KFC restaurant chains have been forced to shut down due to a shortage of chicken in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile the general stereotype that fried chicken is a favorite of only people of color persists. Isn’t it ironic?
We wouldn’t look into the economics of chicken supply and demand but let’s focus on something ‘juicier’ – where did that fried chicken stereotype come from and why is it used as a weapon of racism?
Claire Schmidt, a professor at the University of Missouri, who studies race and folklore said chickens had long been a part of Southern diets, but they had particular use for slaves. They were cheap, easy to feed and a good source of meat. In 1915 this use was publicly exposed and satirised in the hit movie, Birth of a Nation. One scene featured a group of actors portraying black elected officials acting rowdy and crudely in a legislative hall. One of them was very ostentatiously eating fried chicken. “That image really solidified the way white people thought of black people and fried chicken,” Schmidt said. She continued, in society “table manners are a way of determining who is worthy of respect or not. It’s a food you eat with your hands and therefore it’s [considered] dirty.”
We will patiently wait for an etiquette expert to invent the way a chicken wing can be savoured with a knife and fork. Even if this were possible why should a knife and fork be the accepted, gold standard of good table manners? Why not chopsticks or fingers or a calabash? Isn’t it unfortunate that cultural norms of eating certain dishes are used to deride a race?
The beauty of culture is that it distinguishes one group from another without making value judgements. Culture shouldn’t facilitate racist stereotypes but rather it should be admired. Culture is different. Different is beautiful.
Photo credit Unilad