Split Palate [Transition]

Split Palate [Transition]

Split Palate

examining the black middle class aesthetic in new Newark’s restaurant culture

Reniqua Allen

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On a warm Easter Sunday in 2010, the new Newark is dead. The doors to the corporations that line the sky of this former manufacturing town are locked. The commuter driven universities are nearly empty. The restaurants are gated. And aside from a small crowd standing in front of a church, nothing roams the streets but a few pieces of litter. There aren’t the usual signs of life on one of the first warm days after a cold winter—children playing in the street, smells of food wafting through the air, shop owners waving people in—in fact, it is hauntingly quiet.

It seems ironic that it is this area of downtown, the North Broad/Halsey Street corridor, that is supposed to be on the brink of a rebirth, or at least a resurrection from the ashes of a rebellion that tore the city apart over forty years ago. On this day, one that is known for resurrecting a savior, death seems to be the more appropriate metaphor. If we were to use res- taurant culture—often an indicator of a city’s economic and social wellbe- ing—the nail would be driven even further into the proverbial coffin and new Newark would be proclaimed dead.

North Halsey is the bastion of capitalism in Newark—Prudential, Veri- zon, and IDT all occupy spaces there, as well as several prominent universi- ties, like Rutgers and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. But as you travel further down the block, a new narrative begins to unfold. The city begins to pulsate and that downtown corporate world that empties shortly after the closing bell fades into another universe. Stores start to open, hot dog vendors linger at street corners, music blasts from a car. Women attempt to court drivers into an African braid shop. No, not today mami, one waves back. It’s not until you hit Market Street that the two worlds fully collide. The streets are packed. Parking spots are scarce. The young, old, and everyone in between waits for buses, chatting, idling, and milling in and out of stores. A younger man pees on the street between parked cars while loudly talking with his friend. A white haired man closes the gate of Ali’s Alteration shop, and a family walks into a store that prides itself on its col- lection of Kangol hats. This is South Halsey, a mere six blocks away from the so-called upscale establishments that pepper the streets of the “new” Newark. On this side of Halsey there are no corporations, fancy tie shops, Japanese restaurants, chic coffee shops, eyelash bars, or Irish pubs. On this side of Halsey, brown faces dominate the grimy urban palette. On this side of Halsey, the streets are alive.

If you ask many people to describe the changes that are happening in Newark, a hip, sizzling restaurant scene may not the first thing that comes to their mind outside of the Portuguese-centric Ironbound area. While its young Ivy League educated mayor, Cory Booker, the New Jersey Perform- ing Arts Center (NJPAC), and the downtown arena all provide fuel for the fiery debate over gentrification, commuter-focused culture, and corporate rule, the downtown’s changing restaurant climate is often left out of conversations. A football tradition known as the Soul Bowl was recently revived in the city, bridging the gap between Newark’s past and present, but athletics aren’t the only domain of change. Newark’s restaurant culture is also reviving itself, though exactly what this new revival means is unclear as questions arise about whether there will be a true link between the city of yesteryear and today or if remnants of the past will slowly fade away.

• • •

For many years, Newark was just the backdrop of my personal and professional life. I wasn’t exactly a stranger to “Brick City,” as its inhabitants call it, since my mother had worked here for over twenty years, and many family friends, relatives, and colleagues lived in the area. Yet I never attempted to really explore Newark, even though I’m only a thirty minute drive away. I knew the city wasn’t crawling with criminals, as the media suggested, but it never charmed me or drew me in. And while I heard rumors of a resurgence after the election of the new mayor, I never let Newark—old or new—sink in. I don’t know why I didn’t have a strong connection to the city, perhaps because it was always a part of a journey to somewhere else—to family and friends—but never the destination. Newark was neither particularly good nor bad to me, but it was just there, like an old cousin at a family party; someone you know is important, but you never really stop to ask why. That’s what Newark was to me. Another urban place I passed through to get to my home.

It wasn’t until I started a graduate school program in Newark that I began to recognize the power of the three hundred and fifty-year-old city. Newark has a rich history, a commitment to social justice, and a proud and active populace that loves living here despite its flaws. I became captivated. So I read up on Newark, ate in its restaurants, talked to some of its people, examined it as an academic, attended conferences, volunteered with a community group, taught at the local community college, and drank so many cocktails that I began to see myself as a qualified expert on the city. And while I wasn’t a resident, I thought I had transformed into something else, and I was no longer the interloper. I had finally become a part of the Newark that I passed through for so many years—black Newark. But at some point, I realized that I never ventured far from downtown, and the Newark I had grown to love was a freshly minted, fashionable community, built out of a desire to attract young professional types. Class, not race, was drawing the dividing lines in this city on the brink of renewal.

