A school in Concord, California has released a statement apologizing for what is being described as a racist lunch menu aimed at observing February as Black History Month. With positive intentions, administrators at Carondelet High School for Girls, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, have now removed items from the month’s planned menu and offered an expression of regret for the racist implications.
February has been selected as Black History Month in the United States. The ritual began in 1926 as Negro History Week when Carter G. Woodson and others believed that a recognition for the achievements of African-American people was important. The week corresponded with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass and was later expanded to an entire month across many college campuses until President Gerald R. Ford made the observance official in 1976. Since then, each February has been Black History Month nationwide, with congregations and formal groups seeking to honor the month in various ways.
While reportedly well-intentioned, the all-girls school in Northern California had to apologize for its choice in how to observe Black History Month. Food items were added to a planned monthly menu that needed to be removed when parents, students and other people associated with Carondelet High School expressed extreme disapproval and shock for the racist lunch options. According to the NBC Bay Area report, fried chicken, watermelon and cornbread were among the controversial edibles that caused the outrage, subsequent apology and immediate removal of the items from the month’s menu.
In response to the outrage, administrators at Carondelet High School sent a formal apology letter to each student’s parents. Nancy Libby, Principal of the San Francisco Bay Area high school, wrote that the institution and its decision makers did not “wish to perpetrate racial stereotypes” or to offend anyone in the community. Libby, other administrators and the school’s educators also held an on-campus assembly to facilitate the discussion of what happened. An additional assembly is in the works with plans to host a discussion aimed at exploring various aspects of diversity.
When interviewed, parents of the California high school students voiced a desire for the controversy to provide a “teachable moment” for all those who were involved in the lunch menu choices and ensuing events. Responses to the incident on social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook have been comparable to those of the parents. Questlove Jenkins, a member of the group The Roots, who performs nightly on NBC’s show, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, posted his response to the lunch menu made available to NBC employees. While again, set to honor Black History Month, Jenkins replied with, “Hmm HR?” and a picture of the posted menu. The items are similar to Carondelet’s menu: fried chicken, white rice, black-eyed peas, collard greens with smoked turkey and jalapeño cornbread, according to Jenkins’ picture posted on Twitter.
While Black History Month is observed annually, appropriate ways to celebrate are still being learned for many places across the United States. The Northern California high school, which has released a formal apology for racist menu items, has since removed those items from the month’s planned lunches; and is offering a diversity assembly next February will bring a different way to honor the prominent African-Americans who have influenced and shaped the United States.
By K. Corrine Van Vliet