Written January 23, 2008     

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© 2016 Bob Lonsberry


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The problem with America is sensitivity training.

We've had too much of it.

It's left countless people walking around with a chip on their shoulder, waiting to be offended, straining as hard as they can to discern any sign of disrespect or insensitivity. In this country, you're nobody til you're a victim, and the gold standard of victimhood is to be an oppressed minority.

Like RIT on Monday.

RIT is the Rochester Institute of Technology and Monday was Martin Luther King Day.

And at RIT on Monday, some folks got their injustice card punched.

It all started with this memo, which was sent out at quarter to 10 Monday morning to everyone in the RIT e-mail system. It told people what was going to be served for lunch and dinner.

“From: RIT Message Center

"Sent: Mon 1/21/2008 9:46 AM

"To: RIT Message Center

"Subject: Dining Services Specials for Martin Luther King Day!

"Martin Luther King Jr Specials

"TODAY -  January 21

"The Café & Market at the Crossroads

"Fried Chicken, Collard Greens, Black-eyed Pea Rice & Cornbread   $6.59

"Served at the Crossbar for lunch 11.a.m. - 2 p.m.

"Dinner 4:30 - 8 p.m.

"The Commons

"Don't miss our MLK Specials today!

"Herman's Famous Southern Fried Chicken -- made with his own homemade secret recipe!

"Grilled and Slow-roasted BBQ Ribs rubbed with our special blend of spices  

"Baked Macaroni & Cheese-with mounds of cheese, of course!

"Slow-cooked Seasoned Collard Greens

"'Tender Lovin' Care' Candied Yams

"Herman's very special Potato Salad and the very best Red Beans and Rice on campus!

"Fried Chicken Dinner    $5.29

"Rib Dinner    $6.29

"Chicken & Rib Dinner    $7.99

"Mac & Cheese Dinner    $4.49

"All dinners include your choice of two sides & a biscuit

"Served  for dinner 4:30 - 8 p.m.”

That was Monday's menu.

Martin Luther King Day and they're serving fried chicken, collards, yams, black-eyed peas, and red beans and rice.

That's what used to be called Soul Food. It is a diet typical of the rural south. Some of the items – macaroni and cheese, collards, cornbread, fried chicken – are popular among some African-Americans whose roots are in the South.

Fried chicken, particularly, has been associated with African-Americans. So much so that some people think it is a stereotypical food. Which makes no sense, as everybody eats fried chicken. It's inexpensive and good. Same goes for watermelon. But the sensitivity to blacks and those two foods has grown so intense for some people that they take offense.

Like RIT on Monday.

Here's another memo. This one came out on Tuesday.

“From: RIT Message Center

“Sent: Tue 1/22/2008 11:21 AM

“To: RIT Message Center

“Subject: A Message from Dining Services

“To the RIT Community:

“Dining Services wishes to apologize for any misunderstanding pertaining to our menu offerings in celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday. No disrespect to the legacy of Dr. King or any member of the RIT community was intended and we deeply regret any offense that we have caused.

“Our dining facilities have taken many opportunities over the past years to celebrate the numerous cultural holidays of our diverse community through special menus and theme dinners. While we have regularly offered a traditional southern menu in our various dining facilities that has been enjoyed by many, in retrospect we fully understand how this could be interpreted as inappropriate on this occasion.

“Dining Services has as its primary goal the total satisfaction of our diverse customers.  We are truly sorry that our attempt to commemorate the life and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King may have instead detracted from his celebration.  We hope that you will accept our sincere apologies and look forward to working with the university community in the future in celebration of our diversity. 

“Dining Services Department”

Translation: Somebody cried racism.

Somebody out looking for a reason to be offended found one. Somebody who had spent too much time in multicultural class just knew that fried chicken was code for anti-black racism. In the chip-on-your-shoulder world of today's civil rights crusaders, the RIT menu was a slap in the face of Martin Luther King and of black people everywhere.

It's amazing there wasn't a sit in or a march or a Sharpton visit.

And the Dining Services Department took the hit. In the guilty-until-fired world of racial accusations, it got pretty hot in the kitchen. So hot that this groveling apology was necessary.

Hopefully it won't go any further.

Hopefully this strain-at-a-gnat sensitivity won't catch on and ruin the corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick's Day. Hopefully people will someday return to normal.

Hopefully, before they claim racism, some people will learn the facts.

Like where Monday's menu came from.

You may have noticed in the first memo there was a reference to “Herman.” That's Herman Parson. He was the man who put the menu together. He was the man who wanted to do something special to honor Martin Luther King Day. He was the man who worked 14 hours straight to personally do the extra cooking necessary to put on what he considered an act of service to the RIT community and a nod of respect to the memory of Martin Luther King.

That's Herman Parson, the man who got in trouble for this act of “insensitivity.” The man who had to bow and scrape in apology.

The black man who was behind this meal.

That's what's wrong with America.

We've had too much sensitivity training. We've trained people to look for offense where none was meant. We've trained people that it doesn't matter what is intended, it only matters what is perceived. If you decide to be offended, you're right and whoever you accuse is wrong. They must apologize and you must be unquestioned. The charge of racism is a crime for which there is no defense, there is a 100-percent conviction rate and the punishment is a life sentence.

But the accusers got it wrong this time.

Herman Parson doesn't disrepsect blacks, he is black. He is a man who comes to work and uses his talents and abilities to put wholesome and tasty food in front of people.

And this is how he is repaid.

College is for learning. Hopefully people learned from this incident. Hopefully neither Herman Parson nor anyone else at RIT will ever again have to apologize for someone else's stupidity.

- by Bob Lonsberry © 2008

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