Leaders from Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood are apologizing after serving fried chicken to students as a part of their Black History Month celebrations — a move some are calling insensitive and racist.
“We are deeply troubled and disheartened by our failure in this instance and take full responsibility for it,” Jacob Conca, head of the Catholic high school,said in a statement. “I offer my sincere apologies for the harm that our actions may have caused.”
The fried chicken had been suggested by an African American cafeteria worker who “asked to share a piece of her culture by creating menu items that represent historically Southern Black cuisine,” according to Conca. At the time, “we saw this as an educational opportunity for our young men and worked with our Office of Community, Culture, and Equity to help frame the initiative,” he added.
On Tuesday, the plan to serve “special meals” for Black History Month, including the fried chicken, was announced over the PA system in the morning, Conca said, adding that there was an attempt to add additional historical context during the announcement.
This context included information about how Black women sold fried chicken in the post-Civil War era in acts of financial independence, according to Xaverian Brothers’ communications director Ann Alsfeld. “This example was meant to highlight the determination and pioneering spirit of these entrepreneurial women,” Alsfeld wrote in an email to The Globe.
But to some students, the menu choice only highlighted racist tropes.
“Honestly, I think it’s just a big stereotype. It could be seen as a little racist,” Liam Baker, a senior at Xaverian Brothers, told WCVB. “It’s the first day of Black History Month. They couldn’t have come up with a better thing than fried chicken for African cuisine? It doesn’t really make much sense.”
Another senior Michael Earls told the station that school should “acknowledge that their ignorance perpetuated a racist stereotype.” .
Though it is true that Black women sold the meals to train passengers in their pursuit of economic freedom, the association with fried chicken and Black Americans has been often marred in racism. Appearing in the racist 1915 movie, “The Birth of Nation,” the image of a Black person eating chicken was meant to dehumanize. That connection has been copied and still lingers today.
Fried chicken was served Tuesday at the school, but the initiative has since been suspended while “we review and learn from our mistakes,” Alsfeld wrote.
“While we know our intentions were good, regrettably, our communication was poor and inadvertently propagated a negative stereotype,” Conca said in the statement. “We are taking the necessary steps to both learn from this mistake and appropriately move forward.”
Globe correspondent Madison Mercado contributed reporting.
Colleen Cronin can be reached at email@example.com.