“Black people,” says Anthony Zeigler, “have always been in a recession. We just deal with it.” When life got tough, you simply hitched up your britches and kept stepping. “When it gets harder to find work, well, you just have to look harder, that’s all.
“In our culture, as African Americans, we learn how to handle things. Make do with what we have.” Zeigler says of his home life as a youngster, “It was never an issue of how much money we had. My mother always made sure we ate, and we would have what she called ‘end of the month’ meals. Whatever was in the cabinet, she’d mix it together, cook it up and make a stew. I did the same with my kids’ mom.”
At age 41, Zeigler has been a forklift driver the last 12 years for Firestone, where he punches in on the night shift. Before that he drove a lift at Nyco. While at Nyco, he also worked as a short-order cook. He has cooked in his native Chicago at French Accent and in the Mall of America at Albert’s Family Restaurant. He doesn’t remember, as far back as his youth, a time when he didn’t have a job.
Driving the lift, especially evenings earning a pay differential, has proven to be Zeigler’s best way to earn a living wage. But his favorite means of turning a buck has always been cooking. “I learned young, as a kid. I learned from my family. We used to have a soul food restaurant in Chicago.”
Which, anyone can tell you, is a strong credential. The mere mention of that kind of cuisine can, in the Twin Cities, where blandness is the norm, set a mouth to watering over thoughts of things like collard greens, corn bread, candied yams, barbecued spare ribs and so on.
“I can fix any dish you name,” he says with a proud smile. And, quite imaginably, as the ancient quip goes, put his foot in it. His favorite food to prepare is chicken — yard bird, as we used to say in the old days. “Boiled, baked, fried, it doesn’t matter. Doesn’t make any difference. I’m a chef. Old school.”
Generally speaking he is, in fact, a throwback to an earlier day, pointing out that he has a problem with seeing widespread dependence on county social services. “Welfare,” he says, “is responsible for so many families breaking up. It’s supposed to be there to help. In some ways it does, but in important ways it hurts.
“It makes a stereotype,” Zeigler continues. “But there’s more White people on welfare than there are Black.” Even without statistics, all you need do is realize there are more White than Black recipients for the simple reason that there are more White than Black people in America.
In addition to what he feels is an unfair stigma, Zeigler states, “A man is supposed to be head of the family. But the rules [to receive social services] say he can’t live in the home if she’s getting benefits. Then a woman has to choose between being able to feed her children or have her man around.
“If he’s not there, he can’t be a companion. He can’t be a role model. It’s all on her. It wasn’t always that way as much as it is now.”
Which is a far cry from the household in which he grew up, where families where the strength of the community. “We were there for each other.”
He doesn’t find complete fault with social services. To his thinking, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), commonly referred to as food stamps, is a measure that doesn’t undermine the family but, in fact, helps stretch a salary. It is, after all, easier to pay the rent, electricity bill and such if you can worry less about how to put a meal on the table.
Zeigler comments on Republicans’ continued efforts to curtail and, if they can, eliminate SNAP. “That will cause nothing but trouble. It’ll start people stealing. It’s gonna start riots. People do need to eat.”
Anyone of the opinion that he is going overboard in his speculation can look up the record. America has a history, starting from the Boston Tea Party, of people rioting when they’ve had enough hardship foisted on them by the government.
Ultimately, Anthony Zeigler is a firm believer in putting one’s shoulder to the wheel. “As long as there is breath in my body, I’m going to work.”
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