Marketplace Black History Month Theme Crosses the Line

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Author: Linni Kral

I need to preface this by saying that I adore the Marketplace. I find myself constantly in awe of the skillful chefs our school employs—they are for the most part pleasant, and if you ask me, entirely too accommodating of our requests. Have you ever checked out the online Suggestion Box on the Campus Dining site? If you tell them you want a vegan dish with an obscure ingredient next Tuesday at lunch, chances are they’ll fulfill that request.

Which is why it fills me with great guilt and remorse to have to point out how uncomfortable the good ol’ MP has made me lately.

Campus Dining has always used menu planning as a means of celebrating various holidays throughout the school year, most of which are anticipated and enjoyed by all who partake in them. Who doesn’t love the carved baron of beef for Halloween or a little stuffing at holiday time? Lately, however, this has been taken a step too far.

For Black History Month, the Marketplace has featured a variety of meals intended to celebrate various points throughout the history of African Americans. My first taste of apprehension came on Hip Hop History day—what about fried chicken, candied yams, collard greens, and old-fashioned Coca-Cola bottles equal hip hop? This is traditional southern food. Hip hop originated in New York City. Sure, it has spread, but mostly to California. There are east and west coast rap battles, but the southern U.S. is hardly a major player.

But this was just one day, and one topic. Hip hop was no longer the point of contention when I strolled into the Marketplace on February 25 to find photos of Barack Obama plastered on the wall behind a Homestyle counter featuring cole slaw, hush puppies, sweet potato pie, red beans & rice and fried catfish. As I wandered aimlessly, wondering why someone thought it was okay to conflate black history with southern history, I was slapped in the face by the most egregious of offenses. A special drink stand had been set up to serve—I kid you not—hot chocolate. Please, I urge any of you to correct me if there is some other, more subtle connection between celebrating our first black president and serving hot chocolate. I fail to see one, but I sincerely hope I’m just missing the point.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. What a knee-jerk, liberal Oxy student thing to point out. Some of you readers may be rolling your eyes and wondering just how obsessed with being politically correct we will get before pizza is outlawed on account of being Italian, or clam chowder is taken away because of it’s east-coast connections. This is not the hyper-sensitive point that I am trying to make here.

Yes, a large chunk of black Americans are concentrated in the south. However, there are also large outcroppings in the Northeast and Midwestern United States, yet you don’t see a Marketplace menu featuring Boston cream pie, crab cakes and deep dish pizza for Black History Month. This becomes an especially contentious point when it’s made here at Oxy, in a state that is not known for a particularly high concentration of black Americans. Is it really okay to go around propagating the stereotype that all black people live in the south, drink lemonade and pop hush puppies every day?

I am in no way suggesting that the Marketplace stop cooking these menu items—the food was delicious and I definitely gulped my anxieties down with a side swig of lemonade each time the menu disturbed me. Let’s stop imagining cultural ties that aren’t fully present and instead serve this food on a consistent basis, not as a method of celebrating a racial history history or a president who might not feel any connection to those particular foods. For all we know, the majority of people who feel a connection to these menus could very well be white students from the south. Is it really so shocking to think there may be black students from the north who’ve never tasted candied yams or don’t particularly like fried chicken? If so, we have bigger issues to deal with than what gets served in the cafeteria.

Linni Kral is a senior Politics major. She can be reached at lkral@oxy.edu.

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