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  #1  
Old 13 December 2014, 08:22 AM
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United States How Watermelons Became a Racist Trope

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/...-trope/383529/
Quote:
The trope came into full force when slaves won their emancipation during the Civil War. Free black people grew, ate, and sold watermelons, and in doing so made the fruit a symbol of their freedom. Southern whites, threatened by blacks' newfound freedom, responded by making the fruit a symbol of black people's perceived uncleanliness, laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence. This racist trope then exploded in American popular culture, becoming so pervasive that its historical origin became obscure.
Brian
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  #2  
Old 14 December 2014, 01:12 PM
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Interesting read and never really thought about how that stereotype evolved.
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Old 14 December 2014, 01:37 PM
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Thank you for posting that.
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Old 14 December 2014, 05:42 PM
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It's interesting how watermelon seems to be one racist trope that isn't as well known outside of the US borders. It was only a few years ago that I learned that watermelon meant anything other than watermelon. When the picture went around of the Disney Princesses with different flavours of fun dip, I honestly had no idea why it was a problem. I had guessed that it was something to do with the white princesses being 'vanilla' and didn't even register that Tiana was paired with watermelon, any more than it would have if she'd been paired with strawberry (and it's a mistake I easily could have made myself if I'd been doing the pairing, since the green of her dress was a nice contrast to the pink watermelon). I've heard similar things from several Brits.

Was this always a well-known trope throughout the US? Would someone who grew up in, say, Seattle have been sensitive to the stereotype before the internet made it more visible? I'm not sure if I'm wording this correctly, but it seems odd that this and a few others seem to be mostly unknown or 'lost' once you cross the border (and it makes me wonder if there are other bad tropes I might be insensitive to and accidentally stumble across).
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Old 14 December 2014, 05:48 PM
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It's not a universal association, if that's what you're asking. I only heard of it myself a few years ago.
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Old 14 December 2014, 07:14 PM
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I heard it along with several others growing up in Nebraska but I also lived in a city that had a turbulent history with it's Black community(not as bad as others but nothing to be proud of either).
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Old 14 December 2014, 07:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by quink View Post
it makes me wonder if there are other bad tropes I might be insensitive to and accidentally stumble across).
Probably a good thing to wonder about, and a good possibility to be aware of. I think that can happen to any of us, especially if in / reading about a part of the world that one's not used to.
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Old 14 December 2014, 09:37 PM
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I grew up in the South, so I knew about this. Somehow made it to adulthood without knowing the malt liquor one until a black co-worker mentioned someone hassling him over an alcohol purchase. First reaction was shock - second was to start apologizing for the existence of awful people sharing a city with me
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Old 14 December 2014, 09:42 PM
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Malt liquor? I'm almost afraid to ask
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Old 14 December 2014, 10:37 PM
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I have no idea where it came from, I just knew a guy that got hassled because, shock and horror, he was a black man NOT buying malt liquor!

I thought of it because the OP article mentioned it's appearance in an ARRAY of racist stereotypes used by "Ferguson counter-protesters."
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Old 14 December 2014, 10:48 PM
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I think it is more of an urban poor stereotype. Malt liquor is cheap and has a high alcohol content.
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Old 15 December 2014, 02:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Beachlife! View Post
I think it is more of an urban poor stereotype. Malt liquor is cheap and has a high alcohol content.
akin to Boone's farm and poor rural (usually white) folks.

OY
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Old 15 December 2014, 03:38 AM
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I don't think it's just an urban poor stereotype. Malt liquors like Colt 45 were very actively marketed to African Americans.

To me, watermelon is right next to fried chicken as far as racist stereotypes. And I'm sure it existed outside the South. It was a trope in minstrel shows. It's probably just less prevalent now.
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Old 15 December 2014, 06:46 AM
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I grew up on the west coast, and it's still common enough in the culture for me to be surprised that Tiana was paired with watermelon candy. Maybe if everyone involved was very young? And Canadian?

I didn't know about malt liquors until now, though.
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Old 15 December 2014, 08:25 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Pink Pill View Post
I grew up on the west coast, and it's still common enough in the culture for me to be surprised that Tiana was paired with watermelon candy. Maybe if everyone involved was very young? And Canadian?
I guess I've always been vaguely aware of the watermelon stereotype, but it's always seemed a sort of archaic and old-folksy notion to me, and for that reason I have difficulty taking it seriously. It doesn't strike me as too far-fetched that enough people might've been unaware of the stereotype that this sort of thing could happen. And if they really were ignorant of it, maybe that's a good thing.

I feel like stereotypes like this could easily fade into obscurity if we only let them. If we ("we" in the general, cultural sense) afforded people the benefit of the doubt and, where no racial bias or prejudice is otherwise evident, just ignored the unfortunate pairing rather than draw attention to it, maybe the stereotype would eventually fade and lose whatever power it had.

I'm not talking about incidents where it's clearly and deliberately invoked, like the cartoon of Obama planting watermelons in front of the White House, which relies on the stereotype to make any sense at all. But in a lot of cases where watermelon happens to be mentioned in the context of someone who happens to be black, I suspect that pointing out the possible racial implications might be doing more to promote the stereotype than to defeat it.
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Old 15 December 2014, 01:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by erwins View Post
To me, watermelon is right next to fried chicken as far as racist stereotypes. And I'm sure it existed outside the South. It was a trope in minstrel shows. It's probably just less prevalent now.
What I find particularly interesting is that, southern white families were also just as likely to eat fried chicken and watermelon.

OY
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Old 15 December 2014, 01:27 PM
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The OP suggests otherwise re:watermelon, IMO.
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  #18  
Old 15 December 2014, 06:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom o' Bedlam View Post
I'm not talking about incidents where it's clearly and deliberately invoked, like the cartoon of Obama planting watermelons in front of the White House, which relies on the stereotype to make any sense at all. But in a lot of cases where watermelon happens to be mentioned in the context of someone who happens to be black, I suspect that pointing out the possible racial implications might be doing more to promote the stereotype than to defeat it.
I don't disagree, but the problem is that it can't fade until people are no longer deliberately invoking it. Every time someone does it on purpose, and with the Internet, someone is going to, it casts doubts on the intentions of those who do it on accident, and it spreads to a new generation.

It's like that golfer who snarked something years ago about Tiger Woods and fried chicken. I hadn't heard that trope for a long time, either. The media helps keep it alive.
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Old 15 December 2014, 06:29 PM
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The media, and the people whose use of it the media reports on.

ETA: Another problem is that "I didn't mean it to be racist, it just happens to be a watermelon" is the first excuse a racist will come up with when called on using the stereotype. Especially since some people seem to believe that an action is racist only if, while carrying it out, one is consciously thinking "I hate [insert group] people."
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  #20  
Old 15 December 2014, 06:38 PM
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Truth be told, the first image that popped in my mind when I read the OP title is a childhood memory of Stymie from 1930's The Little Rascals finding an old lamp and rubbing it saying, "I wish I had a watermelon. I wish I had a watermelon. I wish I had a BIG watermelon..."

That was probably my first exposure to the trope. My things were different back then...
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