Feathers fly in 'Obama Fried Chicken' race row

Two New York City fried chicken restaurants in predominantly black neighbourhoods are under fire for putting President Barack Obama’s name on their signs.

City councillor Charles Barron said he would organise a demonstration next week outside Obama Fried Chicken in his district in the borough of Brooklyn.

Organisers said they may also target Obama Fried Chicken & Pizza in upper Manhattan’s Harlem neighbourhood.

“People from the community were calling me and saying they were outraged by this racist connection to Barack Obama and fried chicken,” Mr Barron said.

“If you think that free speech gives you the right to insult and degrade us and stereotype us, then you’ve got a battle on your hands.”

In the US, such a link carries an offensive racial connotation, reflecting a stereotype that black people eat a lot of fried chicken.

At Obama Fried Chicken & Pizza in Harlem yesterday, the “O” and the “A” had been filled in so that the awning sign read “Bam” instead of the president’s name.

The person working the counter said the owner was not available, and would not say when the sign had been changed. Employees, however, were still answering the phone by saying “Obama’s”.

At Obama Fried Chicken in Brooklyn, the person who answered the phone said the owner could not be reached.

Kevin McCall, a community activist who has been working with Mr Barron to organise the protest, said he had spoken to the owner of Obama Fried Chicken, which was Royal Fried Chicken until recently.

McCall said the owner promised the sign would change tomorrow.

The White House did not comment directly on the issue of racial overtones in the New York restaurant names, but spokesman Ben LaBolt said the administration disapproved of using “the president’s name and likeness for commercial purposes”.

In New York City, fried chicken restaurants, often owned and operated by Afghan- American immigrants, sprouted up in the 1980s and 1990s using such names as Kennedy and Kansas, prompting the KFC fast-food chain to enforce trademark rules to force them to change their names.

The restaurant controversy is not the first dispute about the first black president’s name being linked to a chicken product.

A German food maker was criticised recently for naming a line of frozen fried chicken snacks “Obama Fingers”. The product was available only in Germany and was pulled after the company said it became aware of the racial connotation.

Also, Germany’s N24 television broadcaster reported this week that one Baden-Baden bakery was celebrating the US president’s arrival there with a dark-chocolate “Obama cake”. The cake was decorated with miniature Nato flags.

Mr Obama travelled to the German spa town with his wife Michelle yesterday, where he met German chancellor Angela Merkel on the sidelines of the Nato summit.

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