Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Story Behind The Stereotype Of Black People & Fried Chicken

Shawn Rossell, July 9, 2020

IN 1997, Tiger Woods won his 1st Masters tournament becoming the first golfer to win a Masters. But that wasnt the history that many remember. The history itself involved Fuzzy Zoeller, a golfer who had won the Masters in previous years, his first being the first tournament he ever did.  Zoeller did have to say a racial slur or say much of anything in this interview. However, the stereotype that he placed in the interview sent shockwaves throughout the world.  This was a hard one to trace down and understand how fried chicken, America’s favorite food, was seen as a stereotype directed solely at African Americans. To understand a bit deeper, we have to go back to the most problematic movie to ever exist, D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. In the scene were congress is led by mostly African Americans, there are scenes where blacks are unruly, drinking, taking off there shoes and in a very telling instance, eating fried chicken while presumably talking to the members of congress.  Many credit this movie to create many stereotypes, some that we will discuss much later in this series.  ****
Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest Revision- Feb. 26, 2022

This pancocojams post provides information about the stereotype of Black people (African Americans) and fried chicken.

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The verbal sparring between golfers Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods became more ostensibly racial on May 21, 2013 when Garcia "joked" that he would invite golfer Tiger Woods over his house for fried chicken. Tiger Wood's response was that the comment was "wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate." According to a news article about this comment (which Garcia quickly apologized for) that remark was "reminiscent of when Fuzzy Zoeller made a similar comment about Woods after he won the 1997 Masters, becoming the first player of black heritage to win a major."

This news items begs the questions "Why is fried chicken associated with African Americans and why is that association considered to be negative?"

A short answer would be that Southern fried chicken is by its very name associated with the Southern region of the United States. And for many Americans the Southern region of the United States is closely associated with Black Americans and Black people are associated with slavery and Black Americans are also associated with black-faced minstrelsy. All of these associations-including the word "Southern"- have negative connotations to many Americans. There's a reason why the fast food franchise "Kentucky Fried Chicken" changed its name to "KFC". And it wasn't just because some people consider fried foods to be unhealthy. Southern living not only evokes negative memories of slavery. It also carries negative connotations of what some Americans call "rednecks" and "hillbillies".

Here's an American history 101 explanation from a political blog post about the problem with Sergio Garcia's comment:
From by Gizzard
"Just why is the fried chicken stereotype racist? There are a number of reasons, some of them old and some of them current. Fried chicken was a dish commonly made by slaves, and it persisted among free blacks who were, at the time, too poor to afford more expensive meats. During prolonged American apartheid, fried chicken played well in black communities, as it was easy to make and even easier to refrigerate. Black people then had to worry about those things, as a meal at most restaurants was outside their reach.

Fried chicken references were often a part of racist blackface productions and other hideous minstrel shows. Later, many fast-food chicken restaurants used caricatures of black people as mascots for their restaurants. To say that fried chicken has persisted as a racist meme is an understatement, and this is nothing new."
-end of quote-

The negative association of Black people and Southern fried chicken is further compounded because of the reference in late 19th century & early 20th century songs to Black people stealing chickens.

For instance, African American professor & folklorist Thomas W. Talley's now classic 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise & Otherwise includes several songs about Black folks stealing chickens and watermelons. It's possible that those songs could have been originally composed by White people as part of black faced minstrelsy. However, their inclusion in Talley's collection & other collections of early 20th century Black American secular music, means that those songs were sung by Black Americans. Those songs helped create and reinforce White Americans' stereotypes of Black people as lazy, childish, foolish, comical, self-indulgent, thieving coons.

However, it's important to note that stealing chickens and taking watermelons were survival strategies that were used to help supplement the insufficient food rations that were allotted to enslaved African Americans or to help supplement the insufficient food budgets of poor and working class post slavery African Americans.

Also, it's important to add that's there's only one rhyme/song in Thomas W. Talley's 1922 collection Negro Folk Rhyme that alludes to fried chicken and no other collection of Black American secular songs from the late 19th century or early 20th century directly mentions fried chicken. The example from Thomas W. Talley's 1922 book Negro Folk Rhymes that alludes to fried chicken is "How To Please A Preacher. (page 117 in .  That example which mentions chicken parts (such as the thigh or the wing) may be post-United States slavery.

It appears from Talley's collection that chicken was usually served in the form of a pie. This makes sense because not only was it quicker to cook chicken pies than to fry chicken, but serving that poultry in the form of a pie helped stretch the chicken and vegetables that were used to make that meal.

