This weekend marks the third in a row for protests in Philadelphia in support of Black Lives Matter after the killing of George Floyd. Hundreds turned out around the city yesterday for several different demonstrations. But amid the social and political upheaval, white supremacists and other extremists groups are using these protests and the pandemic to amplify their message.
We also chatted with reporter Samantha Melamed about how the movement is possibly changing Philly’s restaurant industry.
Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with Samantha Melamed about her recent story on how the Black Lives Matter movement is affecting Philadelphia’s restaurant industry.
You don’t usually cover Philadelphia restaurants. How did you find this story?
Michael Klein, who is seemingly omniscient when it comes to Philadelphia’s restaurant scene, first flagged the trend of restaurateurs floundering to address the Black Lives Matter movement. Then, The Inquirer’s (relatively) new food editor, Jamila Robinson, recognized that one reason they seemed to be having such a difficult time with it was that many have not dealt with the racism that is already baked into the restaurant industry, as it is in so many other facets of American life. Because I’ve covered food and bars for The Inquirer, as well as issues of race and identity, Jamila asked me to explore the larger story here.
What is something new you learned while reporting this story?
Blew Kind from Franny Lou’s Porch in Kensington really shed light for me on how difficult it is to be a black business owner right now — trying to keep staff safe while people were coming by her cafe and yelling, “White lives matter!”, not trusting the police to protect her business, and at the same time trying to create her own community safety plan so that she would not be part of embroiling others in the criminal-legal system unnecessarily.
What was one of most challenging parts of covering this story?
A lot of chefs and restaurant owners, including people I’ve interviewed before, did not want to talk to me, or did not get back to me at all. And staff generally were unwilling to speak on the record, if at all — an understandable reluctance given that the job market in the restaurant industry has been decimated and will likely be incredibly fragile as we get back to work. Overall, I think it’s clear that this is the beginning of a much longer conversation, one that many people still don’t have the words for.
Is there anything you think will stay with you from this story?
The black chefs and restaurant owners I interviewed really made me think about what the media’s role has been in reinforcing stereotypes, overlooking black chefs or failing to recognize the place of Southern and soul food traditions in the culinary canon. We all need to examine our coverage and our role in structural racism.
Why did you become a reporter?
I have always loved that my role is to listen, to learn more about people’s lives that are so different from my own, to share their stories and translate them in the hope that they will resonate with a wider audience. Over the years, one thing I have come to value greatly is that it is one of the rare jobs that is always for truth.
What is one thing you wish more people knew about your job?
Careful reporting takes time — we need your patience! But we also need you to keep pushing us to do the difficult stories. It takes sources with the courage to speak up, but you can always talk to us off the record about how to move forward safely with delicate stories.
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After months of stay-at-home orders and sheltering in place, some of us really need a vacation. But while the stay-at-home order has been lifted in Pennsylvania, and you technically can travel, it’s important to think about whether you should. While you can mitigate the risk of getting sick, you can’t completely eliminate it. Here’s more on what to know if you decide to travel this summer.
“There are like three dozen streets throughout Philadelphia we should have done this with already, and the pandemic recovery makes it even more important.” — orange you glad, on how West Chester’s popular Gay Street will close to cars and allow outside dining.