Why Black People Care So Damn Much About Potato Salad, Explained » VSB

Featured, Theory & Essay

Why Black People Care So Damn Much About Potato Salad, Explained



What is potato salad?

Potato salad is a popular side dish that comes in many different versions in many different parts of the world. In Southern Germany, it’s generally prepared with vinegar, potatoes, oil, mustard, vegetable broth, bacon bits, parsley, red onion and topped with chive and served warm. In Sicily, its made with string beans and red onion, and dressed with olive oil and vinegar.

In America, the following ingredients are popular:

cubed, boiled potatoes (typically russet potatoes), mayonnaise or a mayonnaise-like substitute such as yogurt or sour cream, yellow mustard and/or mustard powder (dry mustard), black pepper, salt, celery seed, sugar, dry dill, chopped pickles (pickled cucumber), chives, finely chopped red or white onion, chopped green or red bell pepper, thinly sliced/finely chopped celery and sometimes chopped hard-boiled egg whites (usually one egg per batch of salad)

I see. Are you a fan of potato salad?

Does a bear shit in the woods and wipe its ass with a rabbit?


Of course I’m a fan of potato salad.

What’s your favorite way to eat it?

Naked, in an empty living room, while reading The Bluest Eye and…

No, I mean which occasions do you enjoy eating it, and which foods do you enjoy eating it with the most?

Oh, ok. Well, I can eat potato salad year round. But it doesn’t get much better than being at a cookout with a reinforced paper plate full of swine, baked beans, and potato salad. Especially if the swine was grilled by an inappropriately attired man who everyone — even his own kids — calls “Unc” and the potato salad was made by a woman who has said “Don’t come in here smelling like the outside” at least 297 times.

Inappropriately attired?

Yes. There seems to be a inverse relationship between the quality of the grilled and/or smoked meat and the utter disregard of the man grilling and/or smoking the meat of the danger level of being near a 400 degree metal structure with flames shooting out of it. Basically, if he’s wearing flip flops and a tank top and can easily (easily!) trip and fall into a second degree burn, the meat will be amazing.

Okay. So I get why the meat is a big deal. Because meat is meat. But why is the potato salad such a thing? Why do people (and by people I mean “Black people”) seem to care about it so much?

So, all food exists somewhere on the taste variance scale. On one end of that scale would be pizza. The worst pizza you’ve ever had was probably still somewhat edible. And, there’s probably not much difference between the absolute best pizza you’ve ever had and the, I don’t know, 10th best pizza you’ve ever had. Basically, there’s not a ton of difference here between the absolute best and the absolute worst. At least not the same as it is with other foods.

On the other end of that scale would be potato salad. A perfect batch of potato salad will make you want to smack someone. A happy smack, but a smack nonetheless. A bad batch of potato salad will also make you want to smack someone. But this smack won’t be a happy smack. It’ll be an unhappy smack. An unhappy smack meant to injure. And then, after you’re done with the smacking, you’ll throw up. And then you might actually die.

Basically, the difference between good potato salad and bad potato salad is the difference between Biggie and Big Sean.

So basically, “pizza” = “how sex is for men” (not a ton of difference between “eh” and great) and “potato salad” = “how sex is for women” (a ton of difference between “eh” and great)?

I don’t like where this interview is going.

Okay. So, I get what you’re saying about the difference between good and bad potato salad, but you still haven’t explained why this is a thing for Black people.

Well, there are so many different ways to fuck up a batch of potato salad because it involves so many difference ingredients and there are so many different ways to make it. You can not boil the potatoes long enough. Or cut them into big-ass chunks. You can add too much — or too little — mayo and/or mustard. You can get too bougie and add raw kale, or get too hood and add three tablespoons of MD 20/20. Also, since prime potato salad making and eating season occurs between Memorial Day and Labor Day, temperature is an issue too. If you leave it sitting out in the sun too long and try eating it, you will die. Like, literally.

With all this to consider, the potato salad preparing duties are usually given to a person who has earned them. Because this process involves a measure of trust. And years of experience have taught us that potato salad made by someone named “Shirley” or “Big Frank” or “Eleanor” — someone Black enough and old enough to say things like “I went to the prom with Otis Redding” and “Criminal Minds is on” — is 17,000 times more likely to be better than the potato salad made by your three-appliance-owning fuck buddy and the “White friend who invited you to his family’s 4th of July cookout and asked you to sample this new potato salad recipe he found in the backseat of an Uber last week which probably means he doesn’t want to be friends with you anymore.”

Basically, if you want to know how appropriately Black an event happens to be, the single best gauge is a spoonful of potato salad.

Interesting. So, does every Black person over 50 know how to make potato salad?

