Monday, May 10, 2010

Who Brought the Watermelon?!...


On Thursday night, a friend of mine had a birthday party/get-together. He, an African American from Atlanta, invited a multi-cultural crowd of ex-pats. I arrived at the party with another Miami native and a friend teaching at AUC. I immediately checked the dynamics of the room, greeted the host and other people I knew, and poured myself a glass of wine. As I made my way to the kitchen to say hello to another African American guy from ALI, I noticed a brooding blonde guy in one corner intently listening as 2 white women admonished him in a harsh whisper.

When I walked into the kitchen, the guy looked relieved to see me. He'd been talking to a petite brunnette-or more like she'd been jabbering away non-stop under the influences of one too many glasses of wine- and he was glad for any distraction. "I'm so sorry about the watermelon," she said to me almost immediately. A bit taken aback, a looked over at the kitchen counter to see a large watermelon cut in half and hidden from view of the rest of the guests. I looked over at the African American guy and he gave me a pointed nod and a knowing smirk. I turned back to the girl now with a half amused, half bewildered smile on my face. This is going to be good, I thought to myself. Slightly embarrassed and more than slightly tipsy, she stammered, "Our friend, he's German, and he just didn't know...we didn't even realize what he'd brought to the party until we got here...I'm so sorry, He really didn't mean anything by it. He's not from the U.S., you know, and he...he just didn't know." I don't know if I was more amused that she felt the need to apologize to me- and every other black person in the room- simply because I happen to be black or that our obsession with political correctness had turned a simple fruit into a means of supposed racial oppression.

It wasn't until undergrad that I'd learned the racial connotations behind foods like fried chicken, bananas and watermelons. Quite frankly, I don't know too many people who dislike any of them but somehow America has been able to equate food with racial inferiority and bad behavior. Recently, Republican leaders have been known to email pictures of watermelon patches and monkeys when they are unable to articulate enough racial slurs to express their burning need to "take back their country" from the democratically elected black president. Thus, I've dutifully avoided fried chicken and watermelon at any multicultural cook out, reception, picnic, BBQ, wedding, bar mitzvahs, etc in a stance of racial solidarity with my African American brothers and sisters. As ridiculous as it sounds, I've realized that it's sometimes best to not even invite people to make small talk about what's on your plate or to even make a passing glance at a slice of watermelon in the summer heat.

 I looked into her pleading East Coast- politically correct- liberal eyes for a moment, "As long as he didn't show up in black face with the watermelon in hand, It's no biggie." I laughed at the ridiculousness of the entire situation and moved on! Knowing how sensitive Germans are to political correctness since that little... incident they had a while back, I wasn't ready to jump to the conclusion that the young man had done anything except bring a fruit to a get-together. When he wandered over to apologize, face beet red with embarrassment,  I cut him off and changed the subject. I know that his friends were trying to preempt what they assumed would be an awkward situation or the next installment of the Rodney King riots but, the record didn't stop spinning when he walked in the room with a watermelon for a black man's party. No one even noticed! Although I do try to be as respectful of other people as possible, I think there are times when political correctness is taken too far. It is good to be aware of our differences as well as similarities but it is not necessary to constantly remind others of these things. There are instances where it is productive to discuss legitimate grievances; however, when no issues are brought up, one shouldn't create an issue.

White people, we appreciate your attempts at racial sensitivity and quelling your white guilt but there is no need to try to out-black us. In some regards, the intent of an act or statement is more important than its connotation. 500 years of oppression makes us a lot more laid back than you think so relax, don't send any emails trying to explain what you meant, and have some watermelon. Hey, we may even try those jager bombs you're so fond of as a bonding experience lol.


mina said...

i only learned about the whole watermelon thing last year. how ridiculous.

Matt said...

Wait.... I love watermelon and fried chicken, does this make me black? I am not such a big fan of fruit punch though. ;-)

As a guilt ridden liberal white guy I feel for where she was coming from and oh that all people of color were laid back unto you France. But yeah, this was gold. I really feel bad for the poor German guy who was convinced by the American girls that he has just mortally offended all of black america.

I could really go for some fried chicken now.... hmmm.

Fly Brother said...

Ha! I was JUUUUUUST talking about this today with some American coworkers over a plate of, you guessed it, watermelon. I explained to them that it wasn't exactly like fools were passing out bottles of Zephyrhills in the cotton fields. How else was a brother or sister working caint-to-caint supposed to stay hydrated? We all nodded and laughed and I let them have at it (as I'm a cantaloupe man, myself).

LOL @ "out-black us." Poor German dude.

(oh...and it's Jager, from Jagermeister, with that kooky German "j"...I think they throw a couple of dots over that "a" too!)

Nikita said...

Wow.. What nonsense. I'm more offended by the stupid, overly-politically correct White chick than the poor, clueless German. I mean.. really?!?! If the German guy brought a watermelon, so what? Who is this White chick to "pre-empt" this German guy's offering, when she couldn't possibly know what his intention was? And how could she assume that the mere act of bringing a watermelon, a simple fruit, into the room would imply such racist connotations? I think that ol' girl really needs to check herself. She made it into a big deal for no reason and just showed that SHE is the one who is uncomfortable with race.

Now, maybe it's because I grew up in a multi-cultural part of Canada, and of Caribbean parentage, because the whole "watermelon/fried chicken black people thing" doesn't resonate that much with me. So I couldn't imagine ever taking offense to something as innocent as someone being nice enough to bring food to a party... But maybe I'm just naive?

VegasSeven said...

It was just fruit in this situation as I see it.

But I am glad they brought the issue. Obviously the women feel very strong about being politically correct and they are standing up for their points of view. We need people like this!!!

It is a double-edge sword: Yes, we can take political correctness too far and it may seem silly but at the same time we need to take all opportunities to talk about racism, our morals and other issues.

Anonymous said...

Yo, white chick it ain't that serious.

I am never offended with the fried chicken and watermelon stereotype. I really just like the skin on the friend chicken..for the most part you can keep the meet. And I HATE watermelon, its so messy and nasty.

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