Brunch. For a one-syllable compound word and a fairly simple concept, it’s surprisingly divisive. Some love the activity of leisurely, eggy midday dining, while others are thoroughly repulsed by the lines, the crowds, the mimosa-guzzling, and the unshakable bourgeois air. Despite its overwhelming popularity as a kind of urban sport, it’s been crapped on by an assortment of non-believers such as David Shaftel of The New York Times, Alexander Nazaryan of the New York Daily News, and random haters like Julian Casablancas (explaining in The Daily Beast, “I don’t know how many, like, white people having brunch I can deal with on a Saturday afternoon”). But whether you’re a brunch devotee, a defector, or a never-was, it cannot be denied that brunch seems to have a particular resonance of “whiteness” and laissez faire overtone that makes it a favorite activity for Sex and the City characters and their analogs.
In his 2012 anti-brunch editorial, Nazaryan argues, “Brunch is America sticking a maple-syrup slathered finger up at the concerns of the real world, concerns waiting right outside the window of the charming French bistro where you have decided to sequester yourself.”
This may be why it would be a particularly ideal environment to disrupt if you wanted to bring to light race issues that were bright in the news spotlight just a few weeks ago but were swiftly swept under the cultural rug by the frenzy of the holidays.
This past weekend, brunch spots in Oakland, New York, and Baltimore became the stages for the latest series of #BlackBrunch protests, wherein activists enter a series of eateries mid-service and recite the names of black men, women, and youths who were killed by police officers, security guards, and “self-anointed vigilantes,” according to their verbal statement. Although Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner are the four most familiar names that fit that criteria, there are many more. Statistically, there is a new victim every 28 hours.
Organizer Jay-Marie Hill tells me that participants consider them more as examples of direct action than true “protests” per se. “We don’t really call it a protest,” she tells me, “because it’s not quite a protest. A direct action is an event that rallies energy around a certain topic to help people understand the deeper meaning underneath it or around some events that have taken place. The point of #BlackBrunch isn’t to annoy people. It’s because people are enraged, and have strong feelings, and they want people to know about that.”
Like the sit-ins of the past Civil Rights movement(s)—but burning the fuel of contemporary social media for maximum reach—#BlackBrunch aims to inject the conversation of racism and inequality into “white spaces” normally thought of as apolitical. For example, straight into the woeful hangover that you’re blithely nursing with two Bellinis and a lox scramble. However, in contrast to the best-known sit-ins of the 1960s—wherein protesters would sit quietly and await service from businesses that refused service to non-whites—the #BlackBrunch tactic takes the opposite approach, demanding that voices be heard in a literal sense. But despite the confusion currently surrounding whether brunch is under some sort of attack, Hill argues that the aim of the tactic isn’t to convince anyone not to eat brunch.
“Obviously brunch is a comfort zone for a lot of folks,” Hill tells me. “I go to brunch—I’m not saying people shouldn’t go to brunch. But it’s about what that represents. People are dying, and people are being killed. And a lot of people disconnect, and maybe they should recognize that it’s not a choice for so many of us.”
Somewhat predictably, reactions to #BlackBrunch have been mixed. Photos taken during the protests (many of them from Instagram and Twitter) show everything from whole restaurants standing in solidarity to bored-looking brunchers rolling their eyes and sipping their coffees amongst the action.
On social media, there was an even greater contingent of indignant brunch-lovers, some of whom would go so far as to threaten gunfire in defense of their eggs Benedict. Under the #BlackBrunch hashtag, responses range from the very supportive to the pretty tasteless (“Because nothing makes a bunch of hung over white people sympathetic to your cause more than cold Eggs Benedict O.o #blackbrunch #ICantEat,” writes Twitter user @e2pilot). Regarding the plethora of commentary, Hill believes that those behind the more offensive remarks are “quick to put down what they don’t know. And the way that Twitter works is that people latch on to one thing, and it just spreads.”
I tried to get in touch with a few of the establishments that the protests visited, such as New York’s Maialino and Resto and Oakland’s Forge and Bocanova, but none would provide comment. Though I read that Forge’s manager had called the protests “beautiful,” I was told that by another member of their staff that, “We’ve already commented too much as it is. We don’t want to say anymore. No comment.”
Hill is optimistic that #BlackBrunch will continue and is one way to help the black community unite and heal after months of post-Michael Brown and -Eric Garner turmoil. “#BlackBrunch is not out to get people. We’re really not here for you. We’re here for ourselves.,” she tells me.”
“And we just want to remind people who have the ability to disconnect, which is what brunch represents. #BlackBrunch is not out to get people. We’ve created #BlackBrunch out of desire to do a thing for us, by us.”