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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.