporter:

Specifically, there are reports in The Washington Post that say that the African American unemployment rate will go to 20 percent by the end of this year. And then you had your Chairman of Economic Advisers say the target intervention may come next year if nothing changes. Why not target intervention now to stop the bloodletting in the black unemployment rate?

he answered thusly:

And the best thing that I can do for the African American community or the Latino community or the Asian community, whatever community, is to get the economy as a whole moving.

And, with all due respect, Mr. Steele, you made this “joke” to a reporter from the gay community. If we so differ in our agendas, and hope to show by example that our objections to the lifestyle are spiritual, and not “homophobic” or “bigoted,” don’t you think it prudent to veer away from stereotypical and prejudicial remarks?

What we need, Sir, is strong leadership. Someone who will discuss the issues, and not the menu. Someone who is not afraid to take on the stereotypes facing conservatives of color, and debunk them, not perpetuate them. Are you that person, Mr. Steele?

Sincerely,
Marie Stroughter

Co-Founder, African-American Conservatives
www.africanamericanconservatives.com

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About Marie Stroughter

The traditional bio for Marie Stroughter would be: “Loving wife to hubby of over 20 years, and homeschooling mom to three adorable kids (and one spunky cat!).” Getting a little bolder would be to say that she is an adoptive mom of two, and a freelance writer and copyeditor. Unique factoids might include: social media addict….uh, maven, avid knitter and Founding Mama of her local knitting Guild, and a devotee of all things gadgety. The rabble-rousing version would read: “Marie Stroughter is the activist mom turned co-founder of African-American Conservatives, and, the opinionated, no-holds-barred host of the African-American Conservatives radio show carried on Blog Talk Radio, and, From The Right Radio where she chats weekly with political movers and shakers like Karl Rove, Steve Forbes, Michelle Malkin, Star Parker, Newt Gingrich, Senator Jim DeMint, and other conservative all-stars and rising stars in addition to her contributor status with Breitbart.com and the iVillage #iVoices and iVote projects.” But the latter would be a run-on sentence, so we’ll stick with the others. [wink]
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38 Responses to Open Letter to Michael Steele Upon His “Fried Chicken and Potato Salad” Remark

  1. Linda Holt says:

    Why is it wrong to say, “Y’all come.” or, “I’ve got the fried chicken and potato salad!”? How is that playing to stereotypes? I am a White American and I say, “Y’all” and, I love Fried Chicken and Potato Salad and collard greens. When I hear those words, I think, “Great! Sounds like a picnic or a good supper. Aren’t there much bigger things to get upset about than Mr. Steele saying, “Y’all”>?

    • Thank you for your comment, Linda. However, in the link provided in the “note” at the top, the context is clearly stereotypical. The question from the reporter had to do with the RNC and “diversity” and the stereotypes flew from there. Were that not the context, I think your comment would be well taken. Sadly, that is not the case.

  2. Coby Dillard says:

    It wasn’t his best comment…nor was it his dumbest (this pales in comparison to the Limbaugh walkback). I suggested that next time he say that he’ll bring cake…a good, race neutral food.

    Steele blew it for me a long time ago.

    • What was particularly bothersome, Coby, as you and I have discussed at length, is the perception (perpetuated by Ms. Garafalo and others), that the tea parties were “racist” and no one of color is out there. And then to make this comment and cement that perception as “truth” in the minds of the ignorant, or uninformed, or those of color who may have been contemplating “coming out” as a conservative is deeply troubling.

  3. samantha says:

    I think part of the disintegration of black america is that comments such as this disrupt it so much. I mean what should his response have been? Should it reeked with ghetto euphemism in combination with a neck rolling “I don’t eat no collard greens?” Or, should he have articulately stated, “I’ll bring the lobster & cavier?” No matter what his response was, black people would have & continue to criticize him.If he had said he would have bought the lobster, people would have said he thought he was too good to eat chicken anymore. Every word & action is being analyzed to determine whether it’s “black enough” or “too black”. He’s black & He’s a republican, so he’s alrighting fighting an uphill battle with the majority of black american’s.

    The sentiment was not as deep as some of us are making it.

    And, are we forgetting that he is also “black”? I could see the offense if this were a white guy. He didn’t sell out by referencing fried chicken.

