Written By Aspen S., – Official Contributor of The Crowned Series
On August 12th, the internet was sweeping with positive reviews of the Popeye’s chicken sandwich. The sandwich was better than Chik-fil-A and people would wait, sometimes over an hour just to get the delectable piece of chicken on a bun. Popeye’s did not even have to do much advertisement because of the sheer personal hype that people were sharing about their experience eating the sandwich. One article in The New Yorker even went so far as to say that “The Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich is Here to Save America”.
In the weeks following, Twitter was swarming with videos of customers fighting in lines and even more notably, Popeye’s employees being berated, assaulted, and robbed for failure to provide this sandwich to impatient customers. In short, it became clear that the Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich was here to shine a spotlight on some of the worst behavior in America. Around this same time, Popeye’s issued messages that they were sold out of the sandwich on account of the fact that they no longer had buns. This still did not stop Americans as customers were willing to bring their own bun, thus allowing the poor treatment of Popeye’s employees to maintain the norm. Soon after, Popeye’s issued a statement that they would no longer be selling the infamous sandwich at its locations. That is until the end of October when Popeye’s tweeted that they would be re-releasing the sandwich at all of its locations starting November 3rd. America was ready and I’ll personally never forget how Twitter users were some of the first to comment on this grand news, sharing in the joy by jokingly posting their re-release party outfits with the world.
It is at this point that I think it’s fair to say that I have yet to try the sandwich. As I’ve shared with you all before, I rarely eat chicken so I will not go out of my way to wait in long lines to try it (although if it ended up in front of me due to happenstance I wouldn’t be opposed to a bite – just to see if it’s worth the hype!). But I think my belief in the sandwich really grew when my mother called me in the afternoon of November 3rd to inform me that she had indeed arrived to Popeye’s prior to opening and waited in line for 23 minutes to get the sandwich. And she reported that it was gooooooood, damn near moaning as she reflected upon her eating experience. Furthermore, she told me that the only reason she knew about the re-release was because my brother (who was visiting from college for the weekend) awoke from his slumber early in the morning and ran in every room to tell people they had to arrive to Popeye’s by 10 AM to get the sandwich. That man hardly ever wakes up before noon so I know the sandwich is fuego (-fuego=fire).
My family’s positive experience made my quite happy and more than anything I believed that this time around Americans would not act a fool. But the only clown here was me and the headlines were almost instantly back showing off yet again that Americans have lost all sense of virtue when it comes to this damn sandwich. People were fighting in lines and more than anyone it was the employees were were suffering. At this point, I personally believed it was time to shut it down but I knew Popeye’s was making far too much money for that to happen. But soon the Popeye’s Chicken sandwich experience started to hit a little bit closer to home and I really got to thinking…
On November 4th (yes, one day after the launch of the re-release smh), articles were reporting that a man was fatally stabbed for cutting in line at a Popeye’s in Oxon Hill, MD about 30 minutes from where I live/work. I was of course very upset about the situation but like the millennial I am I avoided unpacking the situation and instead sat on Twitter retweeting memes about the situation created by other Marylanders. It wasn’t until two days later when a friend of mine expressed how upset she was about the situation. One of my students and I had been bantering back and forth with her in a joking manner about the situation because the area that the situation occurred in is often labelled as “the hood”. But she came to me and asked me why I felt comfortable promoting the anti-Black narrative that the Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich is promoting. At first I took offense at the thought her putting me and anti-Black in the same sentence but I am rarely one to pop off without reflection so I took some time to think about what she said.
Very soon I came to the conclusion that she was actually right. In thinking of the media coverage and the way that negative experiences were reported and videos released, they were almost always creating a narrative that Black people love fried chicken so much that they’d kill for it. This was then co-signed by Ja Rule (whose statements have kind of been a bit questionable since the Fyre Festival situation but who is still a well-known figure in the Black community) who said he was disappointed by his people and that people are “idiots” and “acting like niggas” when ranting about the sandwich epidemic. The funny thing about all of this is that there is never any other information about other people….non-Black people…enjoying the sandwich – and I know they’re out there eating it too!
Ironically, it was determined that man in Oxon Hill was not stabbed for cutting in line but rather for previous beef between the two men and the altercation just conveniently went down at a Popeye’s in the midst of the sandwich fanfare. But this new information was never reported despite traction by Marylanders to get the truth reported via Twitter after it was made clear by someone who had a personal connection to the assailant. I had people reaching out to me about the situation asking if I’m ok and as the prideful Marylander I am I was quite quick to spread the truth and nothing but it. For many people, the way this was reported served as a breaking point for many like myself who were fed up about the way the Popeye’s experience was shared in a way that negatively impacts Black people. Many went out of their way to find and promote footage of White people also acting up at Popeye’s. But the sad part about this was that many of these videos were because a White person called the employees or another customer the N-word. And more often than not, these headlines would start with “White Women Attacked at Popeye’s” so the narrative was once again skewed this time in favor of White people. And in reading some of these articles, employees of color seemed to be the people who still suffered in situations like this as they are investigated for situations like this even though they were clearly provoked by grossly racist customers.
Much similar to Black Friday, Americans of all backgrounds don’t know how to act when the demand is high and the supply low. But just like Black Friday, it’s more than just Black people that behave in these harmful ways. So, although the Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich may be saving America’s stomachs and palette, it had done little to save us from the disgusting and false narratives that Black people as a whole are fried-chicken loving criminals. Now, I’m not saying that we need to give up on the sandwich (bless your stomachs, y’all and Popeyes, get your coins, girl!) but I’m just thinking about how it never hurts to keep a critical eye out for the narratives that these cultural sensations can perpetuate. Yes, fried chicken is certainly something that brings many Black people together (my family included!) but the honest truth is that it is something that has brought many types of folks from all walks of life together and into Popeye’s so we need to paint that entire picture. Maybe instead of talking about these isolated instances of black on black crime that may or may not even be related to chicken, let’s talk about getting some paid time off for these employees who are at this point putting their life on the line to make American stomachs happy!
– Aspen S., Official Contributor of The Crowned Series