A private school in Northern California ( Carondelet High School, an all-girls Catholic school in Concord, California) is apologizing for its choice to celebrate Black History Month with a lunch menu that includes cornbread, fried chicken, and watermelon which caused many to feel that the school’s lunch drew on negative stereotypes of Black People and Black Culture. When the lunch menu was announced, students, administrators,teachers and later the public were shocked and appalled. (It is worth noting the school has a small black population.) Letters of Apology were distributed to the teachers and the school has made a public apology. Guidance counselors issued a letter stating the the foods “were some of the stereotypical images commonly used to depict life on the plantation, particularly among African slaves” and that “It is important to keep in mind that the images of fried chicken and watermelon have been used intentionally for over 100 years to dehumanize black people.”
It is hard to lay blame for the incident as no one is clear on who exactly came up with the menu. Neither the school administration or the Black Student Union ( run by De La Salle High school, an all-boys school affiliated with Carondelet, ) have taken responsibility for the menu.
However, another controversy has taken place in the debate of whether or not the menu was racist. Many argue that fried chicken, cornbread and watermelon are linked with not just Black culture, but Southern culture itself. Many Southerners (White and Black) enjoy these foods. It can be argued that if it were a holiday associated with another ethnicity, that the use of food typically associated with that culture wouldn’t be racist or stereotypical.
Yet, the addition of food with such historical and racial connotations causes concern. Foods like watermelon were historically associated as “black food” and used to humiliate and dehumanize Black Americans such as the intentional use of fried chicken in the racist propaganda film Birth of a Nation. Couldn’t other foods long associated with Black culture (seafood, okra, sweet potatoes, etc) have been used? For example, the peanut ( associated with Black scientist George Washington Carver) could have been incorporated as an introduction to the achievement of a Black scientist in horticulture as well as an exploration into intersection between Black American and African cuisine.
Does the inclusion of certain foods perpetuate stereotypes or by considering these foods “racist” are people denigrating a cultural cuisine?
Let’s End on a Lighter Note with Dave Chapelle- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8YAK8oMEKI
The Wire- Here’s Why Your Fried Chicken and Watermelon Lunch Is Racist
ABC News – School Apologizes for Black History Lunch Menu