    • Thanks for chiming in, Samantha. My issue is that there are many conservatives of color who hide their beliefs because we continually hear we are “sell-outs” and “Uncle Toms.” In choosing to play into a stereotype, Mr. Steele missed a perfect opportunity to educate. How about ignoring the shouted, “collard greens” remark and give the reporter a serious answer (as he proceeded to do much later).

      Many dismiss Mr. Steele to begin with because he’s Black and was elected to his position shortly after Mr. Obama assumed office, as though it were all some sort of tawdry “tit for tat” scheme, rather than the fact Mr. Steele might be a substantive leader. When he misses opportunities like this, (and there have been many others), it feeds that perception.

      If he gives others nothing to “analyze to determine whether it’s “black enough” or “too black,” as you point out, then we can begin to focus on the issues needing to be addressed in the African-American community and the Conservative movement at large.

      There is a disconnect. It’s the elephant in the room no one wants to discuss. But there are many conservatives of color. Not only do we have to educate within our own community and dodge the unpleasant names we get called, we are “race-mongers” and more unpleasant names, because we dare to speak out about a man perpetuating stereotypes.

      This interview took place in Indiana, not the South, where the “y’all” and food choices might be written off as regional, as another poster suggested. Let’s not be so hasty to avoid the suggestion of “the race card,” if talking about That Elephant in the Room will help bring more conservatives out of hiding and into the voting mainstream of Conservatism where their votes can change the tide of where our country is going.

      We know for a fact that the GOP has a loooong way to go to reverse the perception many hold that it is racist whether true or not). The last thing needed is someone fueling that fire.

      • samantha says:

        So, everything he said after this joke fell on deaf ears?

        I do understand your sentiment about him not being in the South (and to my knowledge neither is he from the South) so maybe he was trying to hard.

        I think your last paragraph summed it up most eloquently- what we need is strong leadership. Michael Steele does not strike me as the voice we would like him to be which is why I don’t think I was so bothered by his comment. He is obviously out of touch with reality.

        • It’s hard to take what he says after the joke seriously because of the “baffooning.” And, really, that is sad. But, it goes to show us, our actions really do speak louder than our words, and when in an elected capacity, we need to remember that. Whether at a speech, or with “the other woman” in a foreign country when folks back home think we’re hiking.

          No one is perfect, and no one can judge, save God. But, one of the core GOP values is “personal responsibility” (even as it relates to things we say…they will be scrutinized more harshly under the light of public life), and we have to make that “personal responsibility” mean something…otherwise, we are merely pandering.

  4. Imagine if Michael Steele were Hispanic or Asian and he was constantly making references to ‘tamales’ or ‘egg rolls’. It would be just as patently obvious that Michael is literally ‘trying’ to be black.

    I’m afraid this is showing that Michael just isn’t up to this job. He has some identity issues apparently and he can’t seem to either BE the RNC Chairman or BE black. He keeps trying to do what Algore used to do when he was trying to BE a Presidential candidate (ie, speak like animated tree bark).

    Chairman Steele could do a lot of good for our party just as many others could. But he needs to stop feeling guilty for either being black or for being a Republican. His constant crisis of identity makes him look silly and say thinks which are even more silly.

    He needs to hang out with some black conservatives to see what it is REALLY like to be black and also be a member of the GOP. You happen to be black but you CHOOSE to be a conservative or a Republican. You are not required to be a liberal democrat simply because you ARE black and if you can’t reconcile this within yourself then you need to avoid taking positions of authority until you have yourself sorted out.

    Herman Cain would actually be a much better chairman IMHO (a dude who created something larger corporately than the RNC already). I would also love to see Ken Blackwell who appears to be a real conservative. (I’ve got some personal friends I would recommend as well but they are only regionally known so I won’t bother with those)

    Michael Steele got promoted a little above his ability this time. This is the problem when we promote people even if they didn’t do a good job at their LAST job (hello, Mr. Obama). Competent at one level is the best indicator of success at the next level. Michael needs to step back before he steps up or he’ll ruin his own name permanently.

    • Thanks for the post, Bruce. It’s clear that this is an identity issue. He may have just been saying, “Y’all” because he talks that way, for all I know, but when the off-camera voice starts in with the stereotype, that’s when Chairman Steele should have redirected things. Thanks, again, Bruce.

  5. Darkknight3565 says:

    I understand Mr. Steele’s sense of humor and I realize he was speaking in jest, but I was taken back by his suggestion that African Americans could be seduced into the GOP by providing them with fried chicken.

