Alanah Davis: Wrong Table — Serving Anti-Racism and Black Liberation in 2020

Photo by Charles Mason III

When I was 14 and 9 months I took my first job at a noodle bar near my coming-of-age home in Owings Mills.

It was there that I learned the importance of giving a customer exactly what they had asked for, exactly what the recipe called for. The customer always pays the price, you should give them what they want.

I had a few jobs before any of them stuck; I was super spoiled in a sense and would oftentimes lean on the fact that my mother had money and I’d quit. The first job I stayed at for more than six months was at BBQ spot near the former Owings Mills Mall, yum. I was a hostess; sometimes as a hostess, you’d help waiters bring food to tables.

Alanah Nichole Davis

Admittedly the service industry wasn’t my forte. I’d sometimes bring the wrong food to a table that hadn’t ordered it. I was well-meaning but my execution was poor and people are serious about their BBQ. After being scolded a few times for having mixed up a family’s order, I learned to ask before I brought food from the kitchen to a table.

I improved and was truly proud of myself. That lesson of serving the right dish sticks with me in my role as a community organizer, artist & advocate amid civil unrest and a global pandemic.

BBQ is easy to serve — everyone loves a well-charred rib or pulled chicken, right? Anti-Racism and Black liberation are not as tasty. These are topics that make some people uncomfortable, it’s not what they asked for. But it’s all very necessary.

When we started 2020 many of us were just as inexperienced as I was during my first job at 14; we had no idea what was headed our way and now we find ourselves neck-deep in problem-solving for a very broken and racist justice system here in Maryland and beyond.

COVID-19 showed us how disproportionately the ills of this modern society affect Black people. The police killings of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd have left our communities hungry. When we consider the police killing of Freddie Gray and how long we’ve gone without justice for that, the community is starving.

No matter what your position in 2020, whether you’re waiting for something to come out of the figurative kitchen or you’re poised to be serving it, it’s important to have the community’s order right. Many organizations, organizers, protesters and the like are preparing responses to their friends, staff, customers, and extended communities, and the last thing you want to do is get it wrong.

As a Black woman who’s been on the other side of poorly drafted e-mail responses, texts, and scantily clad offerings to undo racism, I can offer that Anti-Racism and Black liberation are best served the way they were asked for. Ask Black community leaders and members what they feel is needed first. There’s no sense in bringing out an order that belongs to another table.

Even if you feel like your parents or predecessors did the work before you, don’t quit. There is a lesson in this for everyone. If you are poised to serve a response to what’s happening but feel issues of race and justice are not your forte, it’s OK to ask for help.

None of us could have imagined being at this very complex time in 2020 but we’re here. We need leaders who aren’t afraid to put their egos aside to serve the community exactly what they need. Leaders who won’t quit.

Even if you served the community back in the uprisings of 2015 it’s time for something fresh. Anti-Racism and Black Liberation are best served hot — don’t try to regurgitate a response and feed the community something cold or distant. You may be well-meaning, but your execution could be poor, and there’s room for growth. Now let’s eat.

— ALANAH NICHOLE DAVIS

The writer is a Baltimore-based artist, community advocate, social change and arts consultant. She is an M.A. candidate in Social Design at Maryland Institute College of Art.