Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Let’s Celebrate MLK Day With Fried Chicken

Everyone knows that Black folks loves them some chicken.  It is just one of those racist tropes that keeps on giving.  Is it any wonder that when Denver public school board decided to celebrate MLK the lunch menu included, southern-style chicken, collard greens,  and a biscuit.  After reading the proposed menu was I the only one thinking where is the watermelon?  If you are going to go with a racist trope, why not go all out.

imageWell it seems before the Denver school board could go along with their celebration, a parent complained

Denver Public Schools changed the Friday meal to the manager's choice for Friday. Jennifer Holladay, the parent who originally complained about the menu, e-mailed KMGH a statement that said: "I'm confident we'll see stereotype-free menus in the future."

Howard said the incident is an opportunity for the school system to become more involved in the annual Marade. Howard said the Denver Public School district has shown low interest in the festivities in past years and it's time for them to get involved.

The Houston School District has offered fried chicken and collard greens on Martin Luther King's birthday for years. Last year, in response to questions, they issued the following statement:

"The Food Service Department often runs a promotion in celebration of his birthday. The promotion includes posters and public-address announcements promoting the special meal served in the cafeterias, as well as his message of remembering to celebrate with the spirit of giving back to the community ... 'a day on, not a day off.' A menu committee researches all promotions and has utilized the MLK Center of Atlanta as a resource for information about this famous leader. Elaine Hall, from the Archives Department at the King Center in Atlanta, has informed the committee that Dr. King's favourite meal includes fried chicken, collard greens, cornbread and sweet potato pie."

This idea is problematic on two levels.  We typically feel that we can experience culture through food and in doing so, we are literally eating the “other”.  It is reductive and encourages the idea that through food we can experience what it is to belong to a particular subset.  This is no different than a non-Asian person going out for Dim Sum to celebrate Chinese New Year.  I am sure Dr. King enjoyed the occasional steak but that was not on menu.  A steak would not serve the purposes of this celebration because it does not suitably mark Dr. King as “other”.

How many times are people of colour to be degraded through food?  If it is not watermelon, it’s fried chicken.  Each time some excuse is proffered to pacify us until the next time that Whiteness decided to remind us that we are other.  For the millionth time:  continually associating Black people with chicken, collard greens, watermelon etc., is RACIST. You cannot excuse it  and don’t pretend you didn’t know that it is offensive because Blacks are tired of having to attack this particular meme.  Who do you think created the stereotype in the first place?  If Black people were going to invent a social meme, we certainly would  have choosen something far more positive.

H/T Gus aka Allison McCarthy