TUNDE: I travel around the country, staging pop-up dinners where Nigerian comfort food and discomfiting conversations about race in America are on the menu. When I told my friends in Louisville, Ky., that I was headed eastward into Appalachia to cook, I got many an incredulous, "Really?! Are you sure that's a good idea? Don't get shot ..." — usually followed by a collegial elbow jab and a self-conscious chuckle.
White, urban Kentuckians told me to be wary, that my blackness and foreignness were a combustible identity cocktail in that rural place. These warnings would have been innocuous if they hadn't been pervasive — and universally smothered with uncomfortable laughter. They were just joking. Except they weren't.
There was an ominous dissonance in this warning when it came from my close friend — like me, a black Nigerian. He's imposing, appreciably muscled and tall. His skin color is close to freshly laid tar. His voice is deep so he closets it, adopting a "softer" vocal affectation around white folks and at his job. That he was the most alarmed by my looming trip to the hinterlands of Kentucky wasn't surprising. There's a warranted anxiety among African-Americans, and internalized by certain immigrant groups of color, connected to white authority. "Better watch your black a**!" he said as I was headed out the door for Egypt, Ky. – and, it would seem, certain death. Then he laughed without mirth.