Good Intentions; Bad Outcomes

Today was Martin Luther King Jr. Day: A holiday celebrated across the country to commemorate the life of one of the most influential African Americans in history. And despite having classes (yes, Union does not cancel class due to the lovely trimester system), Union set up numerous events to celebrate the life of such an important individual.

One of the most interesting events was the chance for the faculty and students to participate in A Community-Wide Video Project in which everyone was invited to filter through the Nott Memorial throughout the day to read and record a few lines of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Very powerful, indeed.

But the day was almost completely ruined for me when I went down the West Cafeteria tonight for dinner and saw what was being offered as the “specials” for the night:

Fried Chicken.
Collard Greens.
Cornbread.
Pulled Pork.
and Cajun Style Rice and Beans.

Yes, all southern foods (which I’m sure was the intention), but also foods stereotypically associated with black culture. This day, which is supposed to be held in such high regard, seemed to be turned into some type of joke because of the archetypal food provided and the negative connotations that came along with it.

I realized that something was wrong when before I had even stepped into the dining hall I could hear people in my hallway laughing and yelling in disbelief, “You are not going to believe what West is serving for dinner! FRIED CHICKEN!” Is this the type of reaction that Dining Services was hoping to ignite? I’m sure it wasn’t, and yet, that is the exact reaction that the student body had. Mocking laughter.

Yes, as a student body and community as a whole, we should be beyond the immediate association of African Americans and fried chicken, or other stereotypes, and yet, tonight demonstrated that we are not. The association is still there. And that was really upsetting to realize.

This really took a toll on the significance of the day. The last thought of many of the students leaving the West dining hall was of the racially insensitive food provided as opposed to the overall significance of Martin Luther King’s place in history.

So yes, dining services, I understand that you had some good intentions: To provide us with Southern food (seeing as how Martin Luther King Jr. was from the South) and to ‘diversify’ our tastebuds. But I’d have to say that things didn’t exactly turn out as intended.

I hope that West Dining will be more sensitive and aware in the future.

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About Isabelle Edwards

Student Blogger at Union College.
This entry was posted in College Life, Food and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Good Intentions; Bad Outcomes

  1. Mary Clare Bergen says:

    Perceptive, well-articulated commentary. Thank you.

  2. Roberta says:

    You are spot on. Thank you for challenging poor judgement!

  3. Denise Kinnear Amick says:

    Nicely put. My first feeling upon reading the menu was a slight shiver of embarrassment for the dining staff member who came up with this brilliant idea. I would not have made the same choice. However, often our actions do not correctly convey our intent. I’d like to offer for your consideration: who made the decision about the menu and what was their intent? Thanks.

    • edwardsi says:

      Thank you. I’m not sure who exactly was behind the menu, but the Director of Multicultural Affairs has scheduled meetings to be set up so that Dining Services & students can discuss the problems with the menu and spread awareness to the campus as a whole.

  4. Amelia says:

    Great analysis of the issue. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. You are a gret writer!

  5. Justin Mason says:

    Can you call me about this post? I’m a reporter with the Daily Gazette.

    Regards,
    Justin Mason
    395-3113

  6. Ted says:

    I would like to know is the writer of the article is African American, and yes it makes a difference.

    Rev. Ted

    • edwardsi says:

      Yes, I am African American. There is an “About” section on the homepage of my blog (at the top) giving some information about my background.

    • Kadi says:

      Hello, Ted. I’m curious as to why it would make a difference that the writer is African American.

  7. Ted says:

    Correction (If the writer).

  8. Paris says:

    This is an inspiring post from a budding young writer! Bravo for standing up against the problems you see around you.

  9. William says:

    Nonsense. Would Italian food be insensitive on Columbus Day? Latkes on Hanukkah?

    What you describe as “steretypical” is commonly called soul food. Stop seeing racism in everything.

    • edwardsi says:

      William,

      Let me clarify my point:

      My main concern has less to do with the types of food served and more to do with the reaction of the student body. The fact that the main response of students was to make jokes mocking the food served is unacceptable. This only brings forth negative connotations between the food and black culture as a whole. If West Dining had provided background to the foods and explained that they were “soul foods” associated with Southern cuisine as opposed to black culture as an entirety, I believe there would have been less of a problem, and less of a mockery created. Since there was no context, the immediate conclusion of many students was that it was ‘funny’ and something to be laughed about.

      Secondly, out of Union’s 2,194 students, 3% of the student body is black. I, and other African Americans are therefore considered to be a minority. Thus, I will continue to take a stand about what I feel is insensitive and I will continue to bring up these topics for discussion if need be . If you are offended by the voicing of my opinions, then feel free to discontinue reading my blog.

      Thank you.

