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Eating While Black: Avoiding Certain Foods in Public Spaces

In the middle of this great Black History Month, I pulled a banana out of my lunch box and unpeeled it. Then, I ate it.

Midway through this roughly 110 calorie snack, I thought about the optics. I’m a black woman eating a banana at work. What if someone saw me as they walked to or from the break room? What would they think?

I mentally shook my head as I finished the thought. Would anyone really care? It’s a banana for goodness sakes.

Though I don’t believe anyone I work with would actually think twice about seeing me or another coworker eat a banana, I know there are sensitivities around this. And it’s not exclusive to just bananas. I’ve heard of many Black working professionals admit to avoiding certain foods in public (read: white) spaces. I mean, I’m quick to put away my seasoning salt if I’m eating fries or popcorn at my desk.

As I let my food-biased thought continue, I remembered this moment that happened a few years ago. I used to work in this marketing and communications team that often celebrated employee birthdays with cake in our conference room. This one occasion in particular was celebrated with fruit.  You know, strawberries, cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, and pineapple. I didn’t grab any watermelon because it’s not a personal favorite. One of my coworkers noticed that.

“You not getting any watermelon, Ashleigh?” She inquired loudly in this faux homegirl-ish tone that only non-Black coworkers use when talking to Black people. This change in voice and volume brought everyone’s attention to my plate.

“Nope. I don’t like it,” I replied.

“But you’re Black!” she joked.

I smiled back and continued to eat my fruit. I didn’t come into that room for this. I was just attempting to be sociable with my peers and my blackness gets called out due to a personal preference. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

It is because of slick comments from extra-comfortable onlookers is why many Blacks avoid eating bananas, watermelon, fried chicken and other stereotypical meals in public. The assumption that there is truth to the stereotype is enough reason to not eat these foods around non-Brown folks. Because if I got called out by not eating watermelon, imagine what her response would’ve been if I put a few chunks on my plate.

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I always feel extra cognizant of my Blackness in spaces where I am in the minority. When I order dessert from a Korean café, I make sure to use the proper pronunciation of whatever I want just so that the cashier is aware that this Black girl knows what she wants and what she is getting. And when I go out with friends, I make sure my voice is at a certain level so I’m not labeled ‘loud’. Though people will think whatever they want regardless, I try not to give them any extra reason to do so. I don’t want to prove anyone right.

I’m sure I’m not alone.

I finished my banana in peace and went on with my day until I opened my drawer for Lawry’s on my midday popcorn. Then those thoughts started all over again…