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Embracing discomfort, Bayview’s ‘Blackness in America’ dinner series forges dialogue

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 21:17
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(Before It's News)

by Meaghan M. Mitchell

In the wake of racial tension the United States is currently facing, renowned chef and author Tunde Wey has been making his way around the nation hosting a dinner series titled Blackness in America.

Guests dine while discussing racial inequality. – Photo: Meaghan M. Mitchell, Hoodline

Guests dine while discussing racial inequality. – Photo: Meaghan M. Mitchell, Hoodline

On Tuesday night, he teamed up with Caleb Zigas of La Cocina, Fernay McPherson of Minnie Bell’s Soul Movement, Reem Assil of Reem’s California and Birite Market to host a conversation about racial and social inequalities that African Americans residents face daily in their communities over dinner in the Bayview’s Southeast Community Center.

With Wey’s tour targeting historically African American neighborhoods, he selected Bayview as the destination for his San Francisco stop. Days later, he hosted a dinner in Oakland.

During Tuesday night’s dinner – which cost $10 each and was served family style – roughly 200 community members from different cultural backgrounds, including many who were raised in Bayview, gathered at tables to break bread and discuss their personal experiences with race.

To prepare for the conversation, attendees were asked to read the essays The Combahee River Collective Statement and The Case for Reparations. And upon a request by Caleb Zigas, participants were required to sit next to people that they didn’t yet know. “Being uncomfortable is important,” he said. “It’s all in service of edification.”

Chef Tunde Wey (center) talks with diners.

Chef Tunde Wey (center) talks with diners.

Tables of diners discussed a wide range of topics, from police brutality to systemic racism in the workplace to the achievement gap in the educational system. On an even more personal level, groups discussed how they romantically view the genders within their race as well as interracial dating. Throughout the night, participants shared stories from their own perspectives, whether they’ve witnessed racism from the outside or have been directly targeted.

“I’ve been to round table discussions like this, but it’s usually with my fellow Black folks,” said one local man during the discussion. “I know this isn’t centered around the election, but I feel like now that everyone is starting to see how racism works – and we have the camera phones to thank for that – you can’t run away from it.

“You can’t act like it’s not happening. It’s in your face. So now that people from different cultural backgrounds are starting to see it, I believe that there is an opportunity for positive changes.”

“It’s unfortunate that I never had the chance to experience my community as being a safe haven,” shared one Bayview woman. “Bayview will always be home to me, but I grew up in poverty and isolated from the rest of the city.

Meaghan Mitchell

Meaghan Mitchell

“I’m not sure what will come from this,” she added, “but I think it’s good that we are bringing people from different cultures to the community to have this discussion, so they can start to understand what it was like for people like me to grow up in an underrepresented neighborhood and similar communities throughout the nation. There’s a history of systemic racism and inequality, and in everyday life when you try to have those conversations, often people are dismissive.”

Another major collaborator on this event was Our Wisemen, a group of professional men of color who aim to offer Black youth positive role models in an effort to address the issues that plague individuals and communities of color.

“We are using our platform to evoke change,” said Theo Ellington, a member of Our Wisemen. “I’ve witnessed the lack of quality education, the failure of to transfer generational wealth, and saw the need for more affordable homeownership opportunities.”

As Chef Wey continues to travel across the states and host dinner party discussions with additional communities, Our Wisemen will continue its efforts to increase Black leadership in San Francisco, starting with the Bayview.

Meaghan M. Mitchell is a news reporter at Hoodline, where this story first appeared. She can be reached via Twitter, at @meaghan_m.

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