Los Alamitos, California, is a small city not too far away from where I live. It’s the usual quiet, peaceful suburban city. But in the last few days, it has found itself in the national news, and not for good reasons.
The mayor of the city, Dean Grose, sent out an email from his personal account that showed a picture of the White House with a watermelon garden imposed as the White House lawn. The picture comes with the heading: “No Easter Egg hunt this year.”
City volunteer and local businesswoman, Keyanus Price, who is African-American, received the email, and was appalled and offended by it. It has since been talked about in the papers, CNN and other news outlets. Grose has sent out an apology, saying that he did not intend to be offensive.
There are many people who understand the connotations of watermelon with blacks in American history, and maybe there are some who don’t. The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia of Ferris State University, whose mission is to promote racial tolerance by helping people understand the historical and contemporary expressions of intolerance, gives an excellent explanation of this symbolism:
“The Jim Crow Museum itself has hundreds of images of African Americans — usually with very dark skin, blood red grinning lips and raggedy clothes — eating watermelons. These images on postcards, sheet music, ashtrays, and souvenirs are visual expressions of the stereotype of Blacks as ignorant, mindless buffoons…
“It became part of the image perpetuated by a white culture bent upon bolstering the myth of superiority by depicting the inferior race as lazy, simple-minded pickaninnies interested only in such mindless pleasures as a slice of sweet watermelon.”
Here’s the link for the full article: http://www.ferris.edu/JIMCROW/question/may08/
It was reported in the Los Angeles Times that Grose said: “he was unaware of the racial stereotype that black people like watermelons.
He said he and Price are friends and serve together on a community youth board.
“Bottom line is, we laugh at things and I didn’t see this in the same light that she did,” Grose said. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t sent to offend her personally — or anyone — from the standpoint of the African American race.”
I find his explanation rather hard to believe. If he is unaware of the racial connotation of watermelon and blacks, then why did the “joke” depicted only watermelons in the White House lawn. Why not strawberries, squash or a mixed fruit garden? C’mon mayor, people are smarter than that.