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“If you want to learn how to celebrate Black history and culture during this month you can ask the Black students at this school instead of patronizing us with Koolaid, watermelon and ribs.” –Nia Harris, a student at New York University.

What were folks at New York University thinking when they decided to serve students a Black History Month meal of barbecued ribs, corn bread, collard greens, red Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored water?

The racist menu was correctly criticized by Nia Harris, an African-American NYU student who said her concerns about the college’s culinary choices were promptly dismissed.

“This is what it’s like to be a Black student at New York University,” Harris wrote on Facebook.

“In 2018 I literally had to explain why displaying watermelon and Kool-aid in celebration of Black History Month was not only racially insensitive but just ignorant.” Harris wrote. “I’ve wanted to go to NYU since I was 7th grade, and it breaks my heart that at this allegedly “diverse” and “global” institution, Black students are faced with issues like this one.”

NYU President Andrew Hamilton properly apologized for the racial fiasco but quickly threw NYU’s service provider – Aramark – under the bus.

“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,” Hamilton said in a statement. “ It was inexcusably insensitive. That error was compounded by the insensitivity of the replies made to a student who asked Aramark staff on site how the choices were made.”

“In response, Aramark has suspended the director of Weinstein dining, is investigating how this happened, will be putting in place sensitivity training for staff, and has rightly issued an apology,” he said.

What we don’t know is whether Aramark employees had a severe lapse of judgment and actually thought Kool-Aid would resonate with Black students — or if the employees thought it was a joke.

Harris said the head cook with Aramark rejected her concerns and told her that Black employees approved the menu.

“I talked to the head cook who told me ‘black people put this menu together’ and assured me that it was not racially insensitive,” Harris told a St. Louis, Missouri television station.

Apparently, that head cook lied.

“We apologize for an inexcusable menu mistake that occurred at Downstein,” Victoria Pasquale, Regional Vice President of Aramark, said in a statement. “We are extremely disappointed by the insensitive and offensive actions taken by one of our employees who did not follow policy and processes.

The individual acted independently in a way that runs counter to our values and compromised our longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion. We have suspended the employee pending a full investigation. “

Aramark has since fired two employees and the company said it will start new sensitivity training sessions.

“Most of the people were positive towards me about the letter but I was surprised that so many people do not understand the racist connotations behind Kool-Aid and watermelon in relation to Black people,” Harris told CNN.

Watermelon and African-American stereotypes were unfortunately revived consistently during President Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure in the White House. Obama was constantly depicted in cartoons with watermelons and numerous local officials and citizens were scolded for sending jokes about Obama and watermelons through workplace emails.

And last year, Fox News was criticized for racist behavior after dressing a young black boy in a watermelon costume.

“Now we’re going to have some organic fruit,” one Fox presenter said before the young boy walked onto the set. “Lucas is our watermelon!”

Meanwhile, the NYU debacle went public last week after Harris posted her concerns on Facebook. Black NYU students are aware that the racially-charged watermelon stereotypes began after enslaved Blacks gained their emancipation in the Civil War.

More than 150 years later, Black college students are still subjected to outdated racial insults.

“These drink options [Kool-Aid] perpetuate harmful stereotypes that have existed about the Black community for decades, and show an extreme level of cultural insensitivity,” NYU’s Black Student Union said in a collective statement.

What do you think?

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15 thoughts on “NYU’s Black History Month Menu Plays Into Stereotypes

  1. When I was a student at NYU in the 1970’s I participated in several protest demonstrations on issues that were of personal importance to myself and thousands of other students including the Vietnam War (after the draft system replaced the student deferment with a lottery) and the
    school’s investment in South African entities (at a time when that country’s government was an apartheid dictatorship patterned in 1948 after the US Southern Jim Crow system still in existence when I was little).While I find watermelon-flavored water to be distasteful (literally) and chicken should have been included in the menu as an alternative to pork for students who’d reject ribs for religious or health reasons I believe the negative vibe for this to be an overreaction by the kids.

  2. therealhousewifeofprincegeorgescounty on said:

    So, I think the same way racism is taught from generation to generation, “sensitivity” is handed down also. Because it is known that watermelon was/is used by whites when attempting to mock us, some of us think it is our duty/responsibility if we’re “woke” to be insulted when we recognize the said “mockery”. Personally, I loooove watermelon and I’m not offended, upset or involved if a white person would attempt to degrade me for eating/loving a nutritious fruit that I love. I do not drink watermelon-flavored water because I dislike it. In our communities, we definitely still gotta “look out”; but not for everything. Next steps: accept what we like as great but if/when we see real efforts to degrade or WRONGFULLY stereotype us, call attention to it by laughing! Pleeeessse, w
    hite people do not validate black people.

    • African American Woman on said:

      Some people cry racism over everything, even something as frivolous as this…I bet one thing, tho; that cafeteria was PACKED!

  3. Wish I had been there. I love everything on the menu. Beats the hell out of tofu, sushi and bleeding beef. A whole lot of bitchin’ about being served something that Big Mamma serves for Sunday dinner every week after church. Dammit, I wish I had been there.

  4. stephanie Jones on said:

    No Memphis I’m serious, what should they have serve? that would not have created such a fuss? At our Kwanzaa celebration, we cook everything from chitterlings to crackling bread and it was enjoyed by all. I am looking forward to our Caribbean celebration, Italian and African.
    Life is too short, chill

  5. African American Woman on said:

    Ok…This wouldn’t get my panties in a bunch, but I understand the sentiments…I would have slipped in and got me a cup of Kool-Aid tho…

  6. Stephanie,
    I’m assuming you’re joking? If not, then damn, girl! No one will accuse you of setting the curve on the intellect scale. I mean, damn!

  7. stephanie Jones on said:

    Sometimes as black folks, we waste so much energy looking for racially insignificant things. I thought the menu was fine, and I sure students of other ethnicity enjoyed it. For Hispanic month, they served black beans, rice, chicken or pork, fried plantain or mofongo no problem because that is part of their culture and what they enjoy. We have to stop being so sensitive and stop wasting time over frivolous stuff.

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