I confess, when I saw the meme above, I was not going to use it, because I want my readers to read first, instead of getting triggered by a picture and a caption, which I will admit, could possess a lot of power to offend. But since there is no truth that black people have a greater affinity for watermelon than whites, why would it offend? 1. Wouldn’t you have to first get angry that the person who created the meme juxtaposed watermelon and KKK regalia in order to deliberately promote the black/watermelon trope. 2. Then you’d have to get mad about the meme itself, if you chose to. If you didn’t, it would end there. 3. In order to keep the anger going, wouldn’t you then have get mad at people who might think it’s funny, or mad at me for using it. THUS YOU GIVE THE POWER TO OFFEND YOU TO THOSE YOU ARE MAD AT, right? What made me decide to use it was the essay by Ms. Greenlee, below.
“The Machine Stops” is a story by E.M. Forster published in 1909. In the story, humans lead completely isolated lives in underground cells. They communicate not directly but electronically. Face-to-face contact is regarded by them with fear, distaste, and even disgust. Their every wish is attended to by a giant supply mechanism of whose working they know little or nothing but upon which they are completely dependent. Then the machine begins to break down, and the subterranean inhabitants are as helpless as maggots in a fisherman’s tin. At the risk of being obvious, do we need to draw the analogy with our own way of life? Note especially the sentence in bold. I wonder if human contact with anyone the least bit different than you was ever so distasteful, accompanied by endless, tedious and patently idiotic narratives/excuses/explanations. This next item is the perfect example of personal neuroses, even psychoses, excused as stemming from historical, societal causes.
Cynthia Greenlee, Ph.D. posted this on Vox.com: “My hand hovered over the fruit tray, about to spear a chunk of watermelon, when a white person walked up. I paused. It didn’t matter that she was a colleague and likely focused, like I was, on getting a pre-lunch snack during a long meeting. I moved my fork carefully away from the watermelon, grazing over the pineapple, and picked strawberries instead. Safer territory, I thought. Safer fruit. Anxiety made me reconsider my choice. It stopped me from enjoying watermelon on a scorching Mississippi day among an unusually diverse crowd of writers at an otherwise uneventful work training. But even though I was surrounded by many black and brown faces, it was the presence of white people — even these aware, friendly, and familiar white people — that gave me literal pause. I didn’t want to be an updated version of that Sambo figure, tap-dancing and braying in joy at a succulent watermelon wedge. It is a sobering thing to face your interior white supremacist nag. I had mild indigestion all day, but it had nothing to do with the fruit. It was a profound unease that I, as a black historian who fancies myself informed and evolved, would be so complicit with a stereotype. I was angry with myself for letting racist rhetoric take over my taste buds. It was strange to apprehend: ‘I’m not as free as I thought I was’.” My god, this lady is a journalist, historian and writer with a Ph.D! The paragraph is the beginning of a very long and elaborate narrative about “racist tropes” and “white supremacy.” Are you expecting me to now lament how powerful and debilitating such tropes are to people of color (POCs)? Don’t hold your breath. She is elevating her personal neurosis to the level of a sociological phenomenon.
She goes on: “I polled black friends if they felt even the faintest watermelon unease. One had actually observed a white woman asking a black coworker if they had taken all the watermelon from a catering tray, clearly a funny quip in her mind. A former boarding school student assiduously dodged watermelon slices in the cafeteria. There was another friend who refused a free watermelon on the beach, afraid that the white man offering it was not being generous, but trolling her in a nasty joke. Much like agonizing over watermelon, another friend mused that she had packed leftover fried chicken for lunch that day but had hoped to sidestep the stigma by eating it real proper-like, with a fork and not with her teeth tearing the flesh off the bone. Many of my online friends reveled in giving the finger to the white gaze, though. They ate watermelon with gusto whenever and wherever, laughing on the inside all the while—or on the outside, head thrown back Zora Neale Hurston-style. Some grew up in Caribbean or other countries where white colonialism had ruled, but they were free from the everyday indignities of Jim Crow. What white people thought just didn’t register with them.” I don’t know whether to laugh, or cry. Cynthia, those “online friends” (whatever that means) are either less neurotic than you, or more self confident, or maybe, if you know them only for their online identity, they might be lying, or worse, white. I love watermelon and fried chicken, I eat both with gusto and my hands, always have. Do my tastes mean I’m really black?
The biggest problem with all this is, POCs, LGBTQers, especially the T’s, and others who cling to narratives of oppression as explanations for their personal neuroses and, in the case of transsexuals, psychoses, then they expect the government, their employers, and innocent bystanders (who don’t want to share bathrooms with the sexually confused) to address their issues or suffer the consequences. All because they are too self important to laugh at themselves.