This High School's Black History Month Lunch Menu Is Not Okay

A New Jersey high school that claims to have been trying to celebrate Black History Month ended up making a big misstep last week. According to NJ.com, Hopewell Valley Central High School and the school district's food supplier, Pomptonian, apologized after serving a "soul food" lunch menu that included fried chicken, sweet potato casserole, sautéed spinach, mac and cheese, cornbread, peach and apple crisp.

In a message to the high school, superintendent Thomas A. Smith wrote, "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." Similarly, Pomptonian's vice president Cathy Penna apologized in an email saying, "The suggestion was to do something to celebrate soul food...Pomptonian deeply regrets that, out of context, this menu may have been perceived by individuals as insensitive or in poor taste."
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To many, it may seem obvious that this menu was clearly offensive, especially when you consider that the Hopewell Valley Central's student body is 82% white and only 3.8% black, according to NJ.com. However, when looking at Tweets regarding this news, it seems like many people don't see the problem.
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Responses like these are pretty astounding as they continue to ignore cultural and historical context, just as superintendent Smith said. What is really necessary here is a deeper conversation about racial stereotypes and how they came to be. While soul food is undeniably delicious and an important and interesting part of black culture, it's crucial for students to understand the history behind this tradition.

During a month that's set aside as an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of and greater appreciation for black history and black culture, simply serving a few dishes that are stereotypically associated with this race is not acceptable. Food is certainly an important part of any culture and trying different dishes can be a great way to celebrate a particular culture, but in this case, it isn't enough, no matter how good you think the meal sounds.
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