Last week, NBC got its share of heat for a fight, that like many before it, started in the cafeteria. For years, cafeteria chef Leslie Calhoun had advocated for a special menu to highlight Black History month. When NBC finally granted her request, the result was this menu:
The photographer? Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, the drummer for Jimmy Fallon’s “Late Night” show band, The Roots (arguably one of the best parts about Fallon’s show, but I digress). Questlove took the photo with his phone and posted it on Twitter with the caption: “Hmm…HR?”
NBC/Universal responded via tweet, of all things:
When The New York Post first featured the story, it did so under the punny banner, “NBC’s Lost Soul.” The comments on Questlove’s Twitpic range from
I really don’t see anything wrong with this. I am African American and the only thing on here that I don’t eat is Jalapeno. People need to relax, we have bigger “fish to fry”. -Amadii
I don’t usually call my grandma racist for cooking me soda bread on Saint Patrick’s Day. -martinamelia
It’s pretty thoughtless. It’s like saying, “See, here’s something good that came out of slavery! We’re all good now, right?” -utterlycharming
New York Magazine called the situation “a Saturday Night Live–worthy farce about liberal racial oversensitivity.” The commentary at NY Magazine’s Daily Intel reported that, according to Calhoun, after the first shot was taken of the menu:
“The next thing you know, people were taking pictures of the sign and asking all the other black people in the cafeteria if this was racist. They said that it wasn’t.”
That’s awesome. Especially since the black population at NBC is only around 11 percent countrywide, and so we imagine everyone bombarding like the one guy who happened to be in the cafeteria with questions, like, “Hey, black person. Don’t you think that’s racist? Aren’t you upset? Don’t you think you should be? I mean, you understand why this is offensive, right?”
Comedian Wanda Sykes took NBC to task in her appearance on The Jay Leno Show (it’s still called that, right?):
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Questlove has since posted this statement about the controversy (emphasis mine):
when i saw the sign i have to admit….i was DYING. like literally LMAO!!! maybe it was juxtaposition of the words: collard & history, jalapeno & honor, fried, black and nbc?? maybe it was the acculturative stress of having 28 days for this food that represents you but come march…pot roast for life kid!
whatever the case, I found this funny and when I find something funny I like to let the world in on the joke (twitpic anyone??). in NO way did i ever think that this was some cruel insensitive joke on behalf of jeff zucker and his comrades at nbc (the cafeteria isn’t even owned or operated by nbc).
I kinda get where leslie calhoun (our culinary rosa parks) was coming from; fried chicken as a fragrant, tasty, honorable metaphor for the struggles and accomplishments of america’s black masses.
The problem is..in the blogosphere, things can take on a life of their own. “online journalists”, site commenters, even comedians (see wanda sykes on leno) have now taken my snapshot of leslie’s missionary zeal and retooled it for their own racialized – “let’s bash nbc for their conan sins” – flogging mission. my twitpic was just me poking fun, a Questlove still life that was clearly intended as a joke. what’s even funnier: race issues in post racial america. potluck anyone?????
I, of course, have my own take on these events and have exhaustively argued with my husband and myself about the implications of such a “celebration” of black history. I think there are many layers to this and to ignore any one of them is an injustice and a reduction of the complexity that is our nation’s history with race.
So lay your own layer on me: what do our readers and my fellow bloggers think about all this? “Liberal oversensitivity”? “Another example of institutional racism”? “Black on black crime?” Let’s dish.