Watermelon Smoothies & Lessons in Race

As a friend of mine was returning from her lunch break yesterday, a coworker asks, “Hey, what did you get for lunch?” My friend says, “A smoothie.” Her coworker replies, “What kind of smoothie? Watermelon?”

A watermelon smoothie? Seems odd, right? What if I told you that my friend was Black and her coworker, who upon hearing this story, I assumed was White, is Korean?  Now the stereotype that Black people love watermelon comes into play. Did she make that comment intentionally as a joke? Or was she unaware of the stereotype altogether?

While my friend could have responded by irrationally hollering something along the lines of: “Oh! It’s because I’m Black and Black people love watermelon that you’re gonna just up and assume that I’m gonna drink a watermelon smoothie over any other type of smoothie, right? I see how y’all do my people!” she didn’t. She responded by asking, somewhat rhetorically, “Do they even have watermelon smoothies?”

As I listened to her tell the story, the same thought crossed my mind — do they have watermelon smoothies? Perhaps they do. And, perhaps her Korean coworker had tasted one before, thus her inquiry. Just because neither my friend nor myself (nor anyone I asked on Twitter) had tasted one, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Maybe they’re common in Korea—I don’t know. (If you know of somewhere that they do have watermelon smoothies, please let me know because I’d love to try one. I’m a huge watermelon fan.)

At this point in the exchange, her coworker starts back-peddling, perhaps realizing that there may have been something wrong with what she said. She even said she had tried one herself. Who knows if that’s true or if it was just a technique to remedy the alleged misunderstanding.

Since this was the first “offense,” the first time this coworker had made any kind of off-color comment, my friend decided to let it slide. And I agreed that this was a good idea.

But at what point do you confront a person who makes a comment like that? Not that there was anything inherently racist or prejudice about her statement — we don’t know that — but at some point not understanding the stereotypes that exist could put her in a bad place. Had she made that comment to someone else, someone not as understanding as my friend, you might be reading a completely different story today.

There must be a time to teach people who, for whatever reason, don’t know about the prevailing racial stereotypes, about them and their history, but when? Is it whenever something “minor” like this happens? Or do you give them a “three strikes and you’re out” rule?

Personally, I would say it’s best to gauge the person and their general understanding. If, like this young lady, they really are aloof, perhaps they know sooner, rather than later. And if they don’t know that they’re making a mistake, then it’s likely that they’re be more apt to receive what you have to say. On the other side of the scale may be a person who knows the stereotypes and yet still finds it acceptable to joke about it because, after all, the fact that we are in a “post-racial” America means that everything is fair game, right? Wrong.

Often, it’s more ignorance than prejudice about people’s racial and ethnic histories that leads to these types of situations. But the ignorance must be done away with through education. And if our schools won’t do it, it must be individuals who take the time to care enough about each other to teach them what is and isn’t acceptable in certain contexts.

Yet the question of “when” still stands. What do you think? When should this teaching occur? The sooner the better? Let me hear your thoughts.

7 Comments to “Watermelon Smoothies & Lessons in Race”

  • I think people who make off-color or even blatantly racist remarks should be called to task right then and there. Don't let any time pass, because they will take it as a pass and keep doing it. In this instance, I don't think there was any malice intended. As a black woman, I probably wouldn't have been offended. I would've been curious to know where I could get myself a watermelon smoothie!! But we all know that racists B.S. when we hear it. It has a very distinct, sick feeling that comes along with it. That needs to be checked immediately.

  • Stu – you know me… When I first read that, I cracked up! I love a good ol' fashioned racial stereotype, you know…

    Seriously, though… When are we (black folks) gonna get tired of being "offended"? I personally am. And so I now don't particularly care about what "stereotypes" people have about me because of my color. The fact is that the whole "black folks love chicken and watermelon"-thing isn't that offensive when you consider the fact that both fried chicken and watermelon are just so dang delicious! LOL!

    Here's a thought – let's have a "conversation on race" about how much white people are unfairly stereotyped. See how many black people will find that worthy of concern or redress…

    Here's the realization to which I've come about stereotypes – they're normally based in fact…

  • It sounds to me like this person was fully aware of what had taken place hence the back-peddle.
    However, I do have to say that I am really tired of us (black folk) being offended by everything that people say. I do think some stereotypes need to be addressed but not everything is worth being offended.

  • A watermelon smoothie is strange indeed, but I don't think I would have thought it racist, just strange. But I disagree that black people need to stop being offended by everything people say…..because 9 times out of 10, if you think its racist or just insensitive, it probably is.

  • I don't think the comment was intended to be racist. I also agree with Marcus that it's time for us to stop being so easily offended. As a black person I recognize that we tend to the most guilty of making racist or prejudicial remarks but the most easily offended when we get the backhand of it. Take for instance two comedians- one black and one white. The black comedian can see a white person in the audience and rip them a new one telling "white jokes." But a white comedian doesn't have the liberty to look into the audience and see a black face and do the same. If he did that we'd have CNN and Al Sharpton on speed dial.

    I understand as well as anybody our history and struggles. I've personally been on the receiving end of some pretty atrocious racial attacks, but there has got to be a better way to elevate the conversation beyond having everyone walk on eggshells around us. Perhaps some levity should come into play in these situations. Maybe your friend should have jokingly said, "Watermelon? Is it because I'm black?" and then that would have maybe opened up a non-defensive dialogue to educate.

  • i wouldn't take offense at the comment if i felt no malice was intended. this whole movement to not be offended is troubling. no, there shouldn't be a meltdown and WWIII declared for every offense; however, addressing offensive remarks is not something we should shy away from. that's what we do in social settings ANYWAY and it certainly hasn't furthered racial harmony. MOST black people dont address the offense because they feel powerless to do so in many settings in fear of being labeled "too sensitive" – so we address that by labeling each other that way and making it a contest to see who's less sensitive?! GTFOH! offensive remarks and actions should be addressed in a timely and appropriate fashion, but should be addressed directly. and people should pick there battles. both of these can exist in the same plane. the answer is not to simple stop being so sensitive. the hell. this is a small, inconsequential remark, but homegirl should be addresses so that she doesn't repeat the same mistake and have people assume malicious intentions on her part. but there are some things that people should be bold and strong enough to address directly instead of cowering from for fear of being too sensitive or playing the race card. that's so weak.

  • I think it was a teachable moment. Why did the person first mention the flavor watermelon? I mean it is a rather unusual flavor for a smoothie (and I love smoothies and have been to every major smoothie franchise and have yet to see watermelon as a dominant flavor). If she mentioned the more popular flavors we wouldn't be having this dialogue. Some racial stereotypes are deeply embeded in our psyche and they should be addressed. I (as a Black woman) would have politely asked, "Why Watermelon?" And explained that what she said can be misconstrued do to a stereotype. No need for a confrontation, but at least the co-worker now knows that she should think twice before making a comment like that again.

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