In what was perhaps more a matter of misuse of the pronunciation guide of the dictionary, a New York pizzeria found itself embroiled in a controversy over it’s pizza of the month, the “Pic-a-Nika,” which featured Southern fried chicken and salted watermelon, in addition to sunflower seed crust, arugula, and three cheeses – goat cheese, ricotta and bleu.

Pizza by Certé on 56th and Lexington Avenue advertises the pizza as “the perfect summer pizza,” and its manager, Victor Guzman, says it is their best-seller.

Guzman explained that the unique spelling was used to convey an exaggerated Italian or New York Italian accented pronunciation of the word “picnic,” closer to ‘picca-nicca.’

Instead, the pizzeria received a complaint on Twitter claiming that the made-up name could be interpreted as a racist slur, which when taken with Southern fried chicken and watermelon as ingredients, conveyed racist intent.

Fried chicken and watermelon have long been associated with Southern and soul food cuisines, and in some cases particularly with African-Americans. However, fried chicken and watermelon are usually considered a staple of traditional summer fare for picnics, hence the attempted pronunciation of “picca-nicca.”

Similar instances of attempts to find racism where none is intended are common, such as the claim by the New York Times labeling the National Parks Service as racist because only 22% of the 300 million visitors to national parks, such as Yosemite, are minorities.

Banks, restaurants and stores have been branded as racist for posting signs requesting patrons to remove the hooded portion of “hoodie” sweatshirts.

Mainstream media outlets have banned certain words and phrases as “racial coding” or “dog whistles,” prohibiting the use of “inner city,” “food stamps,” and “thug,” despite President Obama’s use of the word in May to describe the looters and rioters in Baltimore.

Groups quick to take offense at supposed racism frequently argue both sides of the issue. The city of Buffalo, New York has been petitioned to change its name to avoid the association with the reduction of the American buffalo and starvation of Native Americans, while the Washington Redskins football team continues to be under pressure to change the name it purposely chose to convey the qualities of strength, courage and bravery associated with young braves.

First Lady Michelle Obama associated African-Americans with fried chicken when she appeared on TV One, a black network, on Election Day 2014, saying, “I give everyone full permission to eat some fried chicken after they vote.”

While acknowledging that there might be room for misinterpretation, Guzman says the “Pic-a-Nika” pizza is still their best-seller and will remain on the menu.



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