And so I began to chase the story of a class divide in Newark. As a freelance journalist I began to look for a narrative to pitch to a magazine, but as a graduate student I began to seek a theory, a coherent statement about past and present Newark. One day I was on my way to eat my favorite new obsession—pecan encrusted chicken salad at one of those trendy new hot spots—and to ponder what could be said about the future of Newark, when a colleague that had lived and worked in Newark for years suggested I should try Je’s for lunch. I had never heard of it and realized yet again how superficial my experience of Newark had been. And so I went searching.

In many ways, Newark’s restaurant scene seems to fit into a neat binary, much like Halsey Street itself: old vs. new Newark. Two restaurants—Je’s and 27 Mix—exemplify this contrast. Je’s is known as the “soul of the south, heart of the city,” and sits at the corner of Diane Sutton Place (named after Je’s original owner). It occupies a drab building, across the street from a corner store and various boarded up structures, close to a vacant barbershop called “Memories of Soul.” When you enter the long, diner-style room, a thick smell of fried something hangs in the air like a fog. If you’re like me, you are temporarily distracted by the pictures of Newark legends: Whitney Houston, Queen Latifah, Faith Evans (Philip Roth, Ed Koch, and Paul Simon’s photos must be taking some time off). Family photos line the wall, along with a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. Faux Tiffany lamps hang above communal tables and booths. Gospel music blares out from a stereo system in the corner, and all the television sets are on and tuned in to a sporting event. Paper rabbits and Easter candy decorate the counter. A menu of oxtails, Cornish hen, cubed steak, pork chops (smothered or fried), catfish, meatloaf, and stewed chicken has attracted the families, couples, and singles lined up outside as waiters hustle to clear away tables. Fathers hold on tight to their anxious, hungry babies, while mothers stand close to their partners and beam. The owner, an older black man named Harry Sutton, Sr. greets customers from behind a counter as he presides over his decades-old establishment—a favorite of Newark’s former Mayor Sharpe James.

When people speak of urban blight, they’re often talking about everything that is not Je’s on that Easter day. They’re talking about crime, foul language, fatherless children, and government supported establishments that plague so many of our country’s inner cities. Here at 260 Halsey where the $11.50 oxtails are the most expensive thing on the menu, suits, laughter, and talk of the day’s church service fill the room.

Je’s is about more than food and socializing. It’s a political statement in itself, a representation of a Newark that once was, a black Newark not courted by the city and corporations. The picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. lets me know where I am. New Newark thrives on
an alleged postracial political culture. New Newark may love Corey Booker and Barack Obama, but would never flaunt it. New Newark is perfectly coiffed and cultured, urban and hip, thriving on subtleties and sensibilities like any other middle class city. All one has to do is look at the marketing of Newark during the last few years and it’s clear that the target audience has changed—particularly within the black community. Restaurateurs and urban planners no longer target the “ordinary” working black person, but instead, the highly sophisticated black professional figure—more persona than person—who embraces their ethnic pride, while working against common stereotypes; carries a degree; listens to a little rap and a little rock; is mindful of their eating choices; and dresses in an upscale manner with an “urban” flair.

Outsiders seem rare in Je’s, but that is not a surprise. Je’s is old Newark at its best—skeptical of strangers and deeply committed to the city. Je’s is not representative of the slick urban enclave that has been celebrated by the health conscious Mayor Cory Booker. There is no exposed brick. No worn wooden flooring. No fusion. No live bands. No feel of Greenwich Village authenticity. That’s 27 Mix, located on North Halsey. With the ethnic “mix” of its owners, who are of Cuban, Italian, and German lineage , its southwest- ern fusion, and professional clientele of all races, 27 Mix may be representing the soul of new Newark, a “postracial soul,” and as the New York Times writes, “an emblem of hope” in a city once again trying to rise from the ashes of a race rebellion that struck in the summer of 1967, killed twenty-six people, and sparked white and black flight.

The restaurant has always been a very important part of American culture, according to Andrew P. Haley, a professor at the University of Mississippi and the author of Turning the Tables: American Restaurant Culture and the Rise of the Middle Class, 1880-1920. “This is one of the key places where Americans engage in the public sphere,” he writes. “It’s one of the key places we interact with our world. They’re not very challenging interactions, but if you think about it, it changes the way you think about yourself when you sit down at a restaurant and see who is there.”

