US school marks Black History Month with fried chicken and watermelon
Officials at a New York middle school have apologized after serving students fried chicken, watermelon and waffles on the first day of Black History Month.
In a letter to parents, officials at Nyack middle school, an hour outside New York City, apologized for the “inexcusably insensitive” meal, which played off historically racist stereotypes.
“The offering of chicken and waffles as an entree with watermelon as a dessert on the first day of Black History Month was inexcusably insensitive and reflected a lack of understanding of our district’s vision to address racial bias,” said the Nyack principal, David Johnson, the local news affiliate WABC reported.
School administrators added that the school’s food vendor, Aramark, provided a different meal than what had been scheduled.
Students were supposed to be served cheesesteaks, broccoli and fruit on 1 February, according to a menu posted on the school’s website.
Black people’s association with watermelon dates back to the US abolition of slavery. After emancipation, many Black people grew the fruits and sold them, and they became symbols of their freedom. White people who opposed the end of slavery then used watermelons to belittle Black people, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Meanwhile, because enslaved people perfected techniques to make fried chicken, that food, too, has been used to mock Black people in the US, professor Marcia Chatelain – who teaches history and African American studies at Georgetown University – wrote in the Washington Post in 2019.
Students and parents expressed hurt at the edited meal option.
“They were asking people if they want watermelon and I remember being confused because it’s not in season,” Nyack student Honore Santiago said to WABC7.
Santiago added: “Didn’t think the company was capable of making us feel bad … especially the kids my color.”
Aramark has since apologized for the meal.
“The situation at that middle school was our mistake and never should have happened,” an Aramark spokesperson said in a statement, the Washington Post reported.
This latest meal is not the first time Aramark has come under fire for a meal with racist undertones.
In 2018, Aramark received widespread backlash for serving New York University students a meal that included watermelon-flavored water as part of a meal honoring Black History Month, reported the New York Times.
After school officials publicly called out the meal as “insensitive”, Aramark dismissed several employees who carried out the meal without including school staff.
The university ended its contract with Aramark the following year.
Aramark sparked similar controversy in 2011 after serving fried chicken and waffles to University of California at Irvine students on Martin Luther King Jr Day.