What do fried chicken, cornbread, and sweet potato casserole have in common? They're all delicious choices for dinner tonight—and all culturally tone-deaf things to feature on a Black History Month menu.
Administrators at Hopewell Valley Central High School in Pennington, New Jersey have been forced to apologize this week after an insensitive lunch list featuring these racially charged items was put on display, sparking outrage in the community.
The menu, which was posted on February 16 "in celebration of Black History Month," featured fried chicken, sautéed spinach, mac and cheese, sweet potato casserole, and cornbread, foods historically associated with racial stereotypes around the African-American community. The body of the 1,200-student school is 82 percent white, 10 percent Asian, 3.8 percent black, and 3.6 percent Hispanic.
In response to complaints over the menu from unknown sources, Hopewell township Superintendent Thomas A. Smith wrote a message to the school community guaranteeing that Pomptonian, the food service company hired by the district, had apologized for the misstep and would be meeting with school leadership "to reinforce… district values."
"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 of the incident.
Pomptonian Vice President Cathy Penna tells NJ.com that the company was attempting "to do something to celebrate soul food," but "regrets that, out of context, the menu may have been perceived by individuals as insensitive or in poor taste."
Unsurprisingly, this isn't the first time a school has exhibited this particular variety of tone-deafness. Last year, the President of Wright State University in Ohio had to issue a public apology after offering a Black History Month menu similarly featuring fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread. The university's dining services vendor, Chartwells Higher Education Dining Service, said in a statement at the time that the menu as meant to feature "authentic and traditional cuisine," and added that "in no way was the promotion associated with Black History Month meant to be insensitive."
Similarly, in 2014, a Catholic private school in Northern California with a 2 percent African American student body had to apologize for offering a menu of fried chicken, cornbread, and watermelon in celebration of the month.
RECIPE: Super Crispy Fried Chicken
Despite these past incidents, schools from coast to coast haven't appeared to learn their lessons, proving that history repeats itself and past racial indiscretions will continue to rear their heads… and now what does that remind us of?
If we were Donald Trump, we'd have to ask: What does Frederick Douglass have to say about all of this?