After several formal and informal interviews with government officials, restaurant owners, and patrons, as well as more than enough visits to restaurants under the guise of “work,” I’ve observed that this new Newark restaurant culture appears to be more about tapas, good wine, mojitos, jazz, and fusion, than about meatloaf, potatoes, and homestyle cooking. I have begun to wonder whether restaurant culture is not symbolic of a greater cultural shift in the city. This new middle class aesthetic doesn’t seem to be defined by hard work and respectability, but by elite “sensibilities”: a shared culture focused on the arts, college degrees, and worldly experiences as much as on capital. It is a far cry from the middle class of old Newark, rooted in the experiences of the black working and lower-middle classes. But can a sort of “postracial” restaurant culture reveal a significant change for Newark? Probably not on its own, but it certainly provides clues as to what the future of the city may look like and what may become of its soul culture.

• • •

Newark is new Jersey’s largest city, also known as a “chocolate city” for its majority black population. While that majority has been on the decline in recent years due to an influx of Latino immigrants, it is still surprising that the city with 277,000 people only has a few eating establishments geared specifically towards its black population. Italian, Jewish, Portuguese, and Spanish cuisines all have a more dominant presence in the restaurant culture of Newark, confirmed not only by a visual scan of the area known as the “Central Ward,” but by the promotional rhetoric of City Hall.

When I met with Newark native Hector Ortiz, the Director of the Greater Newark Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, to talk about a food culture in the city, the first place he mentioned was the Ironbound, the Portuguese neighborhood. “Traditionally the restaurant culture in this city is known by the Ironbound sections of the East Ward. Many of the people who have eaten in Newark have likely eaten in the Portuguese, Spanish, or Brazilian steakhouses, or have had great experiences eating paella and drinking sangria, the staples.” The Ironbound district, known for the iron railroads that surround the area, has often been seen as a safer enclave of Newark, protected from the violent streets depicted in movies and on the news. For years there have been popular guides to the restaurants in the Ironbound, but I still have not located an exclusive guide to soul cuisine in Newark.

It struck me as strange that a city known for its primarily black culture, has been defined by the cuisine of another ethnic group. Rutgers University history Professor Clement Alexander Price, who has lived in Newark since the 1960s, says that restaurant dining is a relatively new ritual for African Americans in the city. “In black Newark there is not a long tradition of out- of-home dining. Black restaurants did not exist in Newark until the 1960s. In the segregated era, black dining businesses were simply not the first business one would start. The first business would be mortician, barbershop, you know... those kinds of personal service businesses; restaurants would come much later. The first one I heard about was Stewart’s on Lyons Avenue—it’s still there.” While he notes that there was a fairly strong drinking culture in the city, restaurants that catered to African Americans weren’t prominent. When soul restaurants did appear in Newark—according to folks like my godparents Lillian and Al Crawford, who have lived in Newark for most of their lives—their reign was short lived. They affectionately named a slew of eateries in the city back when they were younger, that catered to all classes of African Americans in the downtown and outlying neighborhoods, but abruptly stopped in the summer of 1967. “We had quite a few but since the riot a lot of restaurants moved out of Newark,” said Al. “That riot killed the city. It can come back but it’s going to be a slow process.”

The newspapers seem to reflect this trend. If you were to scour the Star Ledger—the main paper that covers Newark—few stories on the restaurant scene in the last thirty years focus on Newark’s soul cuisine, unless related to fast food or chain eateries. Today, Newark natives see few options for blacks in Newark. “They don’t have no restaurants down there,” said Al. “They really do cater to people that are working down there and after that, they close down. We got smaller restaurants, we got a lot of little places that we can go eat.”

Twenty-seven-year-old Jazymn Sanders, another Newark native and col- lege student, agrees that there aren’t any restaurants downtown catering to black people—especially not to young people. “I think in Newark the only places to eat are fast food restaurants, and they’re not developing places to go to... you would have to go outside of Newark.” She pauses our conversa- tion to text her friends, asking them if they know of any spots go to in Newark, particularly in the downtown or on Halsey. “No one knows of any, I just asked a couple of my friends... lately places like bars and grills been what’s up but even those places are outside of Newark.”

