When’s there’s doubt, just don’t.
They said it was well intentioned and I’m willing to give them that. Maybe I’m naïve, but looking at this with a light most favorable here’s how I imagine this went down.
Cafeteria Director: I have an idea. I’d like to do my part to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a special menu.
Principal: Great. What do you have in mind? And please don’t bring up Freedom Fries again. We’ve been through what that means to people.
Cafeteria director: No, I want to create an entirely new menu altogether.
Principal: I thought you told me you don’t have the budget or time for that kind of thing. Remember when I asked you to make something marginally nutritious for Physical Activity day?
Cafeteria Director: I was reading an article about southern soul food. It’s food like fried chicken, collard greens. That kind of thing.
Principal: Hm. And that relates to King… how?
Cafeteria Director: Black people eat that kind of food. It’s all over the food network, and there’re cookbooks about it and everything.
Principal (to 23 Year Old New Teacher): What do you think?
23 Year Old New Teacher: Hm. Do you think people will think it’s stereotyping?
Cafeteria Director: I’m not stereotyping! *I* love southern soul food, and I’m not black.
Principal: Hm. 23 Year Old New Teacher has me thinking. Can’t we come up with something else?
Cafeteria Director: There is nothing else. If this was Gandhi’s birthday we’d make curry. If it was Cesar Chavez Day we’d make burritos.
Principal: Oh, I don’t want to make burritos on Cesar Chavez day. The beans don’t agree with me.
23 Year Old New Teacher: And think of how stinky the kids will be. Intolerable.
Principal: Does southern soul food make kids stinky?
Cafeteria Director: Oh no. We serve fried chicken every other Monday and the kids love it. And I heard that collard greens are good for digestion.
Principal: And what about stereotyping? Am I going to get calls from any parents?
Cafeteria Director: Oh no. I told someone on the Parent Volunteer Committee about the idea and she loved it.
Principal: Fine. Fine.
The mother who brought the menu to the attention of the press called this “a teaching moment.” Indeed. Here’s what I suggest DPS learn:
When in doubt, don’t do it. Just don’t. What were you afraid of? Bad press that would have come from *not* offering a special menu in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?
PR blunders are almost always due to a bad decision upstream, not the reaction to them. You could say DPS’s recent decision to offer a southern style lunch of fried chicken and collard greens in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a bad decision. You could say a lot worse.
They said it was well intentioned so let’s give them that. Looking at this with a light most favorable, how do you think it possibly could have gone down? Maybe I’m naive, but I’m having a hard time imagining there wasn’t at least one person who raised a concern.
Don’t you think that someone – anyone – just had to have wondered aloud “I wonder if this might come across as stereotyping?” Why didn’t anyone listen to this voice?
The mother who brought the menu to our attention called this “a teaching moment.” Indeed. As a starting place, before DPS tackles cultural sensitivity issues which at this point seem depressingly out of their reach, I suggest DPS should learn a basic public relations principle:
When in doubt – when there’s a sliver of a doubt – don’t do it. Just don’t.
Did DPS even weigh an alternative? If they did, what were they afraid of? Bad press as a result of not offering a special menu in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.?