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aaron oliver, seasoned and blessed
Photograph: Angela Conners Treimer

Supporting Chicago’s Black-owned restaurants is a lifelong commitment

Likes and follows are great—but that's only scratching the surface on the support Black-owned businesses need.

By Aaron Oliver
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Over the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed a shift in the atmosphere, a reckoning if you will. The recent wave of protests against police brutality across the world makes it impossible to ignore the continued mistreatment that Black Americans face on a daily basis. We understand that things can’t return to the way they once were, and we shouldn’t want them to. These outcries have also exposed cracks embedded within many industries, most notably the hospitality scene, where discriminatory practices, deep-seated racism and a lack of inclusivity and diversity have always existed.

I’ve seen these flaws for years—they’re part of the reason I founded Seasoned and Blessed, a food blog that chronicles the Black and Brown food experience in Chicago and beyond. While my journey in food writing has been rewarding, it has also been rife with exhaustion—from going to events where I was the only Black person in attendance to reading “best of” lists from publications that rarely included Black-owned restaurants to being reimbursed for my creative work with bottles of ketchup. It was this blatant lack of diversity that fueled Seasoned and Blessed for the past four years. For me, this is a passion project that ties together my love of food and my dedication to Black culture.

Fast-forward to the beginning of June, in the midst of a global pandemic and worldwide protests: I suddenly found myself thrust into the spotlight, with a wave of new followers and support. My platform was finally being celebrated and acknowledged. I wasn’t complaining, but I couldn’t ignore the questions in my mind: Why now? Why did it take a tragedy to finally become visible?

For weeks, people have been asking me, "How can I become a better ally to the Black community?" Since there aren’t enough hours in a day, and I can’t unpack 400 years of struggle in one place, I wanted to share three points that will hopefully open the door to larger conversations and transformation.

Aaron Oliver is the founder of Seasoned and Blessed, a food blog that chronicles Black and Brown culinary experiences in Chicago. Follow him on Instagram at @seasonedandblessed and read more of his work at seasonedandblessed.com.

Maintain this energy when all is said and done. We are not a trend.

As a society, we have a habit of engaging in something called “performance activism,” or well-intentioned support that doesn’t have much substance behind it. As with any trend, the support will wane over time as people move on or simply stop caring. However, Black-owned restaurants and businesses won’t benefit long-term from this brief trend of shoutouts and GoFundMe donations. There’s more work to do. The narrative has to change, and the support needs to be constant in order to make a true impact. It could be as simple as picking a new restaurant to eat at for lunch or a date night—or it could be a genuine collaborative effort, like organizing a restaurant crawl or hosting a pop-up dinner. There are plenty of Black restaurants out there doing wonderful things, so there shouldn’t be any reason for a lack of diversity at events or in the press.

Amplify our voices beyond a hashtag and a repost.

Appreciation, appropriation and plagiarism are three words that are all too familiar for Black creatives in many industries. Think about how quick you’ve been to like or repost content over the past few weeks without taking tangible action. Did you keep scrolling afterwards, or did you actually look at the person behind the post and hear what they had to say? When it comes to hearing Black voices and stories in the media, the silence is deafening. For many years, the only time we’re truly heard is around Black History Month, but even then it’s only because someone needs to push diversity for the sake of reaching a sales quota. Seasoned and Blessed has been dedicated to bringing the work of the Black restaurant community to the forefront 365 days a year, through interviews, photography and lists of places to check out around Chicago. We deserve more diverse platforms and spaces to be heard and acknowledged outside of social media.

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Demand inclusivity from the restaurants, brands and publications you love.

I don’t know what more I could possibly say to influence brands, publications and restaurants to diversify and include Black creatives and Black-owned businesses. So I'm placing the ball in your court. We all have the power to truly make a change, and that starts with something as simple as your willingness to have an uncomfortable conversation. Restaurants, brands and publications serve diverse audiences, and we must hold them accountable in ensuring that their content, staff and public presentation reflects that going forward.

We are here, we’ve always been here, and we are not going anywhere. The time is now to fight alongside us in our never-ending quest for visibility and inclusion. Let the journey begin.

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