It seems to me that it makes sense that people with little time and resources would prepare chicken in a pie rather than fry pieces of chicken. Making chicken pies is less time consuming than frying chicken. Also, more people could be fed with chicken served in a "pot pie" (as we refer to it today), then as individual pieces of chicken.

The Wikipedia article about fried chicken provides more historical information about the connection between "Southern fried chicken" and Black people.* Here are some excerpts from that article:
"A number of West African cuisines featured dishes where chicken was fried, typically in palm oil, sometimes having been battered before. These would be served on special occasions in some areas, or sometimes sold in the streets as snacks in others.[6][7][8] This provided some means of independent economy for enslaved and segregated African American women, who became noted sellers of poultry (live or cooked) as early as the 1730s. Because of this and the expensive nature of the ingredients, it was, despite popular perception, a rare and special dish in the African-American community.**

Since most slaves were unable to raise expensive meats, but generally allowed to keep chickens, frying chicken on special occasions continued in the African American communities of the South. It endured the fall of slavery and gradually passed into common use as a general Southern dish. Since fried chicken traveled well in hot weather before refrigeration was commonplace, it gained further favor in the periods of American history when segregation closed off most restaurants to the black population. Fried chicken continues to be among this region's top choices for "Sunday dinner" among both blacks and whites.*** Holidays such as Independence Day and other gatherings often feature this dish.[11]

...Since the American Civil War, traditional slave foods like fried chicken, watermelon, and chitterlings have suffered a strong association with African American stereotypes and blackface minstrelsy.[10] This was commercialized for the first half of the 20th century by restaurants like Sambo's and Coon Chicken Inn, which selected exaggerated depictions of blacks as mascots, implying quality by their association with the stereotype. Although also being acknowledged positively as "soul food" today, the affinity that African American culture has for fried chicken has been considered a delicate, often pejorative issue. While the perception of fried chicken as an ethnic dish has been fading for several decades, with the ubiquity of fried chicken dishes in the United States, it persists as a racial stereotype."
*Notice that although this stereotype about Black people and fried chicken originated regarding African Americans, it has been extended to other Black people world wide. One excample of this is said to be the Australian KFC ad which is reposted below as video example #2.

**Italics were added by me to highlight the point that historical documents of enslaved African Americans including recollections, songs, and rhymes indicate or suggest that fried chicken and chicken pies were special treats, and not common dishes among those enslaved African Americans.

***However, even when Black people were able to fully use those restaurants, it was -and still is- commonplace for some African Americans (and some other Americans) to cook fried chicken at home prior to going on a trip and eat that home cooked chicken while traveling rather than purchase much more expensive meals for sale at stores or restaurants.


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  1. There was a lively discussion about whether the Australian KFC commercial that you closed with was racist or whether Americans were too ethnocentric.

  2. Thanks Umlud for sharing that link to that 2010 post.

    Here's the hyperlink:

    I should mention that one of the commenters there said that KFC pulled that ad because of complaints about racism.

  3. Black people love chicken. period Black people love watermelon, black ppl love baked macaroni & cheese, black ppl love to BBQ, black ppl can cook, black ppl foods consist of collard greens, sweet potatoe pie, not pumpkin, black ppl love to feast eat, not starve, black ppl love big booty, black don't crack, black ppl are inventors, black ppl are already tanned, black ppl have full lips,,black ppl invented GRITS lol ***these are all a Black Thing, You don.t see , how ALL are trying to be US & Eat, Sale, Food shows trying to cook grits, etc like it fell out the sky. OWN OUR Survival which we turned into a feast for our families. Do Not take away from Us and Our Soul Food Dishes, sweet potatoe pie, baby, What they all need to do is call it what it is SOUL FOOD Our Food, Scrapps turned into Kentucky FRIED CHICKEN, Pop eyes, white cooking shows w THIER grits,,,WAKE UP. These are our foods. THEY LOVE IT! mac & cheese,,,NO Baked Macaroni & Cheese. SMDH

  4. Unknown, there is no monolithic "Black people" or "the Black community" in the United States and throughout the world.

    But I assume that you are referring to (and expressing yourself) many stereotypes about African Americans (which is one group of Black people who are made up of many different groups of people who have some Black African ancestry.)

    That said, if you had prefaced your comments with something like the word "many", I'd basically agree with what you wrote.

    1. By the way, the saying "Black don't crack" is a newly abbreviated form of the older saying "Good Black don't crack" which means that many Black people don't show their age as early as may non-Black people."

      That saying-with the qualifier "many" is probably true, and probably because of melanin. Two examples of "Good Black don't crack" that are frequently given are singer Lena Horne and actress Gabrielle Union.