The Popeyes chicken sandwich frenzy seemingly has no end in sight. People have been waiting hours for it, and it is said to put Chick-fil-A’s rival offering to shame. Black folks on social media have made this moment fun, finding joy amid a constantly punishing news cycle. Unfortunately, the cost of having public displays of Black joy is always high. For Black people, our joy has to always be juxtaposed against a struggle or need, tempering the job while also removing our ability to even do something as small as eat without thinking about oppression.
Black people don’t need special fast food voting booths; Suggesting they do plays into problematic (and frankly racist) talking points about lazy Black people who can’t or won’t vote.
As lines wrapped around the block, a young Black boy had a smart idea. David Ledbetter, 17, went to his local Popeyes in Charlotte, North Carolina, and set up a booth to register Black folks to vote as they waited in line. To the teen’s surprise, when asking customers in line he learned that most of the people waiting were already registered to vote. Registering is not the same thing as voting, but the fact that so many people in line were registered offers at least a partial rebuttal to the perception that many Black people aren't interested in the right.
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But social media took Ledbetter’s good idea and turned it into something much less helpful.
Artist Janelle Monáe suggested on Twitter that “perhaps we put voting booths at every Popeyes location?” Actress Cynthia Erivo, star of the upcoming Harriet Tubman biopic, chimed in to agree.
The problem is that Black people don’t need special fast-food voting booths; suggesting they do plays into problematic (and frankly racist) talking points about lazy Black people who can’t or won’t vote. Indeed, Republican elected officials over the past decade have repeatedly used rhetoric about how Black people will stand in line for food stamps or to get “free stuff.” The party's presidential nominee in 2012, Mitt Romney, claimed that Barack Obama beat him because Obama was offering “gifts” to Black voters. A few years later, Jeb Bush was quoted as stating: “Our message is one of hope and aspiration. It isn’t one of division and ‘Get in line, and we’ll take care of you with free stuff.'"
Whether or not they’re trying to echo people like Newt Gingrich, those asking this week if people willing to wait in line for chicken were also willing to wait in line to vote sure sounded a lot like “welfare queen”-obsessed Republicans.