Where does this fried chicken stereotype come from? : Code switch: NPR

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A Tiger Woods rival made a joke that was interpreted by many as racist.

Jean Raoux/AP


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Jean Raoux/AP


A Tiger Woods rival made a joke that was interpreted by many as racist.

Jean Raoux/AP

Sports radio was abuzz on Wednesday morning with some comments Sergio Garcia, the professional golfer, made about his frequent foil, Tiger Woods.

“We’ll have it every night,” Garcia said. “We will serve fried chicken.”

The comment came after Garcia was asked if he would invite his rival, with whom he has a frosty relationship, to his home at next month’s US Open. Woods responded to Garcia’s tweets on Twitter: “The comment that was made was not silly. It was untrue, hurtful and clearly inappropriate… I am confident there is genuine regret that the remark was made .” (Garcia Free an excuse without excuses in the textbooks.)

Expect. This again?

This Blacks and Fried Chicken thing is really old – it’s not even the first time a pro golfer made a joke about fried chicken and Tiger Woods.

What about that stereotype about black people who like fried chicken?

I asked Claire Schmidt for help. She is a professor at the University of Missouri and studies race and folklore. Schmidt said chickens had long been a part of Southern diets, but had a special use for slaves. They were cheap, easy to feed, and a good source of meat.

But then, says Schmidt, came Birth of a nation.

DW Griffith’s seminal and wildly racist 1915 silent film about the supposedly heroic founding of the Ku Klux Klan caused a stir upon its debut. A scene within three hours features a group of actors portraying unchanged black elected officials acting loudly and rudely in a legislative hall. (The message to the audience: These are the dangers of letting black people vote.) Some lawmakers are shown drinking. Others had their feet stomped on their desks. And one of them was ostentatiously eating fried chicken.

“That image really reinforced how white people thought about black people and fried chicken,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said that like watermelon, that other food that has been a mainstay of racist portrayals of black people, chicken was also a good vehicle for racism because of the way people eat it. (According to government statistics, black people are underrepresented among watermelon consumers.) “It’s a food you eat with your hands, and so it’s dirty,” Schmidt said. “Table manners are a way of determining who is worthy of respect or not.”

But why is this idea still popular, since fried chicken is clearly a staple of the American diet? Surely KFC, Popeyes and Church’s aren’t national chains — and chicken and waffles aren’t a brunch staple — because of supposed black food obsessions.

“It’s always a way of expressing the race [contempt] without getting in serious trouble,” Schmidt said. (Among the Code Switch team, we’ve begun to refer to these types of winking statements as “racist bank swipes.”)

“How it’s possible to be both a taboo and a corporate thing shows how complicated race is in America,” Schmidt said.

It is also worth mentioning the great and very NSFW social theorist Dave Chappellewho joked that when it comes to race and food, people of color suffer from true information asymmetry.

“The only reason these things are even a problem is because nobody knows what white people eat,” Chappelle said.

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