nigger love a watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha! : deserves the distinction of the title of the most racist song in America, released in March 1916 by Columbia Records, it was written by actor Harry C. Browne and played on the familiar representation of the black people like a "Headless Headless Beast" greedily devouring slices of watermelon.
How is watermelon, has it become a racist symbol in the 1800 years in the US? The stereotype that African Americans are excessive fools of watermelon emerged for a specific historical reason and served a specific political purpose
The trope came into effect when slaves gained their emancipation during the civil war. Free Blacks grew, ate and sold watermelons, making these fruits a symbol of their freedom. The Southern Whites, threatened by the newfound freedom of the Blacks, reacted by making this fruit a symbol of the blackness perceived by the blacks, laziness, puerility and undesirable public presence. This racist trope then exploded into American popular culture, becoming so ubiquitous that its historical origin became obscure. In 1900, few Americans would have assumed that the stereotype was less than half a century old.
Not that the raw material of the racist trope of watermelon did not exist before emancipation. In the modern European imagination, the watermelon eater was typically an Italian or Arab peasant. The watermelon, remarked a British officer in office in Egypt in 1801, was "a treat for poor Arabs", a meager substitute for a real meal. In the port city of Rosetta, he saw the inhabitants eating watermelons, "with voracity; as if they feared the passer-by would take " and watermelon skins strew the streets.
There, the fruit symbolized many of the same qualities it would have in post-emancipation America: uncleanliness, because eating watermelon is so messy. Laziness, because it's so easy to grow watermelons, and it's hard to eat watermelon and keep working - it's a fruit you have to eat sitting down. Because watermelons are sweet, colorful and devoid of much nutritional value. These tropes traveled to America, but the watermelon did not have any racial significance yet. Americans were just as likely to associate watermelon with Kentucky's white hills or New Hampshire as black slaves of South Carolina.
Shortly after emancipation, many African-Americans sold watermelons to make a living outside the plantation system. (Le illustrated newspaper of Frank Leslie)
This may seem surprising given the importance of watermelons in the lives of African Americans during slavery. Slave owners often let their slaves grow up and sell their own watermelons, or even let them take a day off during the summer to eat the first watermelon crop.
Slave Israel Campbell slipped a watermelon into the bottom of his cotton basket so that when he was not living up to his daily quota, he would have at least something to eat at the end of the day. Campbell taught the trick to another slave who was often flogged for not meeting his quota and the trick was quickly spread. Emancipation, of course, destroyed that relationship.
Blacks grew, ate and sold watermelons during slavery, but it was now a threat to racial order. For the whites, it now seemed to them that blacks were showing their new freedom, living on their own land, selling watermelons on the market and, worse still, savoring watermelon in the public square together. A Houston white family was devastated when their nanny Clara left home shortly after her emancipation in 1865.
Henry Evans, a white boy to whom Clara was probably a second mother, cried for days after leaving. But when he met her one day in the street, he rejected his attempt at peace. When Clara offered him a watermelon, Henry told him that he "would not eat what the free Negroes eat." Newspapers have amplified this association between watermelon and free black. In 1869, Illustrated Newspaper by Frank Leslie may have published the first caricature of Blacks feasting on watermelon. The attached article explained: Le Negro of the South does not manifest more clearly his epicurean tastes than his excessive inclination for watermelons. The juvenile freedman is particularly intense in his partiality for this refreshing fruit.
Perhaps the first printed illustration of the racist trope of watermelon, c. 1869. (Illustrated Newspaper by Frank Leslie)
Two years later, a Georgian newspaper reported that a black man had been arrested for poisoning a watermelon with the intention of killing a neighbor. The article was entitled Black Kuklux And equated black-on-black violence with Ku Klux Klan, asking facetiously whether the radical Republican Party Congress subcommittee is investigating the Klan would investigate the actions of this freedman.
The article began with a despicable description of the man heading for the courthouse: On Saturday afternoon, we met an 15e amendment, carrying a huge watermelon in his arms, en route to the courthouse. Le crime was not an attempt at murder, but a public walk with this fruit ridiculous. The main message of the watermelon stereotype was that blacks were not ready for freedom. During the election period of 1880, Democrats accused the state legislature of South Carolina, which was mostly black during the reconstruction, from wasting taxpayers' money on watermelons for their own refreshment; this fiction has even found its place in history textbooks.
The epic film of DW Griffith's white supremacy, The Birth of a Nation, released in 1915, included a feast of watermelons in its depiction of emancipation, while corrupted Northern Whites encouraged former slaves to stop working and enjoy a watermelon. In these racist fictions, blacks did not deserve more freedom than children.
While pianos and scores became popular at the end of the 19th century, "screaming songs" were popular tunes that scoffed at African Americans for their lazy, senseless, and childish ways. (courtesy Brown University Library)
At the beginning of the 20th century, the stereotype of watermelon was omnipresent: potholders, paper sleeves, sheet music, pepper and salt shakers. A popular postcard depicts an old black man carrying a watermelon in each arm to find himself on a wandering chicken. The man laments: " I am not a lost man in life.»
As a black man, the postcard meant he had little responsibility and little interest beyond his stomach. Edwin S. Porter, famous for directing The Great Train Robbery in 1903, also co-directed The Watermelon Patch two years later, which featured darkies Slipping into a watermelon patch, men disguised as skeletons chasing watermelon thieves Klux Klan, who dressed as ghosts to frighten Black), a watermelon eating contest and a bunch of white vigilantes eventually smoking the watermelon thieves out of the booth. The long history of white violence aimed at maintaining racial order was played for laughs.
It may seem silly to attribute so much meaning to a fruit. And the truth is that there is nothing racist in itself in watermelons. But cultural symbols have the power to shape our Vision of the World and its inhabitants, as when police officer Darren Wilson saw Michael Brown as a superhuman "demon".
These symbols have their roots in real historical struggles, especially in the present case. Watermelon, the fear of whites emancipated black body. Whites used this stereotype to denigrate blacks - to take something they used to promote their own freedom and make it an object of ridicule. In the end, it does not matter if someone wants to offend the racist stereotype of watermelon, because this stereotype has a life of its own.