Politics, Race and Fried Chicken


(The Root) — When I first saw the headline about a GOP elected official in trouble for an inappropriate gaffe involving fried chicken, I immediately thought, "I already read this story." Then I realized that the name of the elected official mentioned in the story was different from the one in the previous story I read. Colorado State Sen. Vicki Marble, who is white, sparked controversy weeks ago when she blamed fried chicken for the health woes of black Americans. Marble later issued a statement that noted she did not intend to offend anyone with her remarks. But according to reports, a Republican colleague decided to weigh in with a show of support, albeit without saying a word. State Rep. Lori Saine allegedly left a box of chicken on Marble's desk as a form of silent protest.


As I have previously written, stereotypes regarding black Americans and certain foods have a long-standing negative history in America. Foods like fried chicken and watermelon have been used in demeaning imagery depicting black Americans for more than a century. In the 1915 film Birth of a Nation, lazy, trouble-making black Americans indulging in alcohol and fried chicken are a defining image. The film became one of the Ku Klux Klan's most powerful recruitment tools of the era. (For those seeking more information on the history of the fried-chicken stereotype and African Americans, please click here.) 

When asked for comment about the Colorado controversy, a representative for the Republican National Committee emailed the following statement to The Root: "Our party has been working to find solutions that will lift up all Americans from every community. Inappropriate episodes like this distract from our cause and are counterproductive to the work that needs to get done."

This incident marks yet another racially charged misstep for the Grand Old Party, in a year in which RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has said that broadening the party's support among minorities is a priority. Here's a brief list of some of the racial controversies that have enveloped the GOP in recent months:

March: Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) used a racial slur to describe Hispanics in a radio interview. Following a backlash, including from leaders within his own party like Speaker of the House John Boehner, Young apologized.

May: The re-election campaign of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was embarrassed when it was revealed that a member of her campaign's steering committee, Roan Garcia-Quintana, was active with the white supremacist group Council of Conservative Citizens. Initially the campaign did not request his resignation before ultimately bowing to intense media scrutiny and asking him to step down.

June: Jim Allen, an Illinois Republican Party chairman, wrote of multiracial Republican congressional candidate and Harvard Law School grad Erika Harold: "Rodney Davis will win, and the love child of the D.N.C. will be back in Sh-tcago by May of 2014 working for some law firm that needs to meet their quota for minority hires." Under pressure from party leaders, including Priebus, Allen resigned his post.


July: Jack Hunter, an aide to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), was revealed to have previously been active in a pro-Confederacy group called the League of the South, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group. As part of appearances as a character called "the Southern Avenger," he also sported a mask with the Confederate flag emblem on it. Hunter resigned his post with Paul in the ensuing fallout after these details became public.

August: According to reports, Maine Gov. Paul LePage claimed that President Obama "hates white people" (even though the president's mother was white). Though substantiated by two Republican lawmakers, LePage denied the comment.


Despite these many missteps, in a recent press Q&A Priebus told The Root that neither political party "has a monopoly on stupid comments," thereby intimating that the GOP's race problem isn't any more significant than the Democrats'. But with so many recent incidents of racial insensitivity among Republican Party leaders, this position is becoming tougher for the party chairman to credibly maintain.

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter