Women’s interest news site, Jezebel, published a story yesterday on the possibly inadvertent, though mostly implicitly racist decision by candy manufacturer Dig N’ Dips to use Disney’s first black princess on their watermelon-flavored dip stick sugar packets. Most of us know - or should know - that there has been a history of associating African-Americans with a love of watermelon. And to elaborate, Jezebel linked readers to the original posting on the blog-site, Sociological Images, where the author touches on the “strategic usefulness” of such imagery in the past and how it was used to justify the happiness of slaves.
What’s even better, though, is that the powdered candy - which is meant to be dipped and mixed
and then incite a diabetic coma - comes attached with a Vanilla-flavored repository of confectionary stereotyping endorsed by none other than Sleeping Beauty! (Honestly, who the hell would want to mix watermelon and vanilla? Forget the inferential racism, can we indict Disney for sheer lack of gustatory sensibility?)
Anyway, what led me to post about this story was that the comments section was riddled with responses by some readers, both American and foreign-born, who didn’t really know much about this “silly watermelon and fried chicken racist imagery” but did know that “it was delicious and something that everybody ate!”
Let’s start here: YOU ARE MISSING THE FUCKING POINT.
Ignoring the fact that such symbology, which has been used in part to lampoon African-Americans as simpletons, is actually racist and not just some crazy thing of the past that surely has no present and persisting implications because, well, food can’t be racist if I eat it too, is NOT an acceptable way to acknowledge the issue.
This reminds me of the Obama Fried Chicken incident in China last October. Some of my friends, a few who were international students and one who’s from Beijing, argued that the caricature of President Obama on a chicken restaurant was decidedly not racist and that it was merely coincidental even despite the fact that the actual KFC has used an Obama lookalike in Chinese (actually, Hong Kong) commercials in the past. But of course, you know, Asia and definitely not China certainly has never had a problem with racism or blacks…
I’m sure a lot of the commenters didn’t even take the time to look at the redirected links to the Sociological Images site before posting a response, and if they did and still uttered such senseless poppycock, then - as rapper T.I. famously says in the “Live Your Life” anthem featuring Rihanna- “I pray for patience, but they make me want to melt their face away.”
(But actually…I don’t advocate gun use or violence, #justsayin’).
Nonetheless, for those that want a little bit of edification, take a look at the real reason why such symbology is hurtful and why Disney could have exercised a bit more prudence in this situation:
Watermelon: Symbolizing the Supposed Simplicity of Slaves (Sociological Images)
I think this is an interesting example of the way in which supposedly random stereotypes have strategic beginnings. The association of Black people with a love of watermelon isn’t just a neutral stereotype, nor one that emerged because there is a “kernel of truth” (as people love to say about stereotypes). Instead, it was a deliberate tool with which to misportray African Americans and justify slavery.
Now let’s petition for watermelon and vanilla to never be considered as an appropriate flavor combination. I might even be more offended by that.