Eat Your Watermelon and Fried Chicken

Stop being ashamed of where you come from.

Disclaimer: I do not speak for all or any person in the Black diaspora but myself. Hopefully, this writing contains language and pictures that some may find offensive. If it don’t apply, let it fly.

We’d be lying to ourselves if we said there are no longer racial biases in the world of food and beyond, between white and non-white Americans but especially, Black Americans – across the diaspora. The historical stereotypes of Black Americans eating and enjoying foods such as watermelon, fried chicken and ribs are quite frankly fucked up. But we shouldn’t deny who we are and where we have come from for the sake of feeling ‘equal’ amongst people who don’t treat us that way.

Over the weekend there was some uproar from some Black NYU students that were offended by the Black History Month menu, which resulted in two employees being fired. While I don’t agree with the outrage by the students, I can empathize and understand. I understand being around your white peers and not wanting others to think those stereotypes are true. I can also understand wanting to distance yourself with the pain of knowing your ancestors were slaves, especially during these turbulent times when we have so much racial tension in the country.

But let’s take a step back – WHAT’S WRONG WITH WATERMELON, FRIED CHICKEN, AND KOOL-AID???? The answer, not a damn thing.  As for nutritional value, no one should eat these foods daily. But let’s not act like this food doesn’t taste good, you’re lying to yourself if you say different.

Why are these meals offensive only during black history month? I’m not understanding. I mean this is food that some of you eat weekly during Sunday dinner. Why are these meals offensive at predominately white institutions and not at historically black institutions or schools with a high concentration of black folk?  It’s not making sense. The one constant misstep of many white institutions is not incorporating food representative of the entire diaspora, such as Caribbean, Latin, and African, rather than focusing on solely African American based cuisine. Besides all of us didn’t grow up eating soul food either.

Ribs, hog maws, chitlins (chitterlings), catfish, all of it tastes good. (That’s all subjective, obviously). And it’s all a part of your history, my history – OUR HISTORY. That food represents the slavery your great, great, great-grandparents endured building this country. All the animal parts that slave owners discarded someone’s mammy used seasoning and techniques from their native African country to create a divinely palatable meal. The fried chicken is a reminder of the shoebox lunch black women entrepreneurs sold to nourish fellow black passengers during the great migration from the South to the North to start a new life filled with hope and opportunity for future generations.

Free blacks grew, ate and sold watermelons, and as a result, it became a symbol of our freedom. Our ancestors sold watermelon to lift themselves out of poverty. Don’t be ashamed of that. If anything celebrate it as much as you can. Celebrate that someone’s uncle could live a better life because of a gourd fruit. We should educate ourselves and sharing that information not just with other black people but also non-black people so they too can be informed and approach these situations better in the future. Remember, during slavery that masters thought giving slaves watermelon was a sign of their benevolence and in return, they expected gratitude from the slaves, thus the origin of the stereotype of the minstrel show narrative of watermelon appreciation. It’s unfortunate they have depicted us for years as simpletons, and voracious eaters all because of fruit. It’s so simple yet complicated.

With that being said, after slavery, Black people continued to eat ribs, macaroni and cheese, and we drank Kool-Aid because that’s what we were, and for some of us still able to afford. AND IT TASTES GOOD! It’s sad that white people have and some continue to shame us simply for the food we eat. If anything, white people should be ashamed, and no I’m not calling for the pity of white guilt or tears. Save it. I’m saying white people need to acknowledge the pain passed down to generations by their ancestors have inflicted upon generations of powerless people and do better.

I’m not telling you to forget the stereotypes. I’m saying embrace them and live your life. I understand it’s a touchy topic. But don’t let people stop you from not only enjoying things but also celebrating your culture. The more you pretend these things are not a part of our history or distance yourself from them, the more you erase your history. You’re erasing the legacy of so many who worked hard to perfect those recipes. Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating our heritage? You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about eating that greasy chicken or juicy watermelon or that sugary kool-aid.

Because let’s be for real your ancestors weren’t lining up in droves to get on that slave ship, remember they were kidnapped. You shouldn’t be ashamed of eating the foods of slaves or those that suffered through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement. Be proud that despite their predicament they had the ingenuity and perseverance to create greatness that is highly revered across generations and cultures. Be proud that your ancestors are the real chefs and the foundation of American cuisine as they made something out of nothing. West African slaves brought the art of frying seasoned foods in palm oils to America. They often supplemented much of the scraps provided by their masters with foods they farmed, hunted and fished themselves. Every time you take a bite of watermelon, lick your greasy fried chicken stained fingers and slurp your grape Kool-Aid you are embodying every obstacle they overcame and injustices we are continuing to overcome.

Your ancestors, my ancestors, they made some fucking deliciously iconic food from the scraps they had. Don’t be ashamed of eating a fruit, that white, Asian, Latin, hell all people equally enjoy. Furthermore, we need to stop worrying about what others think of us. We tell young children that all the time, ‘forget about what the others say,’ apply it to yourself. I’m not saying the words don’t hurt. I’m just saying they aren’t worth the energy because the legacy of our people speaks for itself across continents and generations. Stop worrying about what white people think of YOUR FOOD – OUR FOOD. 

At its simplest form, those people were intimidated by you to the point they shamed you for the food your ancestors ate for survival and some continue to shame us for just living. I mean look at the media, check the cookbooks – you’ve heard and seen the many incidents of cultural appropriation.

Yeah someone should be ashamed and it’s not Black people.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *