Cover Image: White Burgers, Black Cash

White Burgers, Black Cash

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Amazingly written book on the topic of fast food and the Black community. This is definitely written as a scholarly read, so if you are looking for a nonfiction read surrounding food, I highly recommend it. Many may not be aware of how nutrition plays a role in our society politically and I think shows an excellent example of how it plays a huge role in our daily lives.

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Fascinating look at the exploitation of black workers, of the conditions and exclusion of communities of color by the fast food industry. It’s a novel way to discuss this, but a really necessary look at an important avenue of discrimination

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White Burgers, Black Cash: Fast Food from Black Exclusion to Exploitation, is an exceptional and detailed view of the introduction of fast food and how it evolved. The story begins at a time when fast food is not yet an iconic part of American life. With its emergence, Kwate clarifies that early-stage fast food restaurants excluded black individuals because folks "were not interested in interracial exchange."

This book delves into a rich history, providing detailed explanations that may make for a slow read. However, it sheds light on how the current fast food industry came to be, revealing the specific intentions and capitalistic greed behind its development.

Read this book to understand not only how fast food has changed and gain a comprehensive understanding of the factors that have influenced black life through the detailed insights provided in this book. Topics such as redlining, lynching, and respectability politics are explored to give you a holistic perspective.

White Burgers, Black Cash is a lengthy essential read for anyone trying to understand the food landscape throughout the country.

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The title is well written and researched on the topic of fast food and the Black Community. Although it seems it would be better suited for a researcher or historians doing academic scholarly work the information would be of interest to anyone wanting a more through understanding of the history fast food has played in the communities it served. It shows that subjects one may not think of for example fast food also has had and played a part in segregation and civil rights.

Thanks to publisher and Netgalley for allowing me to review this title.

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This book has excellent information on the relationship between the fast food industry and the black community. The detail contained indicates a level of research not usually found. While the author is an academic and writing for that audience, I could understand and digest the information. With that, the book is not an easy read by any stretch but the information within is exceptional and I had not seen in any other work.

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As someone who studied sociology and history, I was really intrigued by this book. Unfortunately I ended up DNFing because it’s geared more towards an academic audience and made it a little dry for my taste. I couldn’t focus on all the minute detailed history and found myself bored most of the time. I would recommend to academics interested in the subject but it’s not a book to read if you’re reading due to a mild interest in the topic and part of the general public

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An interesting look into the rise of fast food and how it alienated black communities. Very well researched, especially with all the pictures.

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While the topic is incredibly interesting, the writing seems to be geared more towards academia than the general public. As I fall under the latter category the book did seem tedious at moments. However, the book was still enjoyable overall and I can see myself referencing it in the future. I appreciated the high quality photographs included.

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We have looked at the history of fast food, we have studied the effects of fast food on people, but this is a whole new study about race, opportunity, and fast food. What an interesting take on an industry we thought we knew so much about, but clearly we do not.

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5 stars for content. This is a truly enlightening read about fast food (specifically hamburgers and fried chicken) in America & how those seemingly innocuous meals have layers upon layers of racial and sociopolitical meaning.

History books often describe a (fast & fictionalized) montage between the despicable segregated era of diner cherry pie sit-ins — summersaulting to the present day era of what should be culinary “equality” — but this book pauses the montage and gets into the cracks & toxic recipes of U.S.’ history of humble pie.

The author is an academic and while the prose dense (there’s a lot of warranted info to go through!), it’s thankfully written by a helpful academic (the reader is NOT berated over their head for not knowing about the things they don’t know). For that alone, the author deserves a prize.

This isn’t an easy read, but absolutely one that leaves the reader more aware. There are a number of paragraphs that would make wonderful excerpts in mass media outlets. Above all this book is a reminder that nothing changes unless there’s knowledge & desire to change — this book has the knowledge & certainly inspires desire to help change things for the better — hopefully a few other powerful readers can agree.

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White Burgers, Black Cash centers on fast food from Black exclusion to exploitation. The author's focus is on the fact that there's a reason, in addition to corporate greed, that there are so many fast food and cheap food options in Black neighbourhoods, marketed to Black Americans with advertising and promotions. There is a direct correlation between this phenomenon and the adverse health conditions that impact Black Americans in higher numbers, including Type 2 Diabetes. When fast food first emerged in the mid 20th century-ish, it was catering to White suburban customers and definitely enforcing Jim Crow laws to keep Black customers out. Through the arc of the book's trajectory, the reader will learn how all of the changed, why, and the reason why fast-food establishments are the way they are today.

Beginning as early as 1912, the first 'fast food' company was Horn & Hadart, followed by White Castle in 1921, then White Tower in 1926 (and the placement of 'White' in the names of these establishments is not a mistake in the sense that the companies were making it very clear and upfront about who they wanted their customers to be). In the 20s there were a few other minor players until you got to 1936 with Big Boy, then onto Brown's in 1951, and KFC in 1952 or Church's Kentucky Fried Chicken as it was then known. In 1954, you got Burger King Henry's, and in 1955, McDonald's. Wendy's and Popeye's came along in 1970 and 1972 respectively. These are the origins of the American fast-food landscape today, for the most part. When most people first think of the main fast food options, taking race out of the equation, the names that first come to mind are McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, KFC, Pizza Hut, and maybe a few others that are localized to the United States like Denny's, Waffle House, and Sonic.