    Frankly, I don’t know how anyone could think that African Americans – conservative, liberal, or otherwise – would not be offended by such an implication. Wouldn’t anyone be? If Steele had said he would get more Italians into the GOP by passing out plates of spaghetti and meatballs, would that remark be so shrugged off? If he said he would get more Jews to vote Republican by giving them lox and bagels, would anyone speak out if the Jewish community objected?

    Or is it that because Steele is Black that African Americans can not speak out when his remarks are beyond the pale?

  6. Linda Holt says:

    Re: Samantha’s comment, “I could see the offense if this were a white guy.”

    what’s wrong with a white guy saying, “I’ve got the fried chicken & potato salad.”?

    I don’t understand what’s wrong with that. I’ve eaten fried chicken all my life & have said many times that I’ll bring fried chicken and/or potato salad.

    To me, there is nothing racial about having fried chicken. It’s American.

    • The scenario doesn’t support this, however innocent you may feel the remark to be: The off-camera voice yelled a stereotype: “I’ll bring the collard greens…” *That* was wrong. Mr. Steele, rather than standing up to that (or ignoring it if he didn’t want to address it), fed into it.

  7. Linda Holt says:

    Re: Bruce’s comment, “Imagine if Michael Steele were Hispanic or Asian and he was constantly making references to ‘tamales’ or ‘egg rolls’.”

    I grew up in California and ate a lot of tamales. I’m not Mexican but, I love Mexican food. Egg rolls are okay but, I can live without them. Tamales are delicious and if I were to say, “I’ll bring the tamales.”, I would hope that people would not start saying that I was “trying to be Mexican.” Why is food, all of a sudden, being used as some sort of weapon to accuse someone of playing into stereotypes? This is ridiculous. Food is just food.

    • As discussed in another comment, sadly, in our country’s history, some ethnic groups are portrayed a certain way in movies, pictures, political cartoons (one of our President eating chicken and watermelon!). I could link to them, but they are profoundly hurtful. I encourage you to Google these terms, however, along with our president’s name, and hopefully, Linda, you will understand the pain our community rightly feels about these sort of remarks.

  8. Linda Holt says:

    WHAT IS WRONG WITH HAVING COLLARD GREENS? WHY IS THAT SEEN AS SOMETHING ‘RACIAL’? I LOVE COLLARD GREENS & SO DO MOST EVERY OLD SOUTHERN WHITE PERSON I HAVE KNOWN.

    SOMEONE IN THE AUDIENCE WAS MAKING A FUN OF MR. STEELE SAYING, “Y’ALL COME.” AND REFERENCED A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN FOOD. MR. STEELE PLAYED ALONG WITH IT BY REFERENCING ANOTHER TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN FOOD. WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

    (PS:

    • The issue, for me at least, stems from the fact that the reporter was Black, and was asking a Black man a question about diversity. Then, an off-camera voice shouts out something that, yes, is a stereotype associated with the Black community. We have had cartoons of us eating watermelon and fried chicken, so yes, it is offensive in a cultural context. Mr. Steele may not have started it, but he should have ended it, or ignored it, not perpetuated it.

    • 2soccergirls says:

      Uh, even when I was a young, white, southern person, I loved collard greens. Now, I am a middle aged white person, and I still love the things along with some cornbread. Preferably made with buttermilk.

      There were times growing up when collard greens, or black-eyed peas along with cornbread was served as our major meal. “No Meat Carter Era” is what it became as known around my house.

      What I do not get is why, when speaking to a Black man or woman, do most people go all Southernesque in their speaking voice? It is like when there is a foreigner around, some people feel compelled to speak louder as if volume is going to bridge the language gap. LOL! It is the weirdest thing. It is as if all African-Americans in the history of ever have either lived in the South, or speak with a Southern lilt, or know anything about our high cholesterol culture.

      Hey, I was offended by this because I am tired of having the Southern hick label attached just because I like any of these food items. And I am tired of “fried chicken” being code words for hick, or a racial slur. I long for the day when “fried chicken” is just fried chicken. But these words do not mean plain old food items at this time in our nation, and therefore should not be used by the spokesman for the RNC in this manner, or in this forum.

