At least twice a month at my home, Friday is pizza night. I am sure that other families have their own traditions, especially at this time when children are home on vacation from school.
I know too that the malls, particularly the food courts, are abuzz with teenagers pouncing on fast food outlets like KFC, Subway, Mario’s and Dominos. In all estimation, Trinis are more predisposed towards fried chicken but pizza remains a standard fare and staple for ravishing adolescents.
The children of the 1980s have a soft spot for our local pizza outlet Mario’s, we have seen in recent time foreign competitions from franchises such as Pizza Hut and Papa John’s restaurants that are both American brands.
These brands are associated with popular American sporting leagues—such as the National Football League (NFL) and Major League Baseball (MLB)—and also play their part as corporate citizens in pumping millions of dollars into charities and community programmes throughout the United States.
But while their altruism is commendable, wealth should not allow them to get away with being disrespectful to other races and cultures.
In this country, I believe our colonial experience left us with a penchant for things foreign; and we have a particular weakness for embracing everything American. However, we must look closely at the companies that set-up shop here—their history and their business practices—before accepting them into our society.
Therefore, let’s look at Papa John’s founder, John Schnatter, who stepped down as company chairman recently, due to the fallout over his use of the ‘n’-word during a conference call training session in May.
The use of the ‘n’-word is a highly contentious, sensitive and belligerent subject in American society and holds dark memories of the humiliation and abasement against blacks during slavery. It is a stinging lash against people of colour and is often used by non-blacks to rebuke and debase, insult and degrade.
In Trinidad and Tobago, despite a diverse racial mixture of people, we are not immune from our own ethnocentrism and prejudices; but we are still able to eat, lime and share the same space without feeling unwanted or unwelcome.
At present, Papa John’s has at least three restaurants in Trinidad. However, citizens and pizza lovers should demand a press conference by representatives of its local franchise to denounce and distance itself from Schnatter’s slur.
We must send a message that the ‘n’-word has no place in our vernacular.
Why? I hope we’re not getting like the easily triggered, safe-space seeking Americans. There has been a huge over-reaction to this issue. Context matters. Mr Schatter didn’t call anyone a n——, didn’t use it in a pejorative context but was simply referring to the fact that Col Sanders used the same word without any harm to KFC’s brand. This occurred during a private call to his marketing consultant. Rather than object at the use of the word at the time, this consultant chose to sit on the information, blackmail Papa John, and when that fail make the information public. I’m keenly aware of the racial prejudices that still exist in our country based on private remarks to people who think ‘i am on their side’. But i’ve always appreciated our tough skin. In my high school, the n word, the c word were thrown about and were almost a used like a term of affection. I’m not advocating that of course, and i’m aware of the painful history associated with that word in the US. But we are not therm, and we don’t have to import their stupidity down here.