Recently there has been an item in the news regarding a certain menu selection at NBC’s Corporate Headquarters in NYC, aka “30 Rock.” On February 1st, workers at 30 Rock went into the commissary to find that day’s offerings to be a celebration of Black Culture with a menu consisting of fried chicken, collard greens and black eyed peas. A small firestorm then was started, led by Questlove the drummer for the Hip Hop group, the Roots, crying out that this menu was racist. NBC, in typical corporate response, had the menu removed and apologized to those who may be offended.
Here is the ironic part, the cook who wrote the menu, is an African American Woman who has begged NBC for years to allow her to create this menu to kick off Black History Month. Asked if she understood why some people might find her menu concept offensive, Calhoun said, "I don't understand it at all. It's what I eat." (Here is the link http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/manhattan/nbc_lost_soul_UM3zLz05eb8QDjm6JsbNwK#ixzz0ehJrjlNZ).
Have we gotten to the point where this country is so afraid of setting off a race war and having Al Sharpton march down Broadway that to even dare suggest that a certain type of cuisine is common to the African American culture is enough to label something “racist?”
When I lived in NYC, I would occasionally eat at establishments that served what they described as “Traditional Southern African American Cuisine.” They were also known as “Soul Food” joints as well. The owners there took pride in taking recipes from their parents and grandparents and bringing them to the masses. Amazing fried chicken, BBQ Ribs, collard greens, sweet potato pie and cornbread that was so moist and delicious I have spent years trying to duplicate it in my own kitchen with no success. Does this make the proprietors of these establishments “sellouts” for catering to the stereotype of black cuisine? Would that make me a bigot for buying into these stereotypes? This is so silly.
Much like myself and most other Italian Americans I know who have their own meatball and pasta sauce recipes, I have Black friends who have family fried chicken and cornbread recipes. Yet, why is it an insult to identify that type of food with the black community? Cuisine is something that ever ethnic group under the sun has pride in as part of their culture. “Soul Food” is, and should be, no exception.
This whole event reminded me as to why I never liked Tiger Woods even before this latest charade of him going into rehab to “cure” some bullshit sexual addiction disorder. Back in 1998, there was a huge controversy that ensued when a fellow golfer by the name of Fuzzy Zoeller wondered aloud if as winner of the Masters Golf Tournament, he will have on the menu the next year “Fried Chicken and Collard Greens.” A huge firestorm erupted and Fuzzy was pretty much placed on the same level as David Duke as an unmitigated racist. Tiger could have saved this guy (who by all accounts was well liked in the tour and was known for having a good sense of humor) by simply stating “Well, yeah, I do eat that food. What is the big deal?” Instead, Tiger said nothing as Fuzzy’s career pretty much went down the toilet for making a joke. I remember at the time thinking, what if an Italian had won that tourney and Fuzzy said “I guess we are having Eggplant Parmagian and Cannollis.” I do not think anyone would have remembered 5 minutes later. Tiger, like the rest of the knee-jerk media, bought into the belief that there is no such thing as Black Cuisine and anyone who thinks just because we share the same skin color and perhaps background might like the same food…well, then shame on you for being ignorant.
I do not, nor would I ever, question that there is still racism alive in this country. Yet, when trivial items like this come up and people brand it as “racist”, it devalues the word. I think this country has gone so far in the politically correct spectrum that it is having the opposite effect: it is breeding intolerance instead of tolerance. Forums no longer exist publically that can allow honest dialogues between different cultures. People who have access to the public are too scared to get the scarlet “R” for “Racist” being branded on them. Corporations will drop to their knees, and fire off public apologies and censors at the slightest threat of boycotts for sponsoring something that may have even the slightest connection to a racial controversial topic.
It seems that our society just becomes more fractured as the years progress with more and more labels being created: African American, Latino, Gay, Straight, Right Wing, Left Wing, Red State, Blue State, Pro-Life, Pro-Choice, Liberal, Conservative, East Coast, West Coast, Southerner, etc. Sadly, I always thought that as part of the first generation of Americans born into an integrated society that we would move farther away from being identified from where our ancestors came and closer to all of us being identified as just “American.”