About a month ago, I finally booked a flight for early June back to New York from Dallas. With the country gradually opening up and coronavirus case numbers in New York on the decline, it felt like a good time to head back to Brooklyn and readjust to my independent life after three months of living with my parents. With an end date in sight, we wanted to make the most of our remaining time together, returning to the rituals that helped us through the first weeks of quarantine. My mom spent my last weeks in Dallas making all my favorites—pakoras, papdi chaat, kadhi. My dad renewed his commitment to putting out a cheese plate every evening. We opened up a few bottles of wine that had been reserved for special occasions.
Then, on May 25, George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, and the haunting video of the officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, circulated around the internet. His death was preceded by those of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. That week, I sat in on a virtual staff meeting at Bon Appétit, where I’ve been a contributing writer and host for the publication’s YouTube channel for two years. As someone gave a presentation about all the money that had been generated from T-shirt sales, I felt deeply uncomfortable. Why were we talking about T-shirts when yet another Black person had been killed by a police officer with no consequences?
Police brutality is not a new issue. Yet this time, the tenor in the country felt different. In the weeks that followed Floyd’s murder, many individuals and companies, it seemed, finally woke up to the racist system that they’ve been complicit in and, in many ways, helped to perpetuate. As a journalist, I am proud of the emphasis I have always put on featuring BIPOC voices and spotlighting non-European cuisines. A lot of that work has happened behind the scenes, in conversations with editors or pitch meetings. Still, as someone in a position of privilege and power, I need to do better—by passing the mic to Black writers and making sure that the publications I write for are hiring and amplifying those voices, and giving them a seat at the front of the table. I saw plenty of companies post on their social media channels that they stood in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. But very few seemed to be reckoning with the way they treated their Black employees. That included some of the places that I wrote for, like Bon Appétit.
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Although I was sad to leave my parents in Dallas, I landed back in New York on June 6 determined to hit the ground running by pushing for changes at work, attending protests, and checking in on my friends. I knew the week ahead would be challenging. I had recently spoken to a reporter for Business Insider about the toxic culture I witnessed at Bon Appétit and its mistreatment of BIPOC employees; that article was slated to come out soon. But even before the story published June 10, the dominoes started to fall. As a result of a number of BIPOC speaking out (including myself) that week, both the editor in chief and the head of video at Bon Appétit resigned. So many of the issues that had plagued the publication for so long finally came to light. Seeing everything out in the open was scary. But after two years of clenching my teeth and feeling anxious and putting my head down while trying to make as much change as I could, I also felt like I could breathe again.
I had grand plans to do tons of cooking that first week back. I was going to make cocktails and a cheese plate and FaceTime my mom and dad for happy hour. But I barely cooked. I barely had time to eat. My first week back was plain avocados for lunch and takeout for dinner, in between Zoom calls and phone calls. Between Sunday and Friday, it felt like a year had passed.
There were some bright spots: seeing my partner, Seth, for the first time in three months, reminding myself how unbelievably flavorful the jerk chicken is at Glady’s, in Crown Heights; having my friend Eliza over to our roof for mushroom pasta. The most energized I felt that week was on Sunday when I attended a protest for Black trans lives outside the Brooklyn Museum. It followed the killing of two Black transgender women, Dominique Fells, known as Rem’Mie, and Riah Milton. I heard inspiring words from activists like Raquel Willis and Ianne Fields Stewart. I marched alongside more than 15,000 New Yorkers, outraged by the Trump administration’s erasure of health-care protections of the trans community. In those moments, it felt really nice to be home.
Sitting here on my couch in Brooklyn, it feels like eating pakoras with my parents in our backyard happened forever ago. In reality, it has been less than two weeks.
I am overwhelmed by the work to be done to make the food world a more equitable place, and I’m disappointed that this is what it took to prompt action on these issues. But I feel energized, too—people are finally having hard conversations and are examining implicit biases and where the power lies in their organizations. I’ve done a lot of thinking, reading, and sitting in discomfort. I have had some hard conversations with relatives and family friends—racism is sadly still rampant among South Asian communities. I understand that individual change starts at home.
After three months of being so privileged to be in the cocoon of my parents’ house, my return to New York was more jarring than I expected. But it was an important call to action for the work that all of us have to do—work that is endless, and won’t be accomplished by a few social media posts or donations.
I want to thank everyone who took the time to read this column over the last few months that I was in Dallas. It was a joy bringing my family’s stories to you. Be well, and please, please, please don’t forget to vote.