White Burgers, Black Cash

Fast Food from Black Exclusion to Exploitation

2023
Author:

Naa Oyo A. Kwate

The long and pernicious relationship between fast food restaurants and the African American community

White Burgers, Black Cash traces the evolution in fast food from the early 1900s to the present, from its long history of racist exclusion to its current damaging embrace of urban Black communities. Deeply researched, compellingly told, and brimming with surprising details, this book reveals the inequalities embedded in America’s popular national food tradition.

White Burgers, Black Cash comes crashing through everything you thought you knew about fast food to land as the definitive history of how this industry has become so entrenched in Black communities. Built on a staggering body of evidence, this riveting and accessible exploration of fast food’s troubled racial transformation is necessary reading for anyone concerned about inequitable food environments. A masterpiece.

Bryant Terry, James Beard and NAACP Image Award-winning editor of Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora

Today, fast food is disproportionately located in Black neighborhoods and marketed to Black Americans through targeted advertising. But throughout much of the twentieth century, fast food was developed specifically for White urban and suburban customers, purposefully avoiding Black spaces. In White Burgers, Black Cash, Naa Oyo A. Kwate traces the evolution in fast food from the early 1900s to the present, from its long history of racist exclusion to its current damaging embrace of urban Black communities.

Fast food has historically been tied to the country’s self-image as the land of opportunity and is marketed as one of life’s simple pleasures, but a more insidious history lies at the industry’s core. White Burgers, Black Cash investigates the complex trajectory of restaurant locations from a decided commitment to Whiteness to the disproportionate densities that characterize Black communities today. Kwate expansively charts fast food’s racial and spatial transformation and centers the cities of Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C., in a national examination of the biggest brands of today, including White Castle, KFC, Burger King, McDonald’s, and more.

Deeply researched, compellingly told, and brimming with surprising details, White Burgers, Black Cash reveals the inequalities embedded in America’s popular national food tradition.

Naa Oyo A. Kwate is associate professor of Africana studies and human ecology at Rutgers. She is author of Burgers in Blackface: Anti-Black Restaurants Then and Now (Minnesota, 2019) and editor of The Street: A Photographic Field Guide to American Inequality.

White Burgers, Black Cash comes crashing through everything you thought you knew about fast food to land as the definitive history of how this industry has become so entrenched in Black communities. Built on a staggering body of evidence, this riveting and accessible exploration of fast food’s troubled racial transformation is necessary reading for anyone concerned about inequitable food environments. A masterpiece.

Bryant Terry, James Beard and NAACP Image Award-winning editor of Black Food: Stories, Art, and Recipes from Across the African Diaspora

White Burgers, Black Cash is a must read for anyone interested in the politics of food, racial identity, and belonging. Naa Oyo A. Kwate weaves a narrative that dissects Black exploitation, corporations, and socioeconomic divides in communities to help us better understand the timeline of American fast food restaurants, from exclusionary whiteness to the present. You’ll see fast food well beyond its place as a basic quintessential American meal.

Christina Greer, author of Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream

Contents

Introduction: How Did Fast Food Become Black?

Part I. White Utopias

1. A Fortress of Whiteness: First-Generation Fast Food in the Early Twentieth Century

2. Inharmonious Food Groups: Burger Chateaux, Chicken Shacks, and Urban Renewal’s Attack on the Existential Threat of Blackness

3. Suburbs and Sundown Towns: The Rise of Second-Generation Fast Food

4. Freedom from Panic: American Myth and the Untenability of Black Space

5. Delinquents, Disorder, and Death: Racial Violence and Fast Food’s Growing Disrepute at Midcentury

Part II. Racial Turnover

6. How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? (Mis)Managing Racial Change and the Advent of Black Operators

7. To Banish, Boycott, or Bash? Moderates and Militants Clash in Cleveland

8. Government Burgers: Federal Financing of Fast Food in the Ghetto

9. You’ve Got to Be In: Black Franchisors and Black Economic Power

Part III. Black Catastrophe

10. Blaxploitation: Fast Food Stokes a New Urban Logic

11. PUSH and Pull: Black Advertising and Racial Covenants Fuel Fast Food Growth

12. Ghetto Wars: Fast Food Tussles for Profits amid Sufferation

13. Criminal Chicken: Perceptions of Deviant Black Consumption

14. 365 Black: A Racial Transformation Complete

Conclusion: The Racial Costs

Acknowledgments

Notes

Index