Administrators at a Northern California private school are facing tough questions and offering a big apology after a menu controversy.
Students at Carondolet High School for Girls in Concord wanted to come up with ways to celebrate Black History Month in a lunchtime celebration. But when the Christian school announced a lunch of fried chicken, cornbread and watermelon, students and parents were outraged and offended.
The principal and dean of the school refused to talk to NBC Bay Area on Wednesday, but school officials held an assembly on campus to discuss the issue and sent an apology letter to parents.
“I’d like to apologize for the announcement and any hurt this caused students, parents or community members,” Principal Nancy Libby said in the letter. “Please know that at no time at Carondelet do we wish to perpetrate racial stereotypes.”
University of San Francisco professor James Taylor said he can see why some students and teachers would be offended, even though the lunch may have been well-intentioned.
“Chicken, watermelon, collard greens — these stereotypes of black Southern culture that come from the same place where the N-word comes from,” he said.
Ruth Wilson, chair of the African-American Studies Department at San Jose State University, said the food isn’t offensive, per se — in fact, fried chicken is an American mainstay, thanks in large part to Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Colonel Sanders.
The reason this particular meal sparks bad feelings, she said, is because blackface-era cartoons and plays showed African-Americans eating these foods in ugly caricature depictions.
The school community could have prevented this, she said, by reaching out to the key stakeholders — black students and parents — and asked them what they think was appropriate. In Silicon Valley, she added, many blacks are not even from the United States, but from around the world and may have enjoyed another cultural dish.
Several students told NBC Bay Area that Libby talked to members of the Black Student Union on campus, and the students suggested that the watermelon be taken off the menu.
Libby agreed to make that change, they said. She also said in a letter to the school community that they will remove fried chicken and cornbread from the menu.