New York University's president has been forced to apologise after students criticised the food being served in celebration of Black History Month.
The university’s dining hall offered ribs, mac and cheese, collard greens, Kool-Aid and watermelon flavoured water.
Students quickly noticed the stereotypical nature of the food on offer.
One student shared an incredulous video on Twitter:
Jee this is the most problematic thing I ever seen.
Nia Harris, another student at the university, was so appalled she wrote a letter to the school's Deans.
The negative racial connotations and history of Kool- Aid and watermelon is why I took it upon myself to write you today. Not only was this racially insensitive.
It was just ignorant. In 2018, there’s no excuse for intentional and deliberate disrespect. There’s no reason that anyone should be acting like they had no clue that this was insensitive.
What does this say about our university if we just take this down and sweep this under the rug? The school prides itself on being diverse and inclusive. Yet, we are displaying stereotypical food for Black History Month and telling back students that this is not racially insensitive when they ask about it.
Historian William R Black, writing for Atlantic, reveals the origins of the stereotype:
The trope came into full force when slaves won their emancipation during the Civil War.
Free black people grew, ate, and sold watermelons, and in doing so made the fruit a symbol of their freedom.
Southern whites, threatened by blacks’ newfound freedom, responded by making the fruit a symbol of black people’s perceived uncleanliness, laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence. This racist trope then exploded in American popular culture, becoming so pervasive that its historical origin became obscure.
Strong reactions from students prompted President Hamilton, and the regional vice president of Aramark, the university’s food provider, to issue an apology on the university’s blog, NYULocal:
We were shocked to learn of the drink and food choices that our food service provider — Aramark — offered at the Weinstein dining hall as part of Black History Month. It was inexcusably insensitive.
Aramark has launched an investigation and suspended the director of Weinstein dining, adding that it will introduce sensitivity training to ensure this doesn’t happen again.