As the author points out right at the beginning of this text, "Fast food has always been a fundamentally anti-Black enterprise." It's everything in America, and around the world. Fast food is everywhere in Black communities and the most readily accessible, especially with lower prices (not counting inflation). This is by design, because it's no coincidence that Black communities "contend with worse health profiles than do their [w]hite counterparts for myriad health conditions." While lawmakers, researchers, and community residents have learned over the past several decades that fast food carries with it health risks, it also plays a huge role in obesity and chronic illnesses.

"Fast food is anti-Black because it has subordinated Blackness throughout its history."


First, the author takes readers to the point in the introduction to learn that James Baldwin, literary great, when wanting a hamburger when he was in Trenton, New Jersey, was denied service each time. These fast food outlets operated in "exclusionary [w]hite space and remained intensely focused on [w]hiteness for decades." It wouldn't be until the 1970s that Black consumers would have ready access to hamburgers, when things shifted to the era of Black exploitation.

There's been a deliberate associating of by white press and policymakers that crime, fast food, Blackness, and a community on the disadvantaged side of an entrenched racial and socioeconomic divide" makes for their explanation of why there are such high incidences of violent crime.

The public imagination has been taught to put together the image of fast food + unhealthiness + Blackness as assumptions about the shape of the food environment continue, and obesity rates skyrocket.

In all of the studies that the author conducted with their colleagues, they found that Blackness was the common variable among higher incidences of where fast food locations were located. "The more Black people there were, the more fast food was present." Further, they found that affluent Black neighbourhoods were just as likely to be exposed to fast food.

Not only were white proprietors established the baselines and foundations for the fast food industry with drive-in models, but also one in particular, Bill Marriott, created a Coon Chicken Inn, "a restaurant that featured the racist caricature of a Black man with an open, gaping mouth at the front door." So, not only were these early establishments discriminatory, threatening violence to Black customers if they did not leave, but also, the white men who started the White Castles and so on were creating racist eateries to cater to more white customers, and, as if that weren't bad enough, to be selling consumable whiteness in various forms. It sold whiteness through the consumption, domination, and mockery of Blackness. They also sold racial exclusion, "and sold [w]hiteness through the invisibility of Blackness. They sold [w]hiteness as a consumable purity, cleanliness, and moral uprightness."

And, you guessed it, if these restaurants did not serve Black customers, they sure as heck did not hire Black employees. Black Chicagoans, for example,, had to travel "to factories, meatpacking houses, and steel mills" for work, having difficulty finding it near their homes.

"In 1910, nearly half of employed Black men held one of just four jobs: porters, servants, waiters, and janitors. More than two-thirds of Black women were domestic servants or launderers." Professions like skilled trades, clerical work, and civil service, "apart from postal workers," were generally closed to Black workers.


Women were hired at burger restaurants for the first time mostly around World War 2 because of the labour shortage with most of the men fighting the war. However, it's important to note here that while white women were being hired, the burger establishments made "no real changes in hiring Black folk, through some outlets in Kansas City resorted to hiring 'colored girls' as servers."

Consider also that Detroit's only White Castle employee who was an African American woman worked on doing janitorial work during the Second World War.

"Neither did White Castle serve Black folk."


The author next explains other chains, some of them imitators of White Castle, and others lesser-known ones that established at the turn of the 20th century, like Little Tavern.

Black space, the author emphasizes, was "widely associated with disease and degradation." The mode of operations for most of the burger establishments was 'cleanliness,' a concept that was situated as opposite to Black communities, showing the inherent racism built into the foundations of these businesses.

The next chapter discusses Black-owned businesses, including barbecue stands in Chicago, "operating from old boxcars or discontinued streetcars," which were popular African American businesses, particularly in Bronzeville. Chicken shacks were another type of business popular in the area, but this contravened the idea of 'respectable eaters' as described by historian Jennifer Jensen Wallach.

W.E.B. Du Bois "exhorted Black folks to avoid unhealthy foods, as he and others envisioned racial progress through dietary change." This section of the chapter was of particular interest as it's an aspect of scholarship about Du Bois that many readers may not have come across previously. Booker T. Washington also cautioned against his students eating what he referred to as 'knickknacks' such as cheese, crackers, and desserts as well as pork, as he argued these contributed to the high mortality rate of African Americans. There was a biopolitics of Black eating, as the author expands upon.

Further, the author goes into continued discussions about the challenges Black-owned businesses faced, including the large-scale destruction of them, which had 'immediate and long-lasting effects.' Many businesses in Black neighbourhoods 'lost to slum clearance,' even if African Americans did not own them, a difficult challenge as they provided essential goods and services to Black consumers. Still, establishments like White Castle also experienced distress due to urban renewal, and loss of sales.