Heavens no! Let me put it this way. If you went to any Black family’s cookout this summer, you’d find that there’s always one aunt or uncle missing, and 95% of the time, its due to one the following:

1) They weren’t invited because their potato salad made everyone sick last year

2) Their feelings were hurt last year when no one ate their potato salad

3) They’re currently in prison because someone said something about someone’s “runny-ass potato salad” last year, and they pulled out a shank

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Spud sludge is gross.


    • Your opinions on singing and food are always terrible. It’s sad because I think you’re a good person

      • Im a great person, unfortunately for you you’ll never know that

        • Why don’t you want to be a better person Tristan. We’re rooting for you.

      • miss t-lee


      • Dougie


      • MsSula


      • Lea Thrace

        “I think you’re a good person”

        See now that’s where you went wrong AP…

    • MsSula

      I am in your camp. While I can eat Potato Salad, it’s definitely not my favorite thing… even if I make a mean one.

      • Humble brag

        • MsSula

          Tristan taught me. :)

          • Oh the things I can teach….

  • Cleojonz

    I could really care less about potato salad. Won’t miss it if nobody brings it
    to the barbecue.

  • Potato salad can go directly in the trash, TBH. Your auntie’s AND ya mama’s.

    • Cleojonz

      Thank you! Who thought it was a good idea to swirl potatoes in mayo and mustard? And those people that add relish too? Vomit.

      • Potatoes and a bunch of stuff on the door of the fridge like not free now

      • MissusMaxwell

        I’m so glad it’s not just me! I can’t get into that combination with potatoes. I’ve tried too, multiple times.

    • DARA NO! NOT YOU TOO!!! OMG!!!!!

    • Buster Cannon

      When someone brings potato salad to the cookout:


    • ChokeOnThisTea

      Right along with Cole slaw.

      • You the real mvp

      • ***blocks you times 100***

        • ChokeOnThisTea


      • Buster Cannon

        Coleslaw can go step on a Lego and fumble its way into traffic.

        • Cleojonz

          The hate is strong with you lol. I agree though lol.

        • ChokeOnThisTea

          Lmao!!!!!! Right??!!!!

      • LadyIbaka

        I like that one, I think.

        • ChokeOnThisTea

          You don’t, I know. Lol

          • LadyIbaka

            I do know…it’s just that I have moody taste buds…haven’t had it in years. I don’t know if I still like it. I think what I like is the crunch. Jehovah God help me.

            • ChokeOnThisTea

              I won’t lie. I used to eat it when I was a small child, but I went through a phase where I wanted to do everything my older brother did and because he didn’t like it, I stopped cold turkey. Lol! Now, I just can’t bare to look at it. It gives me the heebie jeebies.

              • LadyIbaka

                If I c it, I may put it on my plate as decoration and not touch it.

                • Kas

                  Right next to the sprig of parsley.

      • KMN

        I’m so hurt :(…Cole slaw on a brisket sammich, pulled pork sammich, grilled hot dog or Johnsonville brat with a touch of BBQ sauce…ugh I’m slobbering right now I need one of those in my face right now lmao

        • YES!!!!! MY GOD!!!!!

          • KMN

            You are officially my sister…pulled poke sammiches topped with cole slaw for you ma’am lol

            • I wish you nothing but good things. May your best today’s be the worst of your tomorrow’s.

              • KMN

                you’re effing awesome lol

        • ChokeOnThisTea

          Cole slaw. Brisket. Sammich. Pork. Brats.

          I swear you speaking another language.

      • Junegirl627

        Yo all jokes aside… FUKC COLE SLAW

      • mochazina

        what’s funny is that I’m trying to get more veggies in my life so I’m revaluating things like coleslaw that are primarily veggie. I still don’t like it a lot but there’s this local hipster donut+fried chicken spot that sells fried chicken sammiches with coleslaw on them that are super good! so that and conchon de lait poboys are my only coleslaw eatings for now.

  • I don’t get black folk who fugg up potato salad by adding extra ingredients that don’t belong. Why are there tomatoes here? Is that an olive?! WHO TOLD YOU TO USE DIJON MUSTARD!?!?!?!?!?

    All you need is salt, pepper, mayo and mustard. Dassit. Maybe onions or diced pickles if your crowd is into that. Keep it simple. No one wants your Food Network remixed dish.

  • Kas

    Predicting 3,000 comments by noon, East Coast time.

    • Tambra

      Another fighting post. Enjoy.

      • I always did like a good food fight

    • Cleojonz

      I didn’t feel like working today anyway lol.

  • Buster Cannon

    Tuna salad > Chicken salad >>>>>>>>>>>>>> Potato salad


      • Kas


    • Who didn’t hug you people as children?! This blasphemy on this here Friday is unacceptable.

      • Other_guy13


      • LadyIbaka


      • miss t-lee

        Girl…it’s just us fighting the good fight.

        • “Girl…it’s just us fighting the good fight.”

