Tempest in a Tweet-pot

How powerful has the world of social media become?

How powerful has the world of Facebook and Twitter become? Strong enough, apparently, to create controversy where none exists.

A man known as Questlove learned this earlier this month when he posted a photo on Twitter of the menu board at the NBC company cafeteria in New York City. You may not know who Questlove is, but 1.2 million followers on Twitter know him as the drummer for the Roots, the house band for comedian Jimmy Fallon’s late-night talk show.

The menu board identified the lunch special of the day, in honor of Black History Month, to be “fried chicken, collard greens with smoked turkey, white rice, black-eyed peas, and jalapeno cornbread.”

Apparently some people were bothered by this sign—although in the aftermath it was hard to find who these people were. Or perhaps it was just the NBC brass being overly cautious. Shortly after Questlove’s tweet went public, the sign was removed and NBC’s vice president of communications, Kevin Goldman, had—via a Twitter feed of his own—apologized “for anyone who was offended by it.”

Based on comments made by readers of various news articles on the incident, most people were upset that Questlove would be offended. Most comments asked the question, “What’s racist about this?” They called Questlove “oversensitive.”

The most surprised people in all of this turned out to be Questlove, who claimed his tweet was “a joke taken too far,” and the chef who prepared the meal, Leslie Calhoun—who, by the way is an African-American. Calhoun told Entertainment Weekly that Questlove actually had requested some of the items on that day’s menu, and then made a joke about the menu being racist. “The next thing you know, people were taking pictures of the sign and asking all the other black people if this was racist.” Calhoun told EW.

Of course it isn’t racist. Calhoun was simply trying to do what she and her staff could do to celebrate Black History Month. I remember attending a luncheon at Fordham University a couple of years ago in honor of Black History Month, and all of these items—and more—were in the cafeteria, many of them made from recipes supplied by Sylvia’s, Harlem’s world-famous soul food restaurant. I didn’t see the event as racist. I went because it was a celebration of food.

Of all the comments I read regarding news coverage of this “event,” the most poignant was this: “There are tremendous issues regarding race in this country, but cuisine is not and should not be one of them.”

Amen to that.


More from our partners