This was the last page of the April 2021 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine.
Martha Stewart presents herself as an American icon of New England patrimony and good taste. Her eponymous omni-media corporation offers information and advice on all things food, holidays, cleaning and organizing, entertaining, garden, home, and wedding related.
Her conviction of insider stock trading and sentencing of five months in a federal prison did absolutely nothing to stain her lily-white credentials. In fact, she has been reported as saying, that, if anything, her time in prison gave her “street cred” with the African-American community.
In this Remembering photo moment, Martha Stewart is timelessly dressed in a (probably) cashmere sweater, wide-legged pants, Swedish clogs, and sporting (probably real) pearl earrings. It is her youthful face that reminds the viewer that this a picture of a younger Martha. She is captured standing outside of her pen of domestic chickens and geese. Landed gentry. (One cannot help but wonder if she was happy to leave her Polish maiden of “Kostyra” behind.)
Her reminiscence reads:
“One of the very first things I did when we moved to our first home, Turkey Hill, was to build a chicken coop and populate it with a delightful assortment of laying hens. I called this effort ‘backyard animal husbandry’ and it helped start a national trend for homegrown poultry and eggs”.
— Martha, c. 1972
When I first read this assertion, that in 1972 she started a “national trend for homegrown poultry and eggs”, I laughed and said to myself, “No you did not.”
In the mid-1960’s I grew up in Lackawanna, New York. The small house that my parents rented was in a working class, immigrant, neighborhood that sat right next to the Bethlehem Steel factory. Most of the neighborhood men worked there. Rainbow-hued, oil-slick puddles always followed a heavy rain. Many of our neighbors had chickens in their back yard. This was a “trend” that followed them from the “old-country”; born of culture, habit, and hunger.
I also noticed this “trend” when visiting a friend in Phoenix, AZ who has a house in a predominantly Mexican immigrant neighborhood. It is not uncommon to see chickens roaming in people’s yards or to hear roosters crowing. Again, a “trend” followed from home born of culture, habit, and hunger.
Martha Stewart presents to the world a mythical and imagined self that is a reflection of white privilege and white power. As a wealthy white woman she has the luxury of creating a narrative about her self, a narrative that often goes unchallenged, is celebrated, and to be desired.
Her anecdote of starting a “national trend for homegrown poultry and eggs” is a kind of cultural appropriation; a claiming of an experience that one did not have and one does not own. She is gentrifying what Black, Brown and the immigrant poor have done for centuries: feed their families by keeping chickens.
This self-aggrandizement by Martha Stewart is a reflection of the power that white people have in the U.S. to create a mythical self. To co-opt an idea or experience and repackage it and represent it as the original architect or author.
It is done with impunity. It is done without shame. It is done purposefully. It is done to maintain the myth of a superior white self.