Buck the Potluck

I’ve said it before and I will say it again …

I HATE POTLUCKS!!!

But there is no potluck I hate more than the Black History Month potluck. And I don’t like the catered luncheons much either.

Why? Because the menu and format typically cater to pervasive negative stereotypes about Black Americans. Seriously. What the %&#@ do fried chicken, collard greens, black eyed peas and cornbread really have to do with Black History??

Yes, I know Black people eat these things — but spaghetti, lamb chops and souvlaki were just as common in my house growing up as any of those things. Throw in some hamhocks, turkey necks, watermelon and a little kinte cloth — and you’ve hit all the cliches.

Oh and the mac&cheese. Can’t forget the mac&cheese.

So while the intention is to acknowledge and celebrate the contributions of Black Americans during Black History Month, the opposite effect is what often happens. It ends up leaving everyone confused, uncomfortable and sometimes downright offended. Not cool.

But at least everyone eats good.

My current organization does nothing special to acknowledge Black History Month. Some people find that offensive too. I don’t because I know it’s not meant to slight anyone or because they do not care about the Black people or other minorities in the organization. On the contrary, they choose not to do anything rather than do something halfway that would end up creating more harm than good. And I am OK with that.

Still sometimes, I miss the excitement and celebration that the Black History Month luncheon brings. And I’ve seen some nice twists over the years that have made the event really special. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Interactive display. Set aside a place to highlight art, music, books and movies from Black Americans with explanations of the historical significance. Allow employees to make their own contributions and/or borrow items from the display with approval.
  • Field trip. Many cities have Black History museums and/or displays around this time of year. Take a field trip or offer complimentary tickets for interested employees.
  • Scavenger hunt. Black inventors are responsible for a lot of the office equipment and medical advances which make our lives so great . Create some clues and send teams on a hunt around the office for learning and prizes. The Black Inventor Online website is a great place to start for help with making clues.
  • Trivia Bowl. Form trivia teams and battle it out with questions about Black American history for learning and prizes. It’s an easy activity to add as a part of the Black History Month luncheon, too. The Fun Trivia website has some great samples to help get started.
  • Costume Party. Let employees choose to dress up as their favorite, well-known Black American, similar to how many dress up for Halloween. Be clear with employees on what types of costumes are acceptable. The last thing you want is for someone to show up dressed in black face paint or a loin cloth or something stupid. Consider drawing names from a hat to keep any mishaps to a minimum.

Whatever you decide, if you choose to plan Black History Month festivities for your organization, make sure it’s done in a way that is respectful and inclusive. And please schedule it before the last Friday of the month — because the stereotype about Black people being last minute with planning and tardy for every party shouldn’t be perpetuated, either.

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8 Comments

  1. Sounds like the potluck can be filed under the “good intentions, bad results” heading!

    Though if it’s a potluck, why are folks bringing in these things?

    • Buzz Rooney

      February 20, 2012 at 1:32 PM

      I think after awhile people just bring the same things over and over, without giving much thought to appropriateness. Same goes for the catered menu. It is just a lack of thought and aversion to change. Unfortunately, it ends up making the event less meaningful and more of a joke.

  2. I love this post! The other similar event that’s often, sadly, in vogue is the Cinco de Mayo employee-potluck where well-meaning/misinformed ERs attempt to celebrate every-single-latino culture by serving tacos and tortilla chips; to be followed up by some fun with a pinata.

    • Buzz Rooney

      February 20, 2012 at 5:01 PM

      Ha! How could I forget the Cinco de Mayo celebration?!? Yes. Another attempt at recognition and inclusion that never works out how it’s intended.

      Ultimately employers have to think outside the box if they want these events to have real significance and meaning. We have to ask why we continue the tradition and what we are trying to accomplish. Just like every other part of our strategy and function, there needs to be a goal that ties back to the mission, vision and values of the organization. Friend chicken and tacos ain’t it!

  3. We once had a “Josephine Baker” replete with not so strategically placed bananas on her sized 22 body. Can do without the “dress-up”.
    And the poetry with bongos….
    I agree with alternatives and games which enlighten. Food is a part of our culture,like it or not. Fried chicken and watermelon are the ultimate stereotypes, but there is no doubt that certain foods are identified with certain cultures.
    Whatever day is set aside is a PARTY, and party means food. It is the American way! Black folks do not do hors doeuvres.
    Just like Christmas, we’ve lost sight of why we celebrate ourselves.
    Lift every voice and sing….

    • Buzz Rooney

      February 21, 2012 at 12:05 AM

      I get your point. I would just like to see more variety than just the typical and stereotypical food. There is more to Black people than fried chicken and collards, no matter how good it tastes.

      These events definitely need an overhaul or a couple years off to regroup. Lift Every Voice and Sing, indeed.

  4. i hate potlucks. black, white, mexican, russian…whatever. i hate potlucks. but i love this post.

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