White high school served fried chicken to "celebrate" Black History Month

Source: Shutterstock
Source: Shutterstock

One predominantly white high school in New Jersey faced some backlash after serving a "Black History Month" lunch. 

Hopewell Valley Central High School students, of which around 82% are white, dined on a lunch for Black History Month that included fried chicken, sweet potato casserole, sautéed spinach, mac and cheese, cornbread, peach and apple crisp, NJ.com reported. 

"The suggestion was to do something to celebrate soul food," Cathy Penna, vice president of Pomptonian, the school's food service provider, said in an email to NJ.com. "The director at this location never intended to do anything that would offend anyone and deeply regrets the decision and understands that it could have been taken out of context."

After the town received complaints about the menu, Thomas A. Smith, the school superintendent, issued an apology, NJ.com noted.

"The decision to include these items without any context or explanation, reinforces racial stereotypes and is not consistent with our district mission and efforts to improve cultural competency among our students and staff," Smith wrote in a message to the high school community.

Similarly, a private school in Northern California also apologized after serving fried chicken and watermelon to "celebrate" Black History Month, NBC News reported in 2014. 

After NJ.com tweeted about the controversy at Hopewell Valley Central High School, some people said the school shouldn't have apologized. 

Others didn't understand how celebrating Black History Month could ever be racist. 

But food can be a vehicle for racism

The high school Black History Month menu doesn't invite discussion of black excellence, black culture or the history of the civil rights movement. Presented without context, all it does is perpetuate harmful stereotypes about black people and fried chicken — a stereotype that's deeply ingrained in American history. 

Fried chicken was frequently eaten by African-American slaves because it was a cheap source of meat, NPR reported. Because you eat it with your hands, it can be perceived as a dirty food, Claire Schmidt, professor at University of Missouri, told NPR. 

Another potentially racist food you eat with your hands? Watermelon, Schmidt said. "Table manners are a way of determining who is worthy of respect or not," she told NPR. 

The stereotype about fried chicken is so pervasive, some people in England also associate fried chicken with black people, Mic previously reported. The BBC released a video asking British people to discuss the myth that all black people like fried chicken during the UK's Black History Month. While it might have been an opportunity to discuss the harmful effects of stereotyping, the video only reinforced the stereotype.   

Get it together, people. Fried chicken is too delicious to mess around with.  

Source: Giphy

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Alex Orlov

Alex is a food staff writer. She can be reached at aorlov@mic.com.

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