      • Dr. Deidre Hill Butler says:

        What was the reaction of the student body before you blogged? Please clarify? Prof. Deidre Hill Butler, Director of Africana Studies

  10. Maurice Grant says:

    This was a dinner from Northern West Virginia, which was hosted by an inter-racial couple. The husband and chef is black and presented this meal as his way of giving back. The author of this post is also black.

    http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=86f59b935d82127084194cd72&id=096fedd65e&e=80c72cfcd2

    http://www.cafebacchus.net

    According to an article commemorating King’s neighborhood as a child “…a favorite meal was the Sunday feast of fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread.”

    http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2008/jan/13/atlanta-neighborhood-commemorates-childhood-civil-/

    Food can transcend barriers. The smile and warmth shared after a good meal is universal. Peace through good food – that’s my message.

    Union’s 2,194 students are mostly white. About 3 percent of the student body is black, according to the college’s website.

    If the above statement is true, it would be interesting to know who approved of this menu. If you notice the quote from Dr. King himself

    • edwardsi says:

      This information is great! Like I’ve stated previously, it’s all about providing context in order to eliminate misunderstandings and mockery. The Director of Multicultural Affairs, a few students, and I will be meeting with Dining Services on Friday, January 27th, to discuss how to go about serving food like such in the future. Next time there will be background information provided (just as you have provided) to create a more informed campus.

  11. Maurice Grant says:

    I forgot to add. Have a nice weekend. Stay warm. I have heard a great deal about Union. I have a friend who is an Alum. Do Union proud and keep up the tradition. Take care and be well.

  12. Craig says:

    We need to mature with race relations in America.

    Fried Chicken is not insulting. MLK Jr. ate fried chicken. In fact, almost all black people eat fried chicken just like Italians eat macaroni. It’s a fact of life.

    I went to SUNY Geneseo and the Black Student Union cooked everyone fried chicken and collard greens. The Asian Student Union cooked random “stereotypical” East Asian foods. This is typical stuff. So, if white people cook the fried chicken it’s “racially insensitive,” but when black people fry up some good food its representative of their American heritage.

    Glad to see that Union is propagating future unenlightened race baiters. There are still persistent disparities economically AND socially in America specifically, but complaining about nonsense like this puts the focus on the wrong issues. We need to focus on improving the social, economic, and moral fabric of our society. That means equality under the law, strong families, access to work and education without unnecessary impediments, and etcetera. The debates should be about issues like these, not fried foods.

    -Craig

    • edwardsi says:

      As I stated previously to William [who commented above], to clarify my point, my main concern has less to do with the types of food served and more to do with the reaction of the student body.

      Yes, black people do eat southern foods like fried chicken, collard greens, etc. That is correct. But it is when others make a mockery out of said foods being served that the problem arises. If it was treated as regularly as any other meal that has been served, there would not have been a problem. It is the fact that it was followed by mocking laughter that is and was the real issue.

      If you would like to believe that Union is “propagating future unenlightened race baiters” than so be it. But in my opinion, Union college is opening up topics like this for discussion in order to move forward and create understanding within the community.

      Also, it was never clarified in my bog or any of the articles released as to whether or not the cook was white or black. That you assume I would be offended only if it was a white chef is your mistake. White, Black, Asian, Latino, etc, I would have still brought up the topic for discussion.

      Thank you for your opinion.

      – Isabelle Edwards

  13. Craig says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful response. The article seemed to be less about the racially insensitive quips of white students and more about the response that you and your friends had to the menu. You called the menu (not the response of students to the menu) “racially insensitive.” So, maybe your thoughts have changed concerning the menu, and that’s good. That’s why we need an open dialogue on college campuses and the nation at large.

    One thing I have not thought of, which your response to me has brought to light, is the issue of mockery. Whether the comments were light-hearted and should be ignored, or of a more serious nature which is regrettable, I don’t know. I’m sure there was a little from column A and a little from column B. And, that I do feel bad about on second thought. Explicit and implicit racial insults do exist and something I would be guilty of from time to time. And that’s a bad thing. It ruins something good like fried chicken, for example.

    Not long ago I brought a 3 liter bottle of Welch’s grape soda to work, which was a gag gift from my brother’s fiancee (who’s black-Caribbean BTW.) Sadly, my co-workers (Hispanic and white) were telling jokes, yet during lunch we all had the soda. And liked it. So now, come to think of it, it is very sad that something like food offers people the opportunity to denigrate people.

    I think this is a black-American issue. Tacos on Cinco de Mayo, Soda Bread on St. Patricks Day, or Ravioli on Columbus Day won’t bring out the immature racial jokes like Fried Chicken would. But Fried Chicken is not the problem. Maybe there should be enough soul food days until it is not some sort of shock to people and we can be mature about it….but then the health-nazis would be after me.

    Thanks for making me think regarding this.

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