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Mark Atwood
fallenpegasus
fallenpegasus
Watermelon
This is something I just posted to technoshaman's LJ here, and thought worth pulling up to my mainline LJ.

It's in response to this news article about worrying about worrying about (the doubling is intentional) the stereotype of "black people and watermelon".




I think I led a sheltered and somewhat oblivious existence, racism-wise, while I was growing up, despite living in the South from the mid 70s to the early 80s, and attending (and being "bussed to", in fact) an elementary school that had been integrated only a few years earlier.

My (white) family ate watermelon constantly. So did everone else, both white and black. Watermelon is cheap, it grows well even in bad soil and inconsistant rain, it's easy to plant and even easier to harvest, it was sweet but not cloying, it's easy to chill and keep cold, even with the technology of a century and a half ago (just put in in the creek for a few hours), and it was "cool and refreshing" on a blisteringly hot summer day.

It was always part of the fun of going to visit family down in Mississippi, in that there were so many different kinds of watermelon to chose from, and to pick right off the vine. (Mmmm... yellow watermelon...)

I was never really aware of the "blacks and watermelon" stereotype until I encountered "sensitive" people complaining about it online.

Watermelon never meant "black food" to me. Whenever I would see the stereotype on old cartoons, I didn't think "black", I thought "south". If it was stereotypical of anything, what it symbolized was "summer in the south".




Now, I will admit to occasionally using the term "watermelon" as an insult. It refers to someone who claims to be "just" an environmentalist, but when you look at their actual motivating philosophy, they are in truth a totalizing "hard" leftist. Green on the outside, but red on the inside...
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Comments
From: missdimple Date: July 30th, 2003 07:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
It may have symbolized to YOU "summer in the south", but that's not what it was originally used for. Meaning is all in one's perspective.

The same can be said for the Confederate flag. As I understand it, it started out life as a regimental flag. That's not what it developed into.

Ignoring alternative meanings for things and saying people are overreacting (not sure if you are doing this or not) is not justified.
omahas From: omahas Date: July 30th, 2003 08:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ignoring alternative meanings for things and saying people are overreacting (not sure if you are doing this or not) is not justified.

But, if that original meaning has been lost in time, and only a few people remember it, don't they keep the stereotype alive now? If a whole generation of people have no idea of what you're talking about, and you say to them, "oh, this is a stereotype" haven't you continued on this stereotype when you've had the opportunity to bury it?

The stereotype exists as a way to humiliate. If people don't know it exists, then it can't be used for that. Maybe at this point, it needs to be just let go.
jatg From: jatg Date: July 30th, 2003 08:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm kind of with you on that. I found out about the watermelon thing only a year or so ago...and it just made me laugh. I was totally incredulous and I've made a point of not really talkin about it.
What's the point in perpetuating something that nobody really remembers.
As for watermelon itself? I'll eat me a good melon any chance I get, with a big ol' grin.
xenologue From: xenologue Date: July 30th, 2003 08:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

I only learned about the connotations of this term this last summer. It has no meaning for me. On the other hand, knowing that it's a loaded word for some people, it will probably ensure that I don't run down the street in the black neighbourhoods in T.O. yelling "Hey, you guys want some watermelon??" Course I wouldn't want to be running down ANY streets in Toronto, at least not tonight. SARSstock is still in full swing and I'm not entirely convinced there aren't going to be wild rides to the hospital for people in the front row.

Not a big fan of watermelon, personally -- I prefer canteloupe. I'm not a big fan of Mick Jagger either, who looks like he needs a big sandwich really bad (not watermelon... not enough calories and no far). If he really wants to help the SARS situation AND himself he should eat some greasy stuff in Chinatown tonight.

(Brought to you by the Department of Hijacking Threads and Inserting New Topics Into Them)
wyckhurst From: wyckhurst Date: July 31st, 2003 09:05 am (UTC) (Link)

Dept. of Hijacking Threads and Inserting New Topics

Muahahaha!!! Welcome to the Dark Side.

(Canteloupe? Bleagh! Bleagh! Bleagh! :-D )
nsyzygy From: nsyzygy Date: July 31st, 2003 01:39 pm (UTC) (Link)

Mick

What Mick really wants is for the Barrister to let him off the hook for sodding running his Mazaratti into a bus full of nuns a couple of months ago and seeing the sunrise through his third bottle of tequila. Celebrity public service announcements have long been the 'get out of jail free' card used by the courts. And deflecting our attention from SARS only draws MORE attraction to his scorching case of genital herpes.

(I, too, am in the Department)
From: missdimple Date: July 31st, 2003 07:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
If a whole generation of people have no idea of what you're talking about...

That's the point, though. I can guarantee that at least 2 or 3 generations of people still living KNOW that it is an insult. Just because the new generation doesn't know, does not diminish their pain from it. If you say, "oh, you're being silly for feeling insulted", then you're just being obtuse and insensitive.

Claiming ignorance doesn't excuse bad form. Some people don't believe the Holocaust didn't happen. Does that give them permission to throw around provocative material? (And, yes, I do know that it's not quite the same thing, since one group is trying to be insulting and the other would not be, but you see my point.)
wyckhurst From: wyckhurst Date: July 31st, 2003 09:03 am (UTC) (Link)

Oblivious Existence

I am really sorry, Jett & Mark, but I think your not noticing serious racism when you were growing up has more to do with personal obliviousness than proof of its non-existence.

I was there too and it was rampant and obvious.
nsyzygy From: nsyzygy Date: July 31st, 2003 01:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oblivious Existence of Seedless Watermelon

Watermelon breeders discovered that crossing a diploid plant (bearing the standard two sets of chromosomes) with a tetraploid plant (having four sets of chromosomes) results in a fruit that produces a triploid seed. (Yes, it has three sets of chromosomes). This seed grows fruit that rarely develops seeds, although you may find some empty white seed coats. The melon's flesh is firmer because the usual softening of the fruit around the seeds does not occur.

That's all I know about watermelon. I prefer seedless watermelon to seeded watermelon simply because I find the spitting of the seeds to be distastefully rude. Unless you are in a seed spitting fight. But what am I? Twelve? To know more about them does NOT mean I'm a racist. Of course, knowing less doesn't necessarily mean I'm an idiot, either.

Fried chicken and watermelon. It's just food. As far as racist remarks go, (and insults in general), a rule of thumb I've always followed is "Consider the source."
jatg From: jatg Date: July 31st, 2003 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oblivious Existence

I never said I didn't notice any rascism. I said I was unaware of the stigma of a watermelon until a few years ago. Sheesh.
wyckhurst From: wyckhurst Date: July 31st, 2003 07:57 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Oblivious Existence

Sorry, when you said "I'm kind of with you on that," I assumed you were talking to Mark but in going back through the thread I see that I am wrong.

Mark said, "I think I led a sheltered and somewhat oblivious existence, racism-wise, while I was growing up, despite living in the South from the mid 70s to the early 80s, and attending (and being "bussed to", in fact) an elementary school that had been integrated only a few years earlier."

So sorry! :-)
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