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, Kool-Aid and watermelon-flavored water?
The racist menu was correctly criticized by one African-American student who said her concerns were promptly dismissed, according to The New York Times, which first reported the story.
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 this meal would resonate with Black students — or if the employees made a conscious — and callous — decision to make a racist statement.
According to The New York Times, Nia Harris, an Afrcian American student at NYU, said the head cook with Aramark rejected her concerns and told her that Black employees approved the menu.
Apparently, that wasn’t true.
“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. We are also re-training all employees to ensure a regrettable incident like this is not repeated. Again, we apologize for the mistake and commit to do better in the future.”
Aramark has since fired two employees.
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 boy walked onto the set. “Lucas is our watermelon!”
“Overt racism, foolish racism, or tone-deaf racism? Take your pick, it’s still racism,” said one Twitter user, Jeff Dannenberg.
Meanwhile, the NYU debacle went public last week after Harris posted a screen shot of the racist menu with watermelon water on her Facebook email. Harris is probably aware that the racially charged watermelon stereotypes began after enslaved blacks gained their emancipation in the Civil War.
More than 150 years later, while Black college students are still subjected to these outdated racial insults, Harris, 19, posted this timely observation on her Facebook page in reference to the Black History Month menu.
“This is what it’s like to be a Black student at New York University.”
What do you think?
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