• • •

it is baffling to understand how these two Newarks—the elite middle class culture, and the more working middle class Newark—coexist within blocks of each other without recognizing the other’s existence. The Crawfords acknowledge that they go to the Ironbound sometimes for Portuguese food, but sound ambivalent about claiming it as their own. Jazmyn, on the other hand, said that the Ironbound was strictly for “Spanish people” and that she did not feel welcome downtown. All of these folks—the Crawfords, who are retired city workers, and Jazmyn, a college student—would most likely be considered middle class, if you’re looking purely at income. But again, this begs the question: what kind of middle class is the city trying to target?

Paul Heideman, a graduate student at Rutgers, moved to Newark from Wisconsin a few years ago. He constantly roams around Halsey Street, but says that while he hasn’t been motivated to go to Je’s or 27 Mix, he receives many messages from the city about what “middle class” means. “It’s clear that the city does feel that the arts and performance are intrinsic to a middle class image. Rechristening downtown the ‘arts district,’ NJPAC, the Prudential Center... all of this points to an image of the middle class which is governed by leisure and taste.”

Linda Carter is from the projects of Newark, and is a patron of many of Newark’s restaurants, including Je’s and 27 Mix. As a lawyer and a professor, she was featured in a profile on Newark’s “invisible” black middle class. She says one must remember that being middle class—especially in Central Ward Newark (where the downtown is located)—is not just about being at a certain income level or having a certain profession. She says some of the second and third generation professionals, those youngsters that frequent places like 27 Mix, experience a different middle class than those at Je’s, who are more likely first generation middle class and may just make “good money.”

Price, adds that he defines middle class not by income, occupation, or education, but by public behavior. “Within the context of black society, middle class means a very strong ethos of respectability, propriety, frugality, and to some extent a certain ambitiousness where you want your progeny to stand on your shoulders.” Yet he says he believes that the “city profiles of the middle class have a lot more to do with income, occupation, and education.” While he notes that he isn’t “privy” to the Booker Administration’s perspective of the middle class, he says the Mayor’s talk of “proper” behavior, quality schools, and green spaces is telling. “I think he
[Booker] is the embodiment of this middle class profile—articulate, which is in many
ways the first consumable part of the black middle class mystique—well-educated, physically attractive. This whole ‘proper negro’ thing, that I freely admit has affected my outlook on life, is part of a striver’s row kind of mentality,” Price says. Price, who considers himself to be part of this elite middle class, says that Newark restaurant culture is following in that same pattern: “I do believe we’re in a transformative long moment, where a restaurant clientele that has middle class sensibilities is being created.” It’s a trend that many experts say is happening nationwide, as soul food restaurants start to close down and black professionals look for healthier choices and spaces that may afford them higher “cultural capital.”

French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu, in A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, says that both food and taste are created by culture. Like every- thing else, your relationship to food reflects your upbringing and place in society. Therefore as people improve or seek to improve their status in society, tastes may change.

Tastes in food also depend on the idea each class has of the body and of the effects of food on the body, that is, on its strength, health, and beauty; and on the categories it uses to evaluate these effects, some of which may be important for one class and ignored by another, and which the different classes may rank in different ways. Thus, whereas, the working classes are more attentive to the strength of the (male) body than its shape, and tend to go for products that are both cheap and nutritious, the professionals prefer products that are tasty, health-giving, light and not fattening. Taste, a class culture turned into nature, that is, embodied, helps to shape the class body.

I spoke with Adrian Miller, who blogs about soul food restaurants and is writing a book about the history of soul food. He says that as the health risks of eating soul food become clear, in addition to the negative status it has in our nation’s food culture, it only makes sense that some upwardly mobile blacks may move away from the genre, leading city officials little reason to hold on to old establishments and to court new ones: “Over time soul food has become more about poor black people than anything else. I think if you open up a soul food place it does communicate that you’re going to get [lower] middle or lower class blacks.” He says that fear of a lower class black clientele, and the lack of access to capital that many Afri- can Americans have, also prove problematic. “These days, I think a middle class black person wants to have the neo-soul experience rather than going to Adrienne’s chicken shack.”

