Black Crime & Watermelons

An old drawing depicting a black man carrying two watermelons

The following is a response to an article entitled “On Watermelons and Black Criminality” by Prison Culture.

I’m black, and I hate watermelons..Sure, this is a strange way to start off a topic, but considering how the racial climate is experiencing global warming, maybe this will help give a lesson on the pollution causing it.

In the past and even today, there has been a stereotype going around about how black people adore watermelons. One could say that black folks see watermelons like gold or diamonds. For the longest, I’ve never understood this stereotype, or rather I should say that this one is unique among its cousins. Most African American stereotypes hype on our talent for athletics and anarchy. This one just breaks the barriers of nonsense further.

It wasn’t until I checked out an article by Prison Culture that wrote about the origins in the insatiable-lust-for-watermelons-in-black-folk stereotype. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it came from the notion of inherit black criminality:

What do black people and watermelons have to do with representations of black criminality you might ask? Good question. Actually a lot. As David Pilgrim who is the curator of the Jim Crow Museum points out, the association of black people and watermelons became a popular representation at the turn of the 20th century among white people. Thousands of postcards, advertisements, and figurines depicted black adults and children interacting with or actually representing watermelons. It is difficult to overstate how popular these images were and how enduring the stereotype is. The purpose of these watermelon images was to dehumanize black people and to represent them as contented, lazy, “coons.

These images have remained stagnant even to contemporary times with images of black people and watermelons sprouting from the mainstream media to the internet. Those of you who recall watching cartoons from the first half of the 20th century before they were banned or had certain scenes censored should remember cartoon characters in black face snacking hard on watermelons.

A still from an animated cartoon depicting a stereotypical black man enjoying a watermelon.

However, some images have emphasized that blacks love watermelons so much that they are willing to steal them. Some pictures have made that point loud and clear in the Old South.

These images have appeared in a variety of media soon after the emancipation, along with the popular belief that freed blacks in the south were more criminal prone than their white counterparts. This was the catalyst behind the Black Codes that were used as a form of white supremacist control over black bodies, and criminalizing them for nonviolent crimes, including theft and vagrancy. The objective was that to monitor and keep a watchful eye on black folks and to punish them as felons for misdemeanor crimes would drastically decrease black crime.

If this sounds familiar, it should. This is the same reason politicians and police use to support Stop and Frisk laws, putting more police on certain streets, establish stricter laws and penalties and building more prisons.

Prison Culture continues:

White people had an interest in portraying blacks as lazy, contented, and criminally inclined. This provided justification for punitive laws which could be used to re-enslave the newly freed blacks. Disseminating negative stereotypes about people performs valuable cultural work for those who would use their power to oppress others. Hitler and the Nazis created propaganda that sought to reinforce stereotypes of jews as sub-human. These representations laid the groundwork for claiming that their extermination was justified and even desirable.


23 thoughts on “Black Crime & Watermelons

  1. I hate watermelon too, but the stereotype comes from during slavery, especially in the south, the hot summers that slaves had to work in the fields watermelon hydrated them. But then this ugly stereotype perpetrated by white racist just took an ugly life of it’s own. Although, I have heard there are many benefits to eat watermelon. But I can’t stand the smell of it. It makes me gag.

      1. I’m Black, Southern and I HATE Watermelons. I tried to get the taste of them,but it tastes nasty to me…there is no real flavor in it. The only thing I eat with Watermelon flavoring in it is candy. My friends think it’s the best fruit that have ever came out. Far as I’m concerned , it’s all theirs.

        I’ve always wondered where the stereotype of Watermelons and Black people came from,now I know. It’s bad how something so innocent can be twisted into racism. I also think about friend. It’s amazing how that food is associated with Black people, because I couldn’t imagine the slaves getting it. Ironically ,a Black TV chef claims that the actual originators of it was White Southern people. We just cooked it. It’s amazing how they blame this stereotype on Black people.

  2. That is just like racist assholes to perpetrate an ugly stereotype with blacks loving watermelon so much they would steal. I see how in their depraved minds they would come up with something so ludicrous.

  3. Did you know that Hitler used America’s racist attitudes towards Blacks as a blueprint to exterminate the Jews? He destroyed the image of the Jews to justify the extermination of them. In America, the image of Blacks had to be negative in order to justify incarcerating and exterminating Blacks. It still happens today.

  4. SMH, pineapples are my favorite fruit not watermelon! I hate that stereotype and we are not all criminals. I am sick of the hate and stereotyping. When will it stop?

      1. Between all of my family, co-workers, kids I went to school with, etc. I’ve never known anyone who actually likes the stuff, except for white people.

        To me it tastes like nothing and I’ll gladly reach for an apple or a fresh tomato in its place. Same goes for chicken – no flavor unless you add something significant.

      2. My whole family likes them. I can’t stand them. I mean I’ll chew watermelon-flavored bubblegum and drink watermelon-flavored drinks, but that’s it lol.

  5. lol at the I hate watermelon ppl coming out with pitchforks. I like watermelon just like I like mango, blueberries, now I do love tangelos though lol. Any food we eat they can turn it against us. Omg black people eating salads and nuts look how less human they are. Omg blacks are drinking kale juice look how disgusting they are. We can’t win either way. It’s funny they tease us about chicken and watermelon but they love bacon and I don’t see people teasing them about it. Chicken and fish are more healthy than bacon ever will be. I see commercials of them eating bacon ice cream, bacon shish kabob, hot dog rolled in bacon.

  6. LOL again at the “I hate watermelon” crew! I don’t mind watermelon when it’s sweet, but I too appreciate most fruits and vegetables, and even more so especially as I age. I’ve found most of the foods that we African Americans are accused of enjoying, are even more so enjoyed by whites…especially in the south, so I never understood nor entertained the foolishness behind the stereotype. Whites also swarm to Popeye’s and KFC by the mass, and it’s not uncommon for me to see them at the grocery store alongside us assessing the freshness of their desired watermelon pick.

    On rare occasions I will eat fried chicken, but I usually enjoy it baked. I’ve had a taste for grape soda since childhood (I’ve only recently found out about that stereotype), even though it is not good for me,… however my child dislikes it and would prefer sprite. I’ve struggled intensely with attempting to become a vegan so sometimes watermelon is blended into my health drinks along with kale, spinach, and etc.,… and yes, I consume watermelon in the summer, but at the end of the day… I don’t owe anyone an explanation on what my appetite desires..

  7. I don’t hate watermelon, and I don’t eat it as much as I used to. But can now do without it and would never ever eat it in public nor would I eat fried chicken in public. You’d have to know me to understand why I don’t do certain things in public. It’s just best for all involved.

    Good article.

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