Fried Chicken, Watermelon and You aims to heal cultural damage

Author challenges dysfunctional decisions Blacks make that hinder their progression


By Dwight Hobbes
Contributing Writer


fried-chicken-watermelon-and-youAfrican Americans today are not known for an abiding sense of accountability. In fact, according to an overriding tendency toward excuses and blaming slavery on the one hand and the White man on the other as some sort of mantra, you’d hardly know we ever believed that, despite the institutionalized racism perpetrated against us, it’s our responsibility to do something about it. Keenly insightful essayist and candid social critic Cindy Traxler’s Fried Chicken, Watermelon and You (CC&J Publications) clearly details the imperative to self-empower.

She takes on a complicated issue and, addressing vital aspects that usually are attended to with knee-jerk rhetoric, doesn’t simplify it, employing a discerning eye, common sense, and uncommon frankness to render solutions quite accessible. “I’m looking to challenge the old, stale, tired, and counterproductive practices of my people,” reads the introductory essay, “Let Me Explain.”

Among those counterproductive practices, she states, are “mastering things [like] our rapping skill before our grammar skills or nurturing our athletes more than our future doctors.” In “My People,” the author makes it clear she isn’t arbitrarily bashing Black folk, since we have had more than a little help in opting for skewed aspirations.

“The mainstream society (the White-male patriarchy we call America) seems to show us in a few over-simplified ways. We are either super successful entertainers/athletes with some kind of violent temper or we are criminals being taken to prison for drugs or some kind of Black-on-Black crime. The majority of us are lost somewhere in there, because it’s not sexy to see a single mother staying up until 3 am to finish a final paper so she can graduate from college.”

Ultimately, no matter how much of whose fault it is, it is wholly our job to solve the problem of how to undo the damage that being ensnared in this social system fosters. Accordingly, consider Fried Chicken, Watermelon and You, at a slim, trim 114 pages, a sort of handy-dandy reality check that takes off the kid gloves in pulling our coats to the vital need for Black folk to get our feet off our own necks, not in the least by interrupting the chronic cycle of babies making babies and parents failing to partner in child rearing.

Perhaps the only more disastrous condition in African American communities than an entrenched aversion to education — there’s a reason for the truism, “If you want to hide something from somebody Black, put it between the pages of a book” — is characteristic familial dysfunction. “The story in the Black community,” she writes in “The Black Family,” “isn’t boy meets girl, falls in love, proposes, and they live happily ever after. The story is a bit more like, boy meets girls, they may go out on a few dates (if he has a job), they…have sex and a baby comes and boy leaves [her] taking care of baby.

“Instead of learning not to move so fast in the next relationship, she does it again, with the same outcome only to produce a second child with another man that also moves. If she is a real intellectual loser she repeats this step a couple more times until she has several children, with several different fathers, and struggles to take care of them… This must stop.”

In other essays, like “Overcoming,” “Show Me Your Friends,” and “That’s for White People,” Traxler does well at taking on a tough job, confronting and commenting on issues we see every day yet simply shake our heads and say, “That’s such a shame.” “Sister Thick” takes a level, clear-eyed look at a health issue that continually is ignored in plain sight, the overweight Black woman. It talks about the actual life-threatening result of romanticizing “soul food” instead of picking and choosing which parts of that age-old staple to keep and which to discard.

Cindy Traxler Photo by Charles Hallman
Cindy Traxler
Photo by Charles Hallman

“We are the fattest ethnic group in the United States…more likely to have hypertension, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, etc. The statistics tell us over and over again that we are unhealthy, and we see the rates of obesity jumping in our community, yet you can’t go to an event targeted at, or ran by, the African American community without finding an abundance of unhealthy food.”

Too bad she doesn’t also say something about feeding kids barbecue chips and Kool-Aid for breakfast, getting them in the habit early of starting the day by eating garbage instead of a good meal. Nonetheless, she certainly succeeds in driving home the point that you literally are what you eat and it won’t hurt Black women (or men) one bit to eat better.

Suffice to say Traxler rightfully acknowledges that warriors in the 1960s civil rights fight for equality, not to mention their predecessors, did not overcome so that today’s grassroots can subsist as a self-defeated underclass squandering hard-won opportunity. “I want to challenge how we make simple decisions, individually and as a community, that keep us from progressing in a system that our ancestors fought hard for us to have access to.”

Visiting the MSR offices, Cindy Traxler spoke at length about these and other topics, illuminating a truth she didn’t quite cover in Fried Chicken, Watermelon and You. The excuse that coming from a broken home determines that one’s future is that of irreparably damaged goods is hogwash.

“My parents divorced when I was 10,” Traxler said, “and my husband Charles’ parents never married. He grew up without his father in the home. We decided the best path for our son Jalani was a stable home, which started with us being together.

“We also stressed education and stayed very present in his life, making sure we knew his friends and limited his exposure to negative people, even if that meant keeping him away from certain family members.” Jalani Traxler presently attends Morehouse College.

Regrettably, many women and girls who’d most benefit from Traxler’s book don’t read much more than trashy novels and, already trailing a tribe, hip-deep in children, they’d be lucky to remember by which man they had what child, assistance applications for the next bun presently baking in the oven. By and large, the males who need to understand this book can barely comprehend the print on their most recent parole documents from prison.

Serious reading is for White folk and wannabe’s. For all that, Fried Chicken, Watermelon and You contains a wealth of wisdom. If, to answer the proverbial question, you chop down a tree in the forest and no one hears it, it may as well not make a sound. On the other hand, her previous title, From the Inside, (CC&J Publications) stands a strong chance of reaching its intended audience. It’s a memoir of how Traxler, formerly 326 lbs, did something about her own diet and rescued her health.

“I had high blood pressure, elevated sugars, acne, sleep apnea, joint pain, and I was depressed. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was very ill.” This is not just for welfare queens. Regardless of where you are on the social ladder, you know Black women who carry around too much weight.

Next for Cindy Traxler is to explore feminism and the African American woman. “I want to examine how feminism has benefitted African American women politically, socially, and financially since the Civil Rights Act was passed. I believe this [is an] important issue because Black women haven’t benefitted in the same way White women have, and Black women often reject identifying themselves as feminist, even though we have always, out of necessity, been feminists.

“So, I want to identify what feminism means, and has meant, to African American women. I will examine statistics from the last 50 years and use those facts to [counter] the social perceptions that feminism is bad for Black women.

“It is critical to educate Black women about our history in regards to this topic. More and more, I observe that Black women are being portrayed in negative lights with many of us participating or supporting these negative images.

“I hope my work will allow African American women to gain a deeper understanding of feminism and use the empowerment that comes with it to assist in healing our communities.”


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.