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Franchise

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Marcia Chatelain, an associate professor of history and African American Studies at Georgetown University, has written a powerful book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America that examines the unknown history of the civil rights movement and the expansion of the fast food franchising phenomena in black communities across America. The book largely uses McDonald’s as a window into the franchising of fast-food restaurants.  The book fills a conspicuous gap in the historiography on McDonald’s, as Chatelain argues that while a rich body of scholarship exists on McDonald’s no previous study has examined the way in which the famed “Golden Arches” elbowed its way into black America and in fact, owes much of its success to the black communities.

The meticulously researched book shows the strength of historian Chatelain.  As an historian, I appreciated the contextual arcs that she deftly draws for the reader. McDonald’s was founded in San Bernardino, California, by the two McDonald brothers and later grown into a thriving business by Ray Kroc’s efforts. But, this is the history that many may already be aware of. The fascinating history that has remained hidden is the growth of the McDonald’s franchising under the Nixon administration of the late 1960s-early 1970s. This was a blind spot in my own historical knowledge, as the author shows how the Nixon administration largely flouted civil rights protections (this is the era of the Nixon “silent majority” after all which I was aware of) and instead sought to promote small business grants. Thus, the birth of black fast food franchise ownership. It was a shell game of sorts where Nixon could appear to support black communities while rejecting protection of civil rights. “Black capitalism” came with a price as fast food restaurants sprang up but loans for homegrown businesses such as barber shops, hair salons, and Black bookstores were roundly rejected.

While inroads were made in the black franchising in some communities such as Chicago, others like Cleveland proved resistant to black entrepreneurship. As Chatelain shows a “burger boycott” wherein the black community flexed their purchasing power by refusing to patronize white-owned McDonald’s crippled these establishments.  By the late 1970s, many Black communities had grown weary of fast food businesses springing up in their neighborhoods while other services and job opportunities remained scarce. Sensing the market pressures, McDonald’s shrewdly developed a marketing strategy tailored to black buyers. For a period time the slogan “Get Down With Something Good at McDonald’s” supplanted the “You Deserve a Break Today” campaign that brought in white consumers but had little meaning for black patrons. Ad campaigns like this one keenly tried to capitalize on the “hearts and minds” of Black patrons.

Despite the acceptance by Black communities during the 1970s-1980s in the success of black entrepreneurs, by the 2000s that dream of economic advancement had fizzled. Instead, fast food was perceived as a dead-end job option.  Black communities vocalized the call for job training and the concept of the “food deserts” where fast food overpopulated Black communities and grocery stores offering fresh fruits and vegetables hardly existed at all.  Chatelain is quick to point out that realizing the actual history of fast food restaurants in Black communities places the discussion of food deserts and health concerns in a larger context. She presciently concludes, “In the ongoing, yet still superficial, public conversation about fast food, race, and health, we have to remember that our catastrophic disparities are a result of structural indifference to the depth of black hunger for everything from nutritious foods to well-compensated jobs and strong communites to racial justice.” 

This book shows that when the public debate focuses on “bad choices” made by African Americans who opt for fast food instead of healthier choices tends to obscure the way in which capitalism has intersected with racism to yield few options. The longstanding history of fast food franchises is such communities as South Central Los Angeles and Cleveland are upended by Chatelain’s outstanding book. I highly recommend it for those interested in African American history, economic history, and intersections of race and capitalism.
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This is a must read for anyone thinking about becoming a franchisee for any fast food company in a black or brown neighborhood. Many times, black capitalism is preached and pushed onto African Americans as a way to set us free. This book confirms that this will not solve anything because the systematic structures full of racism will still hurt us. The author also gives us a history lesson on McDonald's and the black community. How some of our great leaders and organizations made deals with franchises that were not for the greater good over time. Read this book if you want to understand why there is a fast food dominance in some of the "worst" neighborhoods.
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I grew up in San Bernardino, the location of the first McDonalds, and I thought this book was going to be about that, but it wasn't, and I'm really glad it wasn't.  It was interesting to ready about the fast food industry and the way it destroys neighborhoods and people.  I guess I had never thought about it that way before as I never lived in less than desirable neighborhoods.  It's given me a lot to think about as things aren't as I thought they were.
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Its been a few days since I’ve completed this book and I really have no words to the amazing information Marcia Chatelain has collected here.  There is a reason why fast food restaurant are high in low income communities, this is something I already knew, but what I didn’t know was how it was all connected. Chatelain does an amazing showing you how and why this all started. There was some repetition, but it wasn’t enough to bother me. Excellent research and it was overly saturated. (that was my pun. Lol) In all seriousness, every other word out of my mouth has been “No way!” and “Whatttttt ?!” I’m just — wow! 

Thank you, Grove Press and Netgalley for gifting me a darc. Over all I gave this book a 4.5/5 star.
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Franchise is interesting, historically rooted, and speaks to issues that we still endure as a society. It’s not just a book about fast food or a singular moment; it’s about the shape of our daily world,
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