Hitting the news is a story about a private high school in Concord, CA that planned to serve a controversial lunch menu. One may wonder, "How in the world could food be controversial?" Was it laden with fat, sugar, or did someone try to serve marijuana-laced food to a bunch of high school teens? No, it was a menu that perpetuated a racial stereotype.
A Lunchtime Controversy
The school in question, Carondelet High School for Girls, is a Christian school whose administrators, I believe had their hearts in the right place. They wanted to come up with ways to celebrate Black History Month. However, the school made a lunchtime decision out of ignorance by planning to serve fried chicken, corn bread, and watermelon.
Black History and Watermelon Share a Painful History
Fried chicken and cornbread were not the items that caused the controversy. The combination of creating a menu for Black History Month that included fried chicken, cornbread, and watermelon is what tipped the scales. Watermelon is a delicious fruit that many love to eat. However, it has been used in the past as a weapon to degrade blacks in America for many decades.
It was a popular prop used in black face cartoons with a primate-faced, shiny cheeked, big red lipped, with gapped teeth character that represented black people. This character would be seen frequently chomping down on watermelon. Another little known tidbit about how watermelon was used to degrade blacks is that it was also referred to as "ni--er ham". Fried chicken also was known as "ni--er steak" for a time but it was not used as often as watermelon as a form of degradation.
Sometimes Food is More than Just Food
The historical abuse of these food items against black people is what made the combination controversial. Yes, food is food. However, when a certain group of people uses food as a way to mock another group, that is when food stops being simply food. As with any group that has experienced prejudice, some things just remain in the cultural consciousness and still stings.