Last Wednesday, the annual Black History Month Dinner hosted every February by the Dining Center returned under a new name: Soul Food Dinner. The decision to change the event’s name came from the Bi-Co Dining Services.
“The menu has always been a Soul Food menu, but it was never marketed that way,” said Anthony Condo, Associate Director of Dining Services. “We are in the food business, and want to highlight the fact that it is a Soul Food menu.”
Despite the name change, the event’s menu included all of the dinner’s classic items: fried chicken, fried catfish, collard greens, and cornbread, among others. According to Condo, several of the menu items were adapted from the staff’s personal recipes, and the basic structure of the original menu still stands.
“Some small changes have been made over the years, but it is the same basic menu,” said Condo.
Though the dinner’s new name was adopted to better reflect the content of the menu, it is a welcome change for those who found the name ‘Black History Month dinner’ offensive.
“I sent an email to the Dining Center a couple years ago expressing my opinion that labeling a Southern food night as distinctly ‘black’ is perpetuating a problematic stereotype,” said Lee Anderson ‘15. “I’m obviously a white man, but that seems to be an insult to the incredible diversity of African-American culture.”
Marcus Levy ‘15, a member of the Sons of Africa, an affinity group for black and Latino men on campus, expressed a similar sentiment.
“It was definitely a misnomer to call that dinner Black History Month dinner,” said Levy. “There’s many people under that umbrella, of the term ‘black,” people that would look at the food and be just as surprised – it would be just as foreign [for them] as for someone from Maine.”
While he feels that the name change to Soul Food Dinner is positive, Dawit Habtemarian ‘15, another Sons of Africa member, feels that more could be done through food to more completely celebrate Black History Month.
“Black History Month is meant to discuss a lot of black history, and black history is very complicated and has grown a lot bigger,” said Habtemarian, “so we should incorporate all of that – different foods, different things, not just one food that belongs to one people.”
Levy also agrees with the name change, but he said that he still has “a lot of misgivings” that the dinner is the most prominent event on campus related to Black History Month.
“It would be great to have a speaker or a black activist speaker come and have it be a major event,” suggested Levy. “There could be a committee on selecting the speaker for Black History Month to give it some authority and some significance.”
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