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May 3, 2011

Foodents: Lem's BBQ House, redux

As our editors put it rather succinctly in an e-mail, “Your latest column has gotten some negative attention.” This “latest column” refers to our review of Lem’s BBQ House, which appeared in last Tuesday’s Maroon. This “negative attention” most clearly manifested itself in a letter to the editor published in last Friday’s issue. In this letter, or at least in the parts of the letter we find pertinent, the author details what he believes to be some racially insensitive content in our review of Lem’s. Upon reviewing his letter and our article, we concede that he was right to point out this content as being insensitive. In the questionable service of our column’s conceit, we alluded to several racial stereotypes in what we thought was a satirical fashion. Moreover, our editors did not feel the need to pull the article from last Tuesday’s issue, nor did they even change any of the content of the article that would later be called into question.

In retrospect, we all feel quite stupid. More than that, we all feel incredibly sorry. We should have been more careful, sensitive, and thoughtful, especially since we were dealing with a subject as important as race. If anyone was offended or hurt by our column, please accept our sincerest apologies. We did not at all intend to do what we turned out to be doing. Our method of expression—and, specifically, our method of humor—was faulty, and one that we sincerely regret to have employed. In short, we simply wish to offer recognition, an apology, and, of course, nothing but the highest praise for Lem’s and our experience there.

The issues that critic pointed out in his letter do merit some further consideration, however. The most important one of these issues is, again, race. He wrote, “Moreover, when the authors write that in spite of their appearance, ‘people were really friendly and made some nice conversation,’ they imply that by virtue of their not being black they expected hostility from the restaurant’s customers and staff.” Beyond not providing the full quote (“…nice conversation about the strange places they would be taking their rib tips while we ate at a standing bar.”), he makes some, perhaps understandably, false assumptions about what we meant by this. We did not mean to imply that we were expecting hostility; rather, what we desired to point out was simply that there can be a change in experience that comes from being white in a neighborhood that is 97.8 percent black. People do often treat you differently in the capacity that it is readily apparent you are a stranger. On three separate occasions on our visit to Lem’s, our whiteness was directly brought up in conversation. Perhaps regrettably, in retrospect, we chose to change one of the words in the following exchange we had in the parking lot of Lem’s: A patron asked us, “What are you kids doing at the hottest spot on the South Side?” The word we changed was “kids”; in reality, he said “white boys.” He then told us he wasn’t from the neighborhood either, but that it was less obvious since he looked like “all the other folks.”

The reason we did not bring this up in the initial column was that we believe there is, unfortunately, a belief that white people will be greeted with hostility if they visit certain neighborhoods to the south and to the west of Hyde Park. Perhaps it is just us, but it seems like a sort of ready conclusion following both the formal and informal messages that the University regularly sends out regarding security. The point we wanted to make is that, yes, often one’s whiteness will be noticed—it by no means happens every time—but that this should never ever stop anybody from experiencing the incredible culinary and cultural offerings of the South Side. We, again, are also at fault: only three of our reviews have been of establishments south of Hyde Park, when, given what’s there, there should have been a lot more. Instead of taking that long-ass Red Line trip to some place in Belmont, maybe try taking the roughly half-hour round trip bus ride on the 4 to Barbara Ann’s BBQ.

Having by now addressed our last column’s embarrassing and hurtful failure of delivery, we maintain that Lem’s indeed merits the second-highest review that we have ever awarded (interestingly, the highest went to Calumet Fisheries, which is also on the South Side). And we’d like to end this column in the same way we did that one: “So, yeah, go.”

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