• • •

27 mix isn’t neo-soul cuisine, which is a trendy take on soul classics, but it is still attempting to court a certain type of middle class African American. On any given Thursday or Friday night, it seems that the diverse crowd moves with a certain sleekness. They are often dressed to the nines—think paperboy hats, impeccably applied makeup, urban funk... the kind of folks you’d see in Harlem or Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Co-owner Ciro Scalera, who is a friend of
Mayor Booker, says that about eighty per- centofrestaurant culture in Newark has
always been driven by downtown professionals, but sees an opportunity to change
that. “This is a city that shuts down at four or five in the afternoon... at night my client is more African American than in the day. We’re comfortable with that.” However, he notes that he is catering to a specific type. “My crowd is not the, what I would call the hip hop crowd, it’s not the older crowd, it’s more an urban professional range, twenty-five to forty, somebody that works at UMDMJ [the university hospital]. We’ve worked hard to cultivate that. We’ve put the restaurant before the bar.” He says he doesn’t want to attract “gang banging riff raff,” but rather “I want the Barakas to sit down and eat. I want them to feel comfortable... my crowd is not a trouble crowd.”

Price, who lives in the Lincoln Park area, acknowledges that restaurants often break down by class, and hence also by race. “You only sit next to someone you perceive to be your peers or your betters.” He says that the prevalence of thug culture in a city continually plagued by safety issues has turned many folks off to pursing any type of African American clientele. While venues like this are limited in Newark, two other establishments located further downtown, The Spot Lounge and the Key Club, also seem to attract young black urban professionals—often known as buppies. On this night, New Newark is alive and the old is dead—Je’s closes down before sunset.

• • •

The young pepple that I’ve seen at Je’s on several visits still wouldn’t fit into the crowd at 27 Mix in this new Newark, though I can’t exactly figure out why. Price again notes the complexities. He believes Je’s is a more working class establishment, yet that is the place he goes to most. “There is a kind of decorum at Je’s that I find comforting and reassuring, despite the fact that Je’s is not a middle class place. A few middle class people will drop in kind of for a momentary immersion in black authenticity. I probably frequent Je’s more than any dining venue in Newark, in part because it’s black owned, in part because it has a sort of authenticity to it.”

This class relation to restaurant culture is not relegated solely to an emergent culture in Newark or a symptom of upwardly mobile black culture. Haley found that in the nineteenth century, white Americans went to French restaurants to prove their elite status, a way for them to demonstrate their cultural power. He says learning about French food culture was a very accessible way into class, without the need, for example, to learn the French language. He speculates that the same may be true for blacks drawn to a more “diverse” restaurant experience. “It’s more translatable knowledge. It allows them to translate into power. While a purely soul food experience may be helpful as ‘exotic’ knowledge, knowledge about a diverse range of food translates more easily, translates to more influence in other aspects of their lives.”

Dr. Fred Opie, foodways expert, historian, and owner of foodasalens.com, says that the needs of the black professional class have changed. He says that while professionals still want venues at which to meet and network, those spaces look different today. Soul food establishments were initially some of the only places where blacks could go during segregation, serving as the “cultural arm” during the black power movement. They are not as critical today, as blacks seek alternative options. He said this makes for some hard decisions for city officials that are looking to revitalize and define urban restaurant culture. “It’s a Catch-22.”

• • •

The new Newark clearly has its own idea of what it means to be middle class in the city, whether you’re black, white, Latino, or anything in between. One can see this through marketing, language, restaurant programming, and the reaction of native Newarkers. The city’s definition of being black and middle class seems to differ not only from Je’s soul tradition, but from other traditional sites of the black middle class in Newark, like First Fridays parties, which take place at Maize in the Robert Treat Hotel. Though this business/social networking group specifically defines itself as a group of professionals, the photographs on the website, swimming with bright colors, big hair, and cleavage, contrast sharply with the new Newark promoted by the Brick City Development Corporation (BCDC) and the city’s economic development agency.

In 2008, Newark held its first Restaurant Week, organized by Gen Y’er Tamara Remedios. For the effort, Mayor Booker asked the acclaimed restaurant surveyor, Zagat, to create a small sixteen-page book on Newark restaurants. Only one soul food establishment—Je’s—was reviewed, while three others (including the two targeting black professionals) were listed in an index at the end of the book. Moreover, this year, some of the older establishments like Je’s seem to have scaled back participation in the event. Remedios acknowledges that there are not many places that cater to African Americans, but believes that for now there should be a focus on college and professional populations.

One can see this focus in the marketing tactics for Restaurant Week itself. Aside from the $25 cost of many meals, the locations where the event was advertised give clues about groups being courted. According to a BCDC press release and Remedios, advertisements in Penn Station, mass emails, and ads in the Gateway center would imply that the professional, perhaps even the commuter, is the target audience.

