Over a (cracker) barrel

Somewhere on the lengthy list of Places I've Never Been is this item: "Any Cracker Barrel restaurant." It's the kind of eatery I seldom even think about except while driving long distances on the interstate, and even then I always opt for fast food joints instead. When I do think of Cracker Barrel, however, it's not food that comes to mind, but race. Part of this may have to do with the use of "cracker" as a Southern racial/social epithet. It doesn't help that the word also brings Andy Griffith to mind - not as the folksy sheriff of Mayberry, but as the downhome media demagogue Lonesome Rhodes from Elia Kazan's A Face in the Crowd (his screen debut, I think). The character Rhodes graduated from radio to television, hosting a variety show as a platform for his rightist political views long before the likes of Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly. The name of the show was "Lonesome Rhodes' Cracker Barrel," and its underlying philosophy is neatly encapsuled by this quote by Rhodes:

This whole county…[is] just like my flock of sheep! Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers - anybody who's gotta jump when somebody else blows the whistle…They're mine! I own 'em! They think like I do! Only they're more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for 'em!

Griffith turns in a tremendous performance in what is really a must-see film. But...we were talking about Cracker Barrel the restaurant, weren't we?

So, yeah, I have some mental associations with the word "cracker," and with the phrase "cracker barrel." Based on those alone - fairly or no - I'd be unlikely as a black man to eat at a restaurant called Cracker Barrel. Unfortunately, there's a history of allegations of racial discrimination toward customers to complicate one's view of this chain of eateries. Also, there evidence of sexual and racial discrimination in its workplace. And a discriminatory policy toward gay and lesbian employees. It's a rather unsavory stew for a family dining establishment, the kind of thing that make me wonder why any black person - or any person, period - would choose to eat there.

Well, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The latest patron to run afoul of the legendary Cracker Barrel "hospitality": Chris Rock's mother.

Oh, this is going to be a shame.

Civil Rights activist Al Sharpton and Rose Rock, the mother of comedian Chris Rock, will announce Wednesday their intention to file a lawsuit against the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain for refusing to serve black customers.

The action stems from a May 2006 incident at a Murrells Inlet, S.C., Cracker Barrel restaurant. Rock said "she and her daughter were refused service," Rachel Noerdlinger, a spokesperson for Sharpton, told ABC News. Complaints to the restaurant management and to the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission were not acted on, Noerdlinger said.

Rock, Sharpton and members of Sharpton's National Action Network plan to announce their intention to fund a lawsuit in front of the Murrells Inlet Cracker Barrel where Rock alleges the incident took place, Noerdlinger told ABC News.

Cracker Barrel has messed with the wrong black lady this time. Oh, dear. Comedian Chris suddenly has new material that will last him all year.

Incidentally, Murrells Inlet is just a stone's throw from my home town of Georgetown, and from Chris Rock's home town of Andrews. I love downhome stories.


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