In the next chapter, the author discusses McDonald's. "Although some scholars have described McDonald's as opening stores in Black communities in the late 1960s, most of those outlets had already been there--what was new were the Black neighbors who arrived as [w]hite people quit town." Embedded in this discussion is the issue of redlining and Black home buyers being denied purchasing houses. Next, the discussion turns to Burger King. As the author asserts, Central Florida was a site of repeated repression as well as violence that whites inflicted on the Black population in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly the lynching in 1934 of Claude Neale. It drew "more NAACP files than any incident in American history, and during WWII and beyond, Black men were rounded up under vagrancy laws, fined for not working and either imprisoned, or sent forcibly to plantations or turpentine camps to pay off the unjust debt." These are things that are not nearly as widely as they should be, making this a text that is essential in the field.

The reason Florida comes up is because Miami is where McDonald's and KFC originated--aka places where Black people 'were nowhere to be found.' "Burger King was born in a place with a Black population but was no less hostile." The colour line, the author reminds readers, was extremely severe. Given this, it is surprising that Burger King was the first of the 'big three' burger joints to serve Black customers. Prior to Burger King, there was a Royal Castle in Miami. The author then discusses how the men, like Edgerton, who planned where to put the first Burger King in Miami knew what they were doing in the sense that one does not randomly choose a Black neighbourhood in the Jim Crow South, so it stands to reason that he targeted Brownsville.

Further on, the author discusses the racialized violence in the 1950s and how this affected drive-in restaurants, which became, in white suburbs anyway, 'synonymous with teenage "rowdyism,"' with residents protesting the providing of restaurant permits.

The author ties the progress and developments of fast food chains with the civil rights issues affecting African American communities, including disproportionate and targeted violence. In one of the middle chapters, the author discusses the rise of the Black Panther party, who wanted to 'build a well-fed, well-cared for, healthy Black community.' Although the risks of fast-food were not as well known as they are today, there were reasons why some groups like the Black Panther party advocated for what they did with food health, versus the OBU, and why McDonald's was a logical target.

In one of the later chapters, the author also shows how Black entertainers like Mahalia Jackson were incorporated into the fast-food game, such as with Mahalia Jackson's 'Gloree-Fried Chicken,' to compete with KFC. With this example in particular, the author reveals the complex inner workings of such businesses and other industries that were involved. Another chain that people may not be familiar with is Afri-Kingdom, which operated on the South Side of Chicago. Next up, the discussion also includes Harold's Chicken Shack, which leads into the era of the 1970s and Blaxploitation. In this time period, "Black customers were no longer a mere afterthought or a necessity wrought by social unrest; corporations now turned to actively exploiting Black communities for profit." This affected several industries, including fast-food. In 1978, Ebony magazine ran an advertisement announcing that Church's Fried Chicken was hiring, with an image of Milton Sanders, a Black executive there, seemingly to incentivize Black customers to frequent the chain.

Overall, an extremely thorough and granular look at fast food from a neglected and under-studied viewpoint, "White Burgers, Black Cash" is an essential primer for those wanting to understanding what is a necessary text exploring this aspect of food history.

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This book was fascinating and horrifying. I was unaware of the history of fast food restaurants in America, and I learned a lot from the author's deep research. It's hard to imagine these restaurants starting out as segregated and now marketing to Black and brown communities almost exclusively. So much interesting information here. It also touches on challenges in food deserts, and I can only hope that in the future some of these issues can be rectified.
Thanks to Netgalley for the book to review.

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A jaw dropping look at the location and predominance of fast food restaurants and workers found in the African American community. Oftentimes, these areas are fresh food deserts. Compelling, original, and so educational.

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Fast food isn't a realm that I never really studied or looked into in-depth before. Sure, I knew some of the basic facts (or so I thought) of how certain chains were founded, where they were located, and the other general information. What other books don't really give you is the components of race and sociological, political, and other impacts that fast food (and its founding racism) had on Black communities.

I could take us through the whole different areas of the book in this review, but suffice to say, it traced the origins of fast food through the decades, and the involvement (or lack thereof, often not by choice) of it on Black communities, including franchise opportunities, availability to dine, and the changing of landscapes for advertising and intent.

For a scholar, I think this book is great. There is a lot of detail, and a lot of thematic approaches throughout the chapters that tie back together, and facts/pictures to go along with the information. For the general person who's reading this for fun rather than study (like me), I will say it was a bit tedious and too detailed at times. While I recognize having specific addresses is probably important from the standpoint of understanding the neighborhood different chains were in, I wasn't going to google every time and so it was a bit lost on me and I found myself glossing over sections with that kind of detail. What I appreciated from the book was the overall understanding of how fast food chains perpetuated racism and how the experience for Black diners was quite different than for white communities.

Definitely a book to read if you're interested in understanding the sociological impacts of fast food beyond the question of nutrition.

Review by M. Reynard 2022

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Very interesting look into food culture and race. It was very easy to follow despite being somewhat academic. A new way to look at the world around us.

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