Fried Chicken and Watermelon

A California school is under fire for planning to serve fried chicken and watermelon for Black History Month. Black students and parents at Carondelet High School rushed to the media complaining bitterly about the items on the lunch menu at the all-girls school.

According to the outraged students, the watermelon, fried chicken, and cornbread items on the menu are offensive to black people. Why? Because the food is served by white people?

For whatever reason, our people tend to choose the wrong battles and lose focus on the real enemy.

Carondelet bought into the drama. The school immediately removed the items from the lunch menu and apologized for offending the sensitive students and their parents.

“I’d like to apologize for the announcement and any hurt this caused students, parents or community members,” Principal Nancy Libby said in an apology letter sent to parents. “Please know that at no time at Carondelet do we wish to perpetrate racial stereotypes.”

Claire Schmidt, a professor at the University of Missouri, attempted to explain the social stigma attached to watermelon and fried chicken.

Schmidt tells that chickens had long been a part of Southern diets, but they had particular utility for slaves. They were cheap, easy to feed and a good source of meat.

But then, Schmidt says, came Birth of a Nation.

D.W. Griffith’s seminal and supremely racist 1915 silent movie about the supposedly heroic founding of the Ku Klux Klan was a huge sensation when it debuted. One scene in the three-hor features a group of actors portraying shiftless black elected officials acting rowdy and crudely in a legislative hall. (The message to the audience: These are the dangers of letting blacks vote.) Some of the legislators are shown drinking. Others had their feet kicked up on their desks. And one of them was very ostentatiously eating fried chicken.

“That image really solidified the way white people thought of black people and fried chicken,” Schmidt said.

Thanks to loyal reader Robyn W. for the link.