A New Jersey school superintendent apologized after parents expressed outrage over a questionable "Black History Month" lunch consisting of fried chicken and cornbread.
The menu, served on Feb. 16 at Hopewell Valley Central High School in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, included fried chicken, sweet potato casserole, mac and cheese, cornbread and sauteed spinach.
Students reportedly complained that the menu was embracing racial stereotypes, and others even went so far as to call it racist.
"The decision to include these items without any context or explanation, reinforces racial stereotypes and is not consistent with our district mission and efforts to improve cultural competency among our students and staff," superintendent Thomas A. Smith wrote in a message to the school staff.
The food vendor service, Pomptonian, apologized to the district after the backlash. Smith said the school would meet with the vendor to "reinforce" their "district values."
"The suggestion was to do something to celebrate soul food," Pomptonian Vice President Cathy Penna told NJ.com in an email. "Pomptonian deeply regrets that, out of context, this menu may have been perceived by individuals as insensitive or in poor taste. The director at this location never intended to do anything that would offend anyone and deeply regrets the decision and understands that it could have been taken out of context."
A similar incident occurred earlier in February in California, when a private school reportedly served a lunch consisting of fried chicken, corn bread and watermelon to its students.
School administrators at Carondelet High in Concord, California, denied approving the menu and said that a student announced it over the PA system.
"It was a shock to the administrators, the students and the teachers, and they were angry about it," communications director Christina Ditzel told USA Today.
A letter was subsequently sent to school faculty explaining that the menu items were "some of the stereotypical images commonly used to depict life on the plantation, particularly among African slaves."
"It is important to keep in mind that the images of fried chicken and watermelon have been used intentionally for over 100 years to dehumanize black people," the letter stated.
"Those foods become, fairly or unfairly, a badge of inferiority," Greg Carr, the chairman of the Department of Afro-American Studies at Howard University, added.