      This incident, lucky us, just followed two weeks of some very disturbing racial acts by RNC affiliated peoples. My understanding from the start was Mr. Steele knew, as we ALL know, much needed to be done to bridge the chasms between whites and blacks in the GOP, and to do the same overall in the African-American community. To date, I hear Mr. Steele has been working on a fancy, smansy website. Uh, if we are not talking to each other, does anyone have any idea how a swell internet site is going to help?

      I am with whomever said Ken Blackwell would possibly have tackled the problems, and an incident like this differently. This was poorly handled, and considering Mr. Steele’s forwarding all our complaint to Mars, just another missed opportunity in a long, long line of missed opportunities.

      I will say this, despite Mr. Steele many of us of the very pale skin, (Irish/Scottish/Italian heritage has left me a shade of white that glows in the dark!), well many of us do feel we are just going to go on without the GOP, and Mr. Steele when it comes to racial relations. When the rubber meets the road, it is imperative for Americans to unite in order to save this nation, and find ways to love and respect one another. If our leaders will not do it, then it is left to us to do this as individuals, and for myself, because the God, not the “Newsweek” god, has commanded me to do so.

      • Thanks for posting. As mentioned in another reply, if, historically, there weren’t the nasty, racist cartoons of African-Americans licking their fingers or greedily chomping down the watermelon, it might be taken differently. As suggested to another poster, do a web search with the search terms “Obama” and any of the things we’ve discussed: fried chicken, watermelon, etc., and it will be beyond crystal clear as to why this is a Big Deal.

      • 2soccergirls says:

        I get this is a big deal. I certainly did not mean to convey I did not think this was a big deal. I agree with your take on Steele’s comments. Living in the South, I more than get the historical significance of these words, know about the cartoons, and all that has been and is nasty racial slurs.

        What I was trying to convey was that I for one do not want to wait on Steele, or the GOP getting it when it comes to working on relations in the party, and for that matter racial relations beyond political party affiliation. The place to start for sure is within the party, but things are so bad currently, I fear what will happen if relations are not addressed nation wide by white Conservatives in conjunction with African-American Conservatives. It is my wish the tea parties will help us achieve some unity, and understanding since Steele, and the GOP are out to lunch at the moment.

        Again, I get this was a big deal. I get this hurts any progress in mending fences with the African-American Conservatives in the GOP. I get it that having the head of the RNC responding in this manner frustrates, and insults African-Americans. I truly, truly get it.

        • You are absolutely on the money about “waiting” for anyone, and that searching for the solutions begins with us. Thank you for so eloquently stating what the crux of the issue is, as it relates to diversity within the conservative movement, and bringing other voices, with other perspectives, to the table.

  9. Linda Holt says:

    PS: Sorry for the all caps, I didn’t notice it until I was almost done typing and didn’t feel like typing it all again.

  10. GenXGoper says:

    I think your letter is spot on. Did you also notice how long it took Steele (until today – nearly a week after it happened) for him to denounce the Young Republican National Federation electing the racist Audra Shay as their new figurehead? I mean, the YRNF is useless let’s face it, but for no one in the GOP and especially the head of the party to stay silent???!!

  11. samantha says:

    @ Linda, no offense but you actuality perpetuate some of the naivety so obvious in the republican party & the reason why it has been somewhat difficult for repubs to reach out to African Americans. (and the very reason I think the repubs needs more VOCAL african americans in the party)

    Eating collard greens is not racist
    eating fried chicken is not racist
    eating potato salad is not racist

    but, to insinuate that an entire race of people eats the aforementioned and would jump quickly on the republican band wagon for a big ole’ bucket of KFG (based on perceived stereotypes) can be viewed as racist if not offensive.

    It’s akin to implied racism. I can’t think of any steoreotypes for other races, but I’m sure they exist and coming from me directed at another race would be found very racist or offensive.

    do you disagree?

  12. Linda Holt says:

    If an Italian-American reporter asked Rudy Giuliani the same question and he said, “buon giorno, everyone” and someone in the group said, “I’ll bring the spaghetti” and there was good-hearted laughter and Giuliani laughed and said, “I’ve got the Lasagna & Garlic bread” and there was more laughter, do you really think that Italian-Americans would be upset with him and complaining that he was playing to stereotypes of Italian-Americans?

    I think you are reading stuff into this harmless, casual, and innocent banter, that simply isn’t there. I have watched and listened to the video several times and I did not hear anything that resembled a racial component to Mr. Steele’s remarks.

