The former wife of an oil tycoon and a successful ranch owner in her own right, Madeleine Pickens, has been accused of racism after her former chef said he was ordered to make “black people food.”
Pickens, who recently divorced T. Boone Pickens, chairman of BP Capital Management, told chef Armand Appling she only wanted him to make fried chicken, BBQ ribs and cornbread at her Mustang Wild Horse Eco-Resort in Nevada — a plush resort for tourists who pay $2,000 a night to stay in the luxurious cottages and go on “safaris.”
The three foods described by Pickens are found in menus of what is now called “soul food.” However, this style of cooking was originally prepared and eaten by African Americans of the Southern United States during the days of slavery, using leftovers or “undesirable” ingredients form their white owners — hence Pickens referring them as “black people food.”
Appling, who is black, also claimed he was fired in 2014 for complaining about the racial discrimination. He also alleged that Pickens told him to dismiss two other African American kitchen crew because they didn’t “look like people we have working at the country club” and didn't “fit the image” of the staff she wanted at the ranch.
This sentiment also promotes a long history of racial segregation against African American people who were not allowed into privileged settings.
Appling also states she called one of the staff members “bull” and “ox” and the other as having “too much personality” — further reinforcing the Jim Crow-era beliefs that black people were just property.
Despite this, Pickens’ lawyers argue even if the statements were true, it still does not make the ranch owner racist.
In fact, Pickens’ comments “reflect a non-racial personality conflict and amount to discourtesy, rudeness or lack of sensitivity,” court documents said.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du said last week that Appling’s lawyers have failed to provide enough evidence that a civil rights lawsuit can be filed against Pickens. In addition, she agreed with Pickens’ lawyers, Dora Lane, that the only comment that specifically referred to race was “black people food,” after Lane said categorizing foods by ethnicity was common in restaurant industry — comparing Mexican, Chinese and Thai food with “black people food.”
“The suggestion that such categorizations are inherently offensive is nonsense,” Lane argued. “This is especially true here, given that Pickens' alleged comments actually reflect a preference for ‘black people food’ rather than a racial animas against ‘black people’ or ‘black people food.’”
She also countered the argument that calling a black person an “ox” or “bull” was racist, claiming it could just be a reference to the man’s physical strength, especially since it “was not accompanied by any overtly racial slurs.”
“Indeed, Appling does not allege that he ever heard any overtly racial epithets, such as the ‘N-word,” she wrote in court documents.
Lane apparently seems to think that someone should only be counted as a racist if they are caught hurling slurs. She fails to see that racism has many nuances.
However, Willie Williams, Appling’s attorney believes the comments must be viewed in racial context.
Judge Du agreed that Lane’s arguments focused on the “plain meaning of words” while ignored the historical significance and stereotypes they represent towards the African American community. However, she informed Williams that “it takes a lot to prove these allegations.”
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, David McNew