          That’s what Hitler told Eva Braun when they went into that bunker and he gave her that poison.

          • miss t-lee

            Go away, Wu!!!!

            • Eva: Dolphie, these don’t look like the Xanies I usually take…

              Hitler: Girl you know the Russians blew up the CVS on 12th… these just generics is all.

              • miss t-lee


              • Lea Thrace

                I CANT STAND YOU! Im dying!

              • brothaskeeper


          • What you’re not gonna do is compare us to that demon. If anything, we’re patron fugging saints of Potato Salad.

          • Cleojonz


    • PhillyJawn

      Seafood salad>>>>>> potatoe salad>>>>>>>Tuna and chicken salad are TRASH!!

      • Other_guy13


      • Cleojonz

        I like seafood salad but I have to refute this claim because it’s always made with imitation crab meat which by definition makes it an inferior product.

        • Mika


        • Kat

          I saw a tv program where they showed how they made that imitation mess…confirmed my thought to never ever ever eat it.

        • MsSula

          Ok, homemade seafood salad we will say.

      • Nah, because that’ll lay you out if somebody’s crab meat is on the wrong side of expired.

      • miss t-lee

        “seafood” salad…no.

      • AnswerMe

        I don’t feel like that’s a good comparison. Coleslaw and potato salad, yes. Tuna, fish and real seafood salad are alright to group together.

      • Buster Cannon

        Something specific like a shrimp & crawfish salad is pretty great. But those random mashups of ‘seafood’ that consist of imitation crabmeat are awful.

      • MsSula

        I can get behind you!! Tuna and chicken salad, it’s like WHY???? I can understand trying to dress up measly potatoes but why do that to perfectly good protein? Ugh!

    • LadyIbaka

      Chicken maybe, tuna can go hang!

    • miss t-lee

      No, no, and no.

      • Dougie

        you can’t give him that meme, tho? he deserves Sparta battles for that ridiculous comment!

        • miss t-lee


    • Cleojonz

      I’d reverse Tuna with Chicken though. You can’t eat Tuna salad from just anywhere.

      **Edited to add – I don’t know why I’m randomly throwing capital letters in.

    • Helga G.Pataki

      just no to all of those salads

      • ChokeOnThisTea


      • Other_guy13

        You need real friends in your life…

      • Mortal Man

        Never trust people who eat salad and then smile about it.

      • Lea Thrace

        *praise dances*

    • Mortal Man


    • Kat

      I eat no one’s Tuna salad

    • MsSula

      Tuna Salad is just yuck. Sorry.

  • Eva_baby

    The best potato salad is not too chunky, but just chunky enough. The paprika topping is both pleasing to the eye, palatate — enough to taste but does not overwhelm. It has just right combination of textures, your tongue can literally feel out the texture of the potato, the hard-boiled egg yolk, the egg-white, the celery, and even little crunches of pickle. And there is a perfect proportion of each with each bite. Also when you eat it, it gives you a little tingle right at the undersides of your jaw.

    And finally it pairs well with an all beef hot-dog (perfectly grilled with just the right amount of char) or a rack of messy ribs.

    And to add a little bougie to all this, I wash it down with a nice sparkling Pellegrino.

    • miss t-lee

      I only like paprika on my deviled eggs.

  • LadyIbaka

    Guess I ain’t black enough because potato salad to me looks like puke. Funny enough you wrote about it. I saw it today in Duane Reade and my first though was of the disapproving commentary VSB would have, cause it ain’t their mother’s/grandmas recipe. Nyhoo, yuck yuck yuck!!!!!!!

  • miss t-lee

    First of all that pic up top? I wouldn’t touch that potato salad. It don’t even look right.
    Honestly, if it’s not my auntie’s or my grandmother’s I really don’t want it. They make the best homestyle potato salad, outside of my mother #RIP.
    Plus, unless it’s German style potato salad (which I like every now and again), it needs mayo, mustard, pimento, pickles…and a few other things. Can’t give away my grandmother’s secrets because at 85 she’s still super nice with the hands.
    Brisket, sausage, ribs, pinto beans, potato salad, white bread and big red—meal of champions, Texas style.

  • Damon ain’t even helping yall cause with the straggliest of spud sludge as the main photo

    • miss t-lee

      Some of the worst representation of potato salad I’ve ever seen, outside of that photo to the right.

      • Cleojonz

        He’s clearly doing it on purpose lol.

        • miss t-lee

          I just hope it ain’t any of his people’s potato salad photos I’m slandering…lol

          • Cleojonz


          • It that wasnt googled the vsb cookout is cancelled

            • miss t-lee

              For real though.

    • Cleojonz

      That’s some nasty looking potato salad.

    • It’s gotta be a troll. If that’s Damon’s idea of good potato salad, this whole article needs more explanation.

    • Kas

      It looks like a batch of ptomaine poisoning.

More Like This