My mother’s favorite piece of advice is: “There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything. You can say anything, if you say it correctly.” Even if your message isn’t pleasant, delivery and word choice accounts for most of it. Alternatively, a positive message can be spoiled by the wrong attitude and approach.
If there’s a wrong way to push people to support your business, Detroit Shrimp & Fish BBQ found it. In this age of tentative conversations and small, but seemingly genuine, pushes for change, they added this to their menu:
“Welcome to Detroit Shrimp and Fish! We, the Black man and woman, are the only members of the human race that deliberately walk past the place of business of one of your own kind and spend our dollars with your natural enemies.” Setting aside grammar and sentence structure, let’s unpack why this was foolish or, at the very least, horribly articulated.
First, my personal caveat. Being Black in the George Floyd era is infuriating. Amid the condescension, we see an endless obituary of Black people murdered unjustly and still hear white people hem and haw over whether there’s a race issue in this country, and if we deserve to speak about it.
Every day we learn how deeply racism is entrenched in society and how long it’ll take to uproot it. As a Black woman, I understand a very small part of the frustration with race relations that might have led to this statement.
But words have meaning, and these will likely lead to things that I doubt Detroit Shrimp & Fish wants. We’re assuming they meant white people, but they didn’t specify any other race but Black, so, for all we know, Asians and Hispanics are our natural enemies, too. Secondly, this is just going to annoy everyone who reads it, particularly the influx of white transplants flooding Detroit in recent years.
(I reached out to Detroit Shrimp & Fish for a comment, but by the time I got to “menu,” they hung up. So, there’s that.)
If you’re aiming to promote Black patronage in the community, demonizing random white folks going about their days (reading your menu!) and snidely guilt-tripping Black customers is not the way to go. We should never cater to white comfort, but classifying two races as “natural enemies” sounds like something straight from Bull Connor’s diary. It’s the opposite of the direction we need to go.
Detroit Shrimp & Fish might point to other businesses that adopted different policies for white people to defend this. Last year, the Afrofuturist music festival faced backlash for charging white people double to attend, and several Black-owned businesses across the nation have made a point to service and support non-white brands and customers.
The message might be similar, but the delivery is wildly different. Those businesses typically exist in sectors that were traditionally white or have been whitewashed, thus the emphasis on diversity. There are Black-owned fish spots all around Detroit that get patronized. As far as I know, none of them tried to passive-aggressively read their Black customers and assume their motivations – or imply they aren’t smart enough to support Black business without prodding.
In the wake of initiatives like Blackout Business day and a wealth of apps created solely to highlight Black entrepreneurs, this was tone deaf, inflammatory and hostile to the very people you’re trying to entice.
Black people aren’t purposefully taking support out of the community. At multiple times in history we had no choice butto buy from ourselves. You can’t avoid giving white businesses money in today’s world. Even still, my mom could go to Home Depot for her summer flowers and, instead, chooses to go to the garden center up the street that’s owned – wait for it – by a Black woman.
The google reviews decrying inconsistent food, rude service and high prices at Detroit Shrimp & Fish BBQ might be more to blame for decreasing success than any “natural enemy.”