Denita Roseborough

If you follow social media, you probably already know about the viral sensation known as Ms. Denita Roseborough. You probably don’t know her by her actual name, but you do know her as the Philly KFC sister who checked and re-checked the man who came into the restaurant complaining that one of the younger clerks had written her phone number on his boyfriend’s receipt. I loved this video so much I have watched it at least 10 times. I watched it so many times because Ms. Denita was a wonderful reminder of why I loved being raised by Black women from Philly.

There are a number of things that Ms. Denita did that I wish more Black women would do for each other — especially those of us in the so-called professions (e.g. doctors, lawyers, corporate women, academic women, etc.).

She took charge of the situation: The model of womanhood that is so regularly held up into us is a submissive, vulnerable, White woman that cries when she feels threatened. That is not the model I was raised with. My mother, my 7 aunts, the church mothers, and my neighborhood mamas were not shrinking violets. They did not suffer fools. And when Denita opened up with “Let me explain something to you…” that is the signal to the man that she is running this show. My own mother’s take-charge catch phrase was, “Are you finished?” When she offered that question it told me that I was about to “get told!”

She rode hard for her sister: So many of us have become timid and afraid to “be our sister’s keeper.” Denita was clear that the man with the complaint was not going to come into the KFC and take advantage of her younger, seemingly bewildered co-worker. Denita let him know that if there were any “checking” to be done in that store on that day, SHE would be the one doing the checking. As a little girl I was known for my big mouth. I was known for “selling wolf tickets” because I had some “big-girl” friends who would ride hard for me. I could count on them to do the “checking.” I often look around for those sisters in the academy. There are so few of us that far too many of us think the only way to survive is to keep our heads down and avoid confrontation at all costs. That is a strategy that may save your job, but it won’t save your soul. I wish Black women had ridden harder for Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, and, more recently, Cyntoia Brown!

She kept it real: The thing that endears so many of us to Denitra Roseborough is her verbal virtuosity. The man tries to plead his case or interrupt the verbal beat down by declaring, “Denita, it’s Christmas.” She quickly responds, “Ho, ho, ho!” Next, the man tried to argue that he thought he was in suburbs as if that would command a different response. By this time, Denita is joined by two other Black women, one of whom removes her headset in case the confrontation is about to get physical. Again, this kind of authenticity is missing in professional workplaces. We walk into our offices, our labs, our classrooms wearing masks. We never let the people we work with see our real selves. We believe being who we really are will scare them … it probably will. But, I believe it will also keep them from taking advantage of us and continuing to disrespect us.

She never forgot who she was: Finally, Denita was clear about who she was. The man declares, “I thought this was the suburbs,” as if that geographic location would change who Denitra and her co-workers were. After declaring they are “da hood,” Denita and her girls shout out their neighborhoods … North Philly, South Philly, West Philly, Chester! This declaration tells the man that they “rep their set.” The neighborhoods that formed and shaped them are deep in their being. No amount of fancy neighborhoods, bougie speech, or phony airs changes any of that. How refreshing would it be if as Black people — Black women — we owned who we are no matter where we were. What if we stopped apologizing for having had to come up in “da hood?” What if we valorized Big Mama, ‘nem for teaching us the hard lessons of life? What if we were proud to be Black women?

Of course, we do have examples beyond Denita. When Congresswoman Maxine Waters declared she was “reclaiming my time” she was representing like Denita. When Congresswoman Frederica Wilson called out Donald Trump’s and John Kelly’s lies she was representing like Denita. When Kimberle Crenshaw developed the African American Policy Forum and the “Say Her Name” movement she was representing like Denita. When Tarana Burke began the #MeToo movement, she was representing like Denita. When Viola Davis ascends the Academy Awards stage with her natural hair, she is representing Denita. When Erika Badu, Jill Scott, Beyonce, and many other Black women artists have fought long and hard to represent like Denita, and whenever a Black woman begins with “let me explain something to you,” you better be ready to be “checked,” “read,” and “told!”