Materials by the Brick City Development Corporation barely feature any African Americans in their pamphlets and advertisements and when they do, Newark’s black community is always
depicted as “professional.” For example, the city’s official 2009 Visitors’ Guide
shows only two images of what appear to be black women: a young lady with long curly hair (who may or not be black) at the Newark museum and another young woman with long hair, in a button down vest, blue jeans, and a wedding ring (also for the museum). Similarly, there are very few images of African Americans (the mayor excluded) in another publication created by the BCDC that urges businesses to move to Newark. With the exception of one picture of a man and woman with children sitting in front of a group of white ladies at the park, all other African Americans are in suits with “neat” hair and smiling faces. No doorknocker earrings, braids, or afros were shown.

When I asked Ortiz why a young black girl in the Central Ward may not venture to the Ironbound, she said “You might think it’s only Portuguese food in the Ironbound so you might be dismissive about it. I mean who doesn’t like garlic shrimp? Or red wine? Or jazz in that sense or acoustic in that sense?” While shrimp, red wine, and jazz all sound great to me, I am a person already courted and recruited to be a part of new Newark’s middle class. This menu may not be in line with the interests of old Newark, the Newarkers who may be more acclimated to southern soul cooking. Other places in Harlem and in Washington DC have tried to mix soul food with elite culture, a trend Opie calls the “white table effect.” While these fusion type establishments have been relatively popular, Opie wants to see traditional soul spots continue to thrive because of the rich stories they tell of the black community: “they were our country clubs.”

• • •

In the long run, this redefinition of Newark’s middle class may not be bad for the city; in fact, it may be a good thing to attract professionals like me who may have otherwise overlooked the city with its tarnished reputation. How- ever, the culture of Newark that made it unique may eventually disappear as Newark’s black middle class begins to look more and more like the yuppie classes of other suburbs and elite areas. I tried to talk to the owners of Je’s about their clientele, but got the run around—another side of the old insider Newark culture, I guess. One can see, though, that while there may be different middle class aesthetics emerging in the city, so far a single aesthetic has not dominated the city culture. Feldman Middleton is a relative of my god- mother and the owner of several buffet eateries in town. He is also a part owner of a very popular Applebee’s in Newark that is located in the heart of the Central Ward, an area that is still not quite considered downtown. He says that Newark’s restaurants cannot thrive without a healthy black middle class, but that the city must look at new ways to entice crowds. Middleton is currently working on Red Lobster and Golden Corral proposals.

Until then, the only visible hope that new and old Newark could possibly conjoin may be seen in the form of a self-proclaimed, “Jewish Soul” joint. Hobby’s is a ninety-year-old Jewish delicatessen located in the heart of the downtown, neither in blight nor bliss. It attracts just about every class possible from both old and new Newark. They have a black middle class clientele that seems to range from urban professionals to security guards. One of the owners, Marc Brummer, says that Hobby’s has thrived for so long (including surviving the 1967 race rebellions with only a broken window) because they see customers in only one way: “Everyone is green.”

For me, the two sides of Newark—these two worlds that can be seen as you walk down the popular Halsey Street—are both so much a part of Newark that neither can be ignored. Whatever notion of class and status wins out needs to be forgotten—there needs to be a focus on the creation of a more wholesome city. Applebee’s, for example, seems to modestly merge both old and new Newark. Perhaps this is all a part of the growing pains for a city that has constantly struggled to define itself and transcend a bad reputation. Per- haps this focus on a highly professional, highly polished middle class is meant to counteract all the negative descriptions of the city—I get it. But we can’t leave out the people, the community, and the cultures that really are at the heart of this “Soul Bowl,” the established black working middle-class community that has built and maintained Newark. That history and culture, including the traditional soul food spot, should be seen as valuable.

Maybe in downtown Newark there is room for two places, with one taking over as the other quiets. So maybe new Newark wasn’t dead on that Easter day, but calm and quiet as its older sister to the South flexed her aging muscle. Maybe neither side of Newark can be written off as dead—maybe both sides are still trying to come to life in any way possible. Maybe Scalera, the owner of the restaurant in the new Newark is right when people comment on the fading days of old Newark. “Some people lost hope. People believe that there has to be hope here. Hope has been eternal here. Newark has simply been an evolution. It was never dead; it just had to deal with a lot of problems.”

Having Obama in the White House has made it harder to talk about race in America [The Washington Post]

Having Obama in the White House has made it harder to talk about race in America [The Washington Post]

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