So, during the “Black Jeopardy” skit on SNL last weekend, the last question reiterated a theme that seems to exist within black culture. White people’s inability to make proper potato salad is such a known truth that even King T’Challa, who got every other answer wrong, instinctively knew that their potato salad isn’t to be trusted. Or sampled. Or even encouraged. It’s a fact that apparently transcends time, culture, status and Wakanda.
Are you going to ask a question? Because right now you’re just stating facts. Which I appreciate—yay, facts! I just want to know if there’s a question there.
Yes, I have a question. Where does this fear come from?
Ah. Well, before I answer, I want us all to take some time to watch and appreciate that skit again.
Also, just to let you know that this isn’t a hysterical and baseless fear, I, too, have been scarred by janky potato salad made by unbrown hands. I was 24, and my then-girlfriend (“Kim”) invited me to a Memorial Day cookout one of her white classmates (“Megan”) hosted. Also, I’m not quite sure if her name was Megan. But I remember her as a Megan, and she acted like a Megan, so she’ll be Megan for the rest of the story.
Anyway, Megan and her friends were nice people and gracious hosts, and they did have a robust selection of meats. While getting my plate, I saw a large bowl of clam chowder with a serving spoon in it next to the burgers, which struck me as odd. I enjoy clam chowder, but that was the first time I’ve seen someone with a gallon of it and serving it in the summer. I passed on it, grabbed some baked beans, some chips and some vegetables to put on my burger and sat down.
Later, Megan sat near me and struck up a conversation.
“Hey Damon, are you having a good time?”
“Yes. Thank you for inviting me.”
“No problem. Oh ... and Kim said you loved potato salad, and I made some specifically for you, but I didn’t see you get any.”
“Oh, there was potato salad? I didn’t see it.”
“Yeah, it’s right on the table. Hold on a sec. I’ll get it for you.”
As Megan got up to retrieve the salad, I happily and anxiously waited for her to return. And she did, 30 seconds later, with that bowl of clam chowder.
“Just let me know how much you want,” she said as she grabbed the serving spoon—a move that, considering what was in the spoon, I should’ve considered a threat.
“Umm ... ,” I said, perplexed and paralyzed and disgusted by this lukewarm “potato salad” soup she was about to pour on my plate. I couldn’t say no—I was too terrified—so I just let it plop on my plate (yes, it fucking plopped!) and splash on my burger.
“Umm ... thanks ... Megan.”
God must have been at that cookout, too, because right after she did that, she was called away to take a phone call or something. As soon as she left, I got up and threw that potato-salad puddle and my now-tainted burger in the nearest trash can.
That was quite the story.
Yes, it was!
Is a mistrust of white people’s potato salad a universal truth of blackness?
Not at all. Some of us like it but don’t consider it essential enough to care very much about how good or bad it is. And some of us don’t like it at all. We call those people “Kappas.”
Also, you have to understand that people who care about potato salad don’t trust just anyone’s potato salad, black or white. It’s a fact I articulated a couple years ago:
The potato-salad-preparing duties are usually given to a person who has earned them. Because this process involves a measure of trust. And years of experience have taught us that potato salad made by someone named “Shirley” or “Big Frank” or “Eleanor”—someone Black enough and old enough to say things like “I went to the prom with Otis Redding” and “Criminal Minds is on”—is probably going to be good.
Ah, so this mistrust of white people’s potato salad is more about a latent distrust of white people than their cooking?
Well, that latent mistrust matters. Because America. But also, white people can be a bit too experimental with their food sometimes. I guess this happens because “just living life” doesn’t give them the same thrills and scares and dangers that it provides for us, so they have to find their excitement elsewhere. This is how a thing like the Avocado Toast Cocktail is invented, and also where potato salad with Frosted Flakes or Pop-Tarts or Cheetos comes from.
Basically, if you want to understand white people’s relationship with potato salad, just watch the X Games.
So this fear is justified?
Let’s just say that I’m glad God was at Megan’s cookout that day to save me, because if I’d taken a spoonful of that moat of potatoes, I probably wouldn’t be around today to tell that story.