In April, a video of an unidentified white woman calling the police because she saw two Black men using barbecue grills at a public park in Oakland, California, went viral. Since then, the internet has been taken over by memes of the white woman — who is being called "BBQ Becky" — with a cellphone to her ear and a grim look on her face. But folks in Oakland are responding to the incident with positivity and community building. "BBQing While Black" brought hundreds of people to picnic in the park where the original incident occurred, and it shows that the community isn't tolerating racial bias, and it's a pretty inspiring movement.
According to the East Bay Times, the May 20 festival drew hundreds of people who brought charcoal grills, barbecued and danced as music played. Local police officers and firefighters helped out with the event as well. The event looks like a ton of fun. It isn't the first protest following the viral video — Oakland residents held a different protest cookout immediately after the incident — but it shows that people aren't going to forget what happened anytime soon.
Pictures from the event show a sizable, predominately Black crowd all over the park. People even wore shirts with the white woman's face on them, including one that says, "Hi, police. I'd like to call on myself. I just brought back Festival At The Lake!" According to the Times, Festival at the Lake was an annual street festival in the 1980s and 1990s that brought in hundreds of thousands of people.
The picnic isn't just in response to the viral video, however. In recent years, Oakland has experienced a wave of gentrification and rising rent costs, and the barbecuing incident seems to have ignited more than just a singular protest for a reason.
The incident that's causing the response is still available to watch online. There's a 24-minute YouTube video that claims to be filmed by a woman who was in the park, realized the police had been called, and decided to get involved. In the video, she quizzes the woman who called the police and accuses her of racial discrimination. When the police finally arrive — according to the video, the woman who called 911 waited two hours for officers to respond — she tells officers she's been attacked.
The police didn't escalate the situation and told the woman nothing illegal was happening when she called, but that's not always the case Starbucks is still facing a boycott after a store manager called 911 to report two Black men sitting in the store without ordering anything, and Philadelphia police arrested them. Calling the police on people of color creates an environment that could end in someone being arrested or even killed, and people need to be aware of the potential consequence of their actions.
Other communities are making their own creative responses to incidents of bias. Protesters in New York City recently took a similar approach after a lawyer was caught insulting Latina women for not speaking English and threatening to report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The protesters gathered outside the lawyer's apartment building with a mariachi band and sang songs in Spanish. It's "kill 'em with kindness" taken to the extreme, and I'm here for it.
It's powerful to see marginalized people rally around a unified cause, and it's hilarious to watch people's discrimination backfire on them. It isn't clear whether Oakland will continue to host the "BBQing While Black" festival, but its existence shows that the community is stronger than any bias, and that's an incredibly powerful thing.