Here is an email I sent to the owner of Saffron Colonial before the name was changed to the "less controversial" British Overseas Restaurant Corporation. The text was also published on YELP on 3/16/2016 before being deleted by administration.
Dear Sally Krantz,
I look forward to the day when I get to peruse your menu and try the dishes. But until then I must respond to the article published by the Oregonian (http://www.oregonlive.com/dining/index.ssf/2016/03/north_portland_saffron_colonia.html ) about the debate surrounding the name of the restaurant you opened, Saffron Colonial.
You are quoted: “Im really interested in history and how all societies affect others. Its not always good, but its not always bad either.” I agree that this conversation becomes one-dimensional when we begin using language of “good” and “bad” (which quickly become “us” and “them”…) Yet there are power dynamics that influence how “societies affect others.” To discuss British colonial history without a nod to the wealth extracted from those territories into the pocketbooks of a British throne is just simply ignorant. Since you are “really interested in history,” why ignore the full spectrum of the era you seek to extract profit from through historic culinary re-enactment?
The phrasing used in another quote shows that you privilege the British empire over the black/brown cultures that intersected : “for me its about the cultural melding of food around the world, focusing on how England has transformed and affected cuisine where they've been present.” Just this simple phrasing indicates a huge cultural bias that you and your establishment represent: why is it that “England has transformed and affected cuisines‘ rather than highlighting or celebrating how english cuisine has been transformed by cuisines of the colonies? This may seem like a simple shift in semantics, but in fact it speaks volumes to your perspective, which seems to align with an historical narrative tendency. To put black/brown people and spaces into a passive verb tense is a form of linguistic castration. This is the hidden bias of white privilege that weaves into so many “multi-cultural” or “post-racial” (ha!) conversations. How can you celebrate (and capitalize on) the “cultural melding of food around the world” without acknowledging the imperialism that generated this cultural melting pot in the first place? The cultural melange that happened around the world in the colonial era was not an equal exchange as your interview quotes seem to imply. It was a process of capture and re-definition with genocidal affect for the purpose of expanding British empire. To capitalize on this era without critically acknowledging its full history (and yourself in its re-enactment) is, again, laced with ignorance.
Perhaps she has not thought of it from a different perspective? I ask myself, giving you the benefit of the doubt as I sit down to write this during my cherished nap time repose. It would be much easier to assume that you are a white supremacist trotting the globe on the backs of black and brown bodies, labor, and culture to better yourself and your career as a character of contemporary culinary imperialism. But I want to believe that you and I share in more ways than we differ, and that we have the same goals of generating community spaces in our hometown where all people feel safe and whole, while creating legacy to pass down to our children. Yet you have created a space where my son - and many other peoples children - are not welcome, because you are promoting an era of history when his integrity was/is threatened by British arrival.
The power dynamics re-enacted by the geographic location of your business on a street once known as Black Broadway is another topic all together, but let me say this.
You mentioned that you feel that “A lot of people are confused… Colonial is used on a lot of things: to describe a period of time with food architecture and literature.. It seems like some people have confused that world with American Slavery.” The word Colonial is offensive anytime it shows up - whether describing architecture food or literature. I and others consciously stay away from those cultural expressions because there is a consciousness embedded into them that does not resonate with me or the reality of my posterity. To think that the backlash against the “colonial” in Colonial Saffron is tied to american slavery is a gross and again naive simplification of a global phenomenon that yes, also touched American soils. A global phenomenon that continues to rework soil through economic investments into business and the wealth extraction from land by people who own them, such as yourself. Do you mind if I ask who owns - or invested into - Saffron Colonial?
I do not write out of anger or guilt or blame. I write to elevate consciousness and create spaces that affirm all members of our community. As a message for - and messenger of - community unity, my recommendation is that, before capitalizing any further on cultural/culinary appropriation, you and your staff hold a six-week inservice intensive to read Karl Marx and David Harvey (focusing on primitive accumulation or accumulation by dispossession) in order to understand more clearly your role in this machine. I am available to host reading groups at your establishment for staff and/or the public if you are interested in pursing this.