Photo Courtesy Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours

Behind the LineAtlanta

If Systemic Racism Is The Immovable Object, Then Now Is The Time To Be The Unstoppable Force

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Deborah VanTrece is the chef and owner of Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours in Atlanta.

*****

This time, it’s going to be different.

That is what I would tell myself every time our country experienced a moment of racial injustice and systemic racism. The names seem to blend into one another. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Yet, change seemed to move at a glacial pace, if at all. Every time we reach these moments that boil over, I am left feeling sad, drained, and disheartened.

But this time, it really feels like we as a country will finally begin to honestly address the things that have to change in order to move forward together. This is more than a moment for me. This is a culmination of years of repetitive moments addressing systemic racial injustice. 

Is systemic racism the immovable object? If so, we need to be the unstoppable force.

Americans in power must be willing to acknowledge that there is a problem, then be committed to doing the hard work. What changes are you willing to make? 

Coincidentally, I have personally experienced the same roller coaster of emotions as a black entrepreneur and LGBTQ business owner in the restaurant industry. There are some parallels in the fight for racial justice. As we find ourselves in this moment in time, there are a number of things that need to change for black chefs and restaurant owners.

The industry has to be consistent in the opportunities it offers all culinary artists; it should always be about the person’s talents and abilities. Stop trying to put us in a box. Don’t assume that I bake pastries because I am a woman or that only black chefs cook soul food. We need to see the industry be inclusive in its actions and demonstrate a willingness to create a level playing field for all in the industry.

No one is looking for a handout. Talented people in the industry just want a fair opportunity to learn, to gain experience and exposure in the industry, and to have empathetic mentors that can help them perfect their craft and not fear their success.

Deborah VanTrece. Photo Courtesy Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours

I remember being fresh out of culinary school and working alongside a prominent chef. He was demanding; I did not mind that. What I minded was that he wanted to keep me in a box. He would always relegate me to one aspect of the kitchen. He was comfortable enough to tell me that I would go no further in my experience with him. 

One night while leaving, he followed me to my car and said, “If I had known how talented you were, I would not have hired you.” This statement has always been my fuel to open my own restaurant. The idea that he felt he could control my talent and or exposure is an example of deep-rooted inequalities that are still prevalent in this industry today. I still go places where there are only a handful of women and/or African Americans being represented in the industry. It is 2020 and we are still fighting for equal footing in this industry.

In the past couple of weeks, we have heard people of color ask the question: Show me what will be different this time.

We need to ask the same thing of our peers in the restaurant industry. We must learn that to make change, we will have to do the hard work. It’s not as simple as posting a black square in your Instagram feed or posting a Black Lives Matter sign.  We must be willing to speak out for all in our industry. 

When we remain silent, we are just as complicit. I don’t expect anyone to be combative with fists, but I do need us to refuse to accept the racial overtures and bias within the industry. Our media has been effective in highlighting the blatant injustices caught on camera. We need to be just as diligent to bring to light those injustices that don’t garner the headlines of the national media.

Our local community here in Atlanta has been very supportive of Twisted Soul during this pandemic and through the current racial tensions. My heart overflows with thankfulness to those people who came in for takeout. For those who bought gift certificates. For those who booked catering events and paid in advance and for those who gave donations. 

The Atlanta restaurant scene has a strong divide, and it would be nice to see those division lines removed. I yearn for the day when diners will support “good” restaurants regardless of the color of the business owner. I not only hope for that day. I fight for that day. I am proud to be a mentor to my staff who have dreams of becoming an executive chef or opening their own restaurant one day. 

We want nothing from you except for you to see us, and value the contributions that we make to the food industry without bias or hesitation.  

This time, it’s going to be different.

But only if we become the unstoppable force.

Deborah VanTrece is the chef and owner of Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours in Atlanta.

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