    “Y’all” isn’t a “Black” expression. It’s Southern. Someone in the group was playing on the Southern theme by remarking about collard greens (a Southern food, not a “Blacks only” food) and Mr. Steele played along with that by bringing in the fried chicken & potato salad (again, foods, not exclusive to Black Americans).

    I’ve eaten watermelon my whole life. My grandpa won ribbons for growing big watermelons in his garden. There is no racial component to eating watermelon or fried chicken or potato salad (which is actually of German origin that was brought over to the U.S.).

    • Sadly, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. We’ve encouraged you to Google our president’s name along with “fried chicken” or “watermelon” or any number of stereotypes. You will be appalled at what pops up.

      You can Google your example, Mr. Guiliani, and “garlic bread” or “spaghetti” (also your examples), no appallingly ugly and harsh images will be returned.

      Please do this. It will truly help you to understand the point we are making.

      We thank you for participating in our discussion, and we hope that with some later post, on another topic in time, we will find common ground.

  13. Linda Holt says:

    So, Political Correctness has moved to the kitchen? And, it’s now wrong for an African-American politician to even mention fried chicken? What other foods are no longer PC for certain politicians to speak of? Or, is it only wrong in certain settings or when speaking to certain audiences? What are the new rules for talking about food?

    Is it alright for collard greens to be mentioned, especially since the First Lady planted them on the South Lawn of the White House as part of the Kitchen Garden?

    President Clinton was well known for enjoying “Soul Food”. Was that wrong of him?

    Yes, there have been some political cartoons of President Obama, showing watermelons growing on the White House lawn. Political cartoons, satire, and caricatures come with the territory of political life. If the worst cartoons of President Obama are the ones with watermelons in them, he will be very fortunate. There were horribly cruel cartoons of President Bush that went far beyond a picture of watermelons. Every President, for at least the past 100 years or so, has been mocked, ridiculed, and criticized in political cartoons. You can look back and see very negative cartoons of Clinton, Reagan, and even Lincoln.

    Maybe we will have to agree to disagree on this. I respect that we have a very different perspective on this issue. But, I’m hopeful that this will not overtake the much bigger, more crucial issues that are facing the people (of all races) in this country. Conservatives (of all races) have a lot of common ground that unite us and we need to work together to keep America strong and prosperous for all Americans.

    I really don’t want to have to worry about taking fried chicken to the next pot luck supper I attend and not be able to offer it to everyone, for fear of offending someone.

  14. jeffreyeas says:

    I’m not really “offended” at Steele, I’m just kind of shaking my head. He probably means well, but he’s had at least 3 gaffes since he was selected as Chair. Gaffe 1 was the Limbaugh remark, which had Steele sort of accepting the premise of D.L Hughley’s leftward views on the Republican party in general. Accepting the premise of liberal thinking is what always gets conservatives and/or Republicans in trouble. Gaffe 2 is the fact that he guest hosts for Bill Bennett’s “Morning in America” show. What’s an RNC Chair doing guest hosting a radio show? It leaves himself open to all types of attacks. RNC Chairs traditionally do the rounds on the major network shows and do a couple of speeches here and there but they aren’t supposed to be out in public leaving themselves open for scrutiny. Gaffe 3 is this fried chicken remark. To the poster that compared Italian food and Giuliani, Italians don’t have the historical scars (Minstrel shows, etc.) where white people actually made fun of black people because of what they ate. Blacks, for that reason, tend to get a little uneasy about people just cracking fried chicken and watermelon jokes. In Steele’s case, I think he was trying to say in his own way, “I am one of them”, but it just didn’t come off as smoothly as he would have liked. The question actually was a perfect opening to present some policy positions and get the debate going. If the GOP actually wants minority votes, they are going to have to start actually playing ball and leave the jokes until you’ve made a case. Democrats have put in the work and thrown the venom for the black vote and it’s time to fight back. Throw the race card right back at the left when they try and play it, talk about social security and domestic policy and make clear that policy A or B will disproportionately benefit people of color, and then we’ll get somewhere.

  15. Michael Steele is clearly a work in progress. He is also one of the few politicians with an ounce of spontaneous expression in him in an era when every word and action is somehow preserved.*********The criticism is properly noted but his unedited side is a plus in the long term. Michael Steele has the difficult job of articulating a message that seems constantly in flux.**********i have faith that he will get better with time passing.

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