Country-fried bigotry

by Rob Horning

19 February 2008


Once upon a time, I wouldn’t venture into a Cracker Barrel because I just assumed it was for NASCAR fans and Yankee Candle lovers only, but my shameful weakness for sausage gravy has forced me to reconsider in recent years. But even when you take into account the way the novelty gift store subsidizes the food and makes it absurdly cheap, it’s hard to understand its popularity—it seems always to be crowded, no matter how remote the highway exit it’s situated by or how confusing its tractor-trailer-accommodating parking lots are to navigate. It seemed a reminder of the reality of so-called red-state America, of just who it was that voted for George W. Bush when I couldn’t think of a people in my (extremely limited) acquaintance who had done so. Eating there seems unpleasantly like an expression of a political preference, an endorsement of the commercial exploitation of a folksy corniness (much like G.W. Bush’s) that serves to mask an underlying xenophobia for everyone involved. There’s a fireplace and a checkerboard with rocking chairs in front, and a little wood-block puzzle on every table and nary an immigrant in sight. No, this is “real” America, with the dopey Christian tchotchkes on sale to prove it.

So I can’t really say I was shocked to discover, from this FT article today about upcoming Supreme Court discrimination cases, that a black ex-employee has filed a suit against Cracker Barrel (apparently aptly named), alleging he was fired when he complained about racial discrimination on the job. You would never ever expect, of course, that a company that rose to prominence on the Interstate-exit-restaurant scene by promoting itself as anti-urban through a variety of old-timey tropes meant to stir nostalgia for an era when “country” and “down-home” values reigned, would be suspected of racial discrimination. It’s not like its whole marketing approach seeks to evoke an America in which minorities don’t exist or anything.

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