Stop ‘honoring’ people using stereotypes

February is Black History Month in the US in which greater attention is paid to the role and achievements of African Americans in history to make up for its long neglect. The month is often used by schools and other institutions to create events relating to the history of that group. It is one of a slate of heritage months, most of which are listed below.

African American/Black History Month (February)
Women’s History Month (March)
Arab American Month (April)
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Pride Month (April/June)
Asian Pacific Heritage Month (May)
Jewish American Heritage Month (May)
Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15)
National Disability Employment Awareness Month (October)
Native American/American Indian Heritage Month (November)

An even more comprehensive list of heritage months can be seen here.

But not everyone is aware of what should and should not be done to promote the intent of these heritage months. One lunch supplier to a New York school district clearly has no clue about how to go about doing this.

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.

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.

It is possible that some companies may occasionally cynically do something deliberately outrageous and then apologize and pull back after the predictable uproar because it gives them free publicity. But I find it hard to believe that a major food services company like Aramark that caters to large institutions and dominates the market would deliberately tarnish its brand by trying to be insulting. This mess likely arose because those in the company that made this decision did not realize that stereotypes are lazy portrayals of groups and not complimentary. After all there are still people who misguidedly think they are ‘honoring’ groups in this way despite the recent publicity over Native American stereotypes being used as sports team names and logos. Such incidents do, however, illustrate the value of having diversity at all levels of work environments because if there had been a Black person in the company who had been part of the group that got to see this decision before it was implemented, they would have sounded the alarm.

It is true that large corporations can make decisions that strike one as unbelievably obtuse. Take the fast food chain KFC.

KFC has apologised after sending a promotional message to customers in Germany, urging them to commemorate Kristallnacht with cheesy chicken.

The Nazi-led series of attacks in the country in 1938 left more than 90 Jewish people dead, and destroyed Jewish-owned businesses and places of worship.

It is widely seen as the beginning of the Holocaust.

The message, heavily criticised for its insensitivity, was later blamed on “an error in our system”.

The fast-food chain sent an app alert on Wednesday, saying: “It’s memorial day for Kristallnacht! Treat yourself with more tender cheese on your crispy chicken. Now at KFCheese!”

I suspect that what happened was that some low level person with a poor knowledge of history was entrusted with promotions, and used a calendar or database that listed significant dates in history. When it showed Kristallnacht on November 9th, they just went with it without bothering to look up what exactly happened on that date. After all, the German word Kristallnacht translates as ‘Crystal Night’ and taken in isolation without context sounds quite pleasant.

Incidentally, it is worth noting that it was a Republican president Gerald Ford who officially recognized Black History Month in 1976. It shows how far the Republican party has sunk into the racist swamps when you realize that neither Donald Trump nor any of the current crop of Republican political leaders would dream of initiating such a thing. In their view, it is white Christian males who are marginalized and under siege.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    some low level person with a poor knowledge of history and no access to Google was entrusted with promotions

    FIFY. There’s not really any excuse for that kind of ignorance in today’s world.

  2. Karl Random says

    oh somebody at that company was being deliberately racist, and just slipped it past the notice of anyone in a position to stop it.

  3. says

    I loved the part about how Black Panther was going to be such a respectful movie about black people, and it ended with two half naked men spearfighting over who would be king.

    A lot of the time, the best way to show respect and sensitivity is to get your foot off someone’s neck and fuck off.

  4. mordred says

    KFC’s German marketing disaster was, according to their excuse, the result of a “semi-automatic” process which generated messages like that with a database of national holidays and days of note.

    So it’s possible it wasn’t the result of someone not knowing what the Kristallnacht was, but simply no one checking the actual events before feeding the list into the system.

  5. John Morales says

    I honestly don’t see the point of that sort of thing.

    You want to honour whatever? Fine, do it.

    But, when you only do it because it’s the day of honouring, that’s just complying with custom.

    (Obs, I know my stance is not normal. I feel exactly the same about Valentine’s and Easter and Mother’s day and all those other days of social obligation)

    I remember, way back in the day (in my early 20s) there was some sort of event, where some sort of pins for the cause (can’t remember specifically what) were given when one “donated” to the cause. What I do clearly remember is one of those types at work, who anxiously solicited my opinion as to whether they should get that pin — after all, most of the people in the workplace wore them.
    I told them to the effect of “if you want to be seen as virtuous and having contributed by wearing the pin, sure. If you don’t care about how other people see you, don’t bother.” I said that because it was dead clear to me that the only reason this person had to do so was to fit in with the acceptable group; nothing to do with the cause at hand.

    (They did it during the lunch break)

  6. says

    @sonofrojblake: doesn’t matter what race the scriptwriters were. (I knew that) but seriously, didn’t that strike you as a bit of WTF? Colonialists don’t have to be white and the colonial mindset and agenda can be carried -- obviously -- by black people as well.

    Next up: asians that make cheesy martial arts movies don’t get a pass, either.

  7. sonofrojblake says

    I was joking, kind of. I could also be the “well actually” guy and point out that you seem to have walked out halfway through. I’m going to quote the Wikipedia plot summary, but only the bit AFTER what you call how “it ended”:

    Killmonger ingests the heart-shaped herb and orders the rest incinerated, but Nakia extracts one first. Killmonger, supported by W’Kabi and his army, prepares to distribute shipments of Wakandan weapons to operatives around the world.

    Nakia, Shuri, Ramonda, and Ross flee to the Jabari Tribe for aid. They find a comatose T’Challa, rescued by the Jabari in repayment for sparing M’Baku’s life. Healed by Nakia’s herb, T’Challa returns to fight Killmonger, who dons his nanotech suit, similar to T’Challa’s. W’Kabi and his army fight Shuri, Nakia, and the Dora Milaje, while Ross remotely pilots a jet and shoots down planes carrying vibranium weapons before they can leave Wakanda. M’Baku and the Jabari arrive to reinforce T’Challa. Confronted by Okoye, W’Kabi and his army stand down. Fighting in Wakanda’s vibranium mine, T’Challa disrupts Killmonger’s suit and stabs him. Killmonger refuses to be healed, choosing to die a free man rather than be incarcerated; T’Challa shows him the Wakanda sunset and Killmonger dies peacefully.

    T’Challa establishes an outreach center at the building where N’Jobu died, to be run by Nakia and Shuri. In a mid-credits scene, T’Challa appears before the United Nations to reveal Wakanda’s true nature to the world. In a post-credits scene, Shuri helps Bucky Barnes with his recovery.

    To summarise: the half-naked spearfight was barely halfway in, and it actually ended with a backward third-world shithole being finally offered a slightly patronising hand-up by a more technologically advanced superpower, with the twist being the shithole is the USA.

  8. Holms says

    Marcus, why would you watch a Marvel superhero movie expecting it to deliver on an intellectual level? Explosions, brawls, technobabble… leave your brain at the door.

    Next up: asians that make cheesy martial arts movies don’t get a pass, either.

    Nothing wrong with cheesy, nor its close relative: camp. I wonder if by that you meant lazy/patronising…?

  9. Silentbob says

    Gotta love the white guys pontificating about how racist and meaningless Black Panther was.

    Thanks for your input white guys. How would people of colour know whether or not a movie speaks to them without your invaluable guidance?

  10. Silentbob says

    @ 11 Holms

    This is pure snobbery. Sure stories set in fantasy worlds can’t possible have anything meaningful to say -- that’s why the Iliad and the the Odyssey (the Marvel of their time) have never been considered anymore than light entertainment. Lol.

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