In the wake of this summer's racial justice protests, businesses are reevaluating their commitment to diversity and inclusion. But for some local Black chefs, the inequitable landscape looks much the same as it always has.
To be a Black chef in the fine dining world is to go through several phases. To hear Matthew Heaggans describe it, the steps are like the five stages of grief, except there are only three of them and they’re about racism. Still, both tracks end the same way: acceptance.
“There’s a timeframe where you’re really angry about it,” says Heaggans, co-owner of Preston’s: A Burger Joint and former co-owner of Ambrose and Eve. “Then, there’s a timeframe where you get resolved to it. Then, you move into a timeframe where you don’t notice it until it’s really, really egregious.”
When the nation erupted into protests this summer over the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the egregiousness of racism became too much for white Americans to ignore. Suddenly, the streets were full of protesters, in some places for weeks on end. Social media became a landscape of black boxes, calls to #BuyBlack and a resource hub on everything from how to defund the police to how to be a better ally. As support for the movement grew, many said this time, things felt different.
But for Heaggans and the other Black chefs Columbus Monthly spoke to, the problems they’re experiencing today—institutional racism, unconscious bias, missed opportunities—are the same problems they were experiencing five and 10 years ago.
“Day to day, it doesn’t feel different to me,” Heaggans says. “I hear people saying different words, but I haven’t had an opportunity to see people do different things.”
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