Monday, March 02, 2009

the more things change...

The mayor of a small Southern California city says he will resign after being criticized for sharing an e-mail picture depicting the White House lawn planted with watermelons under the title "No Easter egg hunt this year." Chicken, watermelon even ribs are a part of the American diet that's true, and people of all colors enjoy them at picnics. But there was a time when impoverished and enslaved blacks could have only the most meager of provisions, including chicken, watermelons and pork parts such as scrappel, because that's all they got after plantation owners threw scraps at them.

These became stereotypical symbols of black America -- people who could only afford to eat what was left over. That in turn became how many jokingly looked at blacks and was soon tied to images of little black sambo, pickaninnies and others. Couple that with the association of blacks with monkeys, as simian creatures are native to Africa (but not exclusively), and it creates an entirely new level of institutionalized racism: bigotry through mass-mediated culture.

Personally, I have had plenty of my share of chicken and watermelon and all those kinds of jokes. I honestly don't understand where the mayor was coming from. Why is it when people use caricatures, cartoons and illustrations of things that are clearly construed as racially insensitive, they sheepishly grin and say they "didn't mean it as anything racial"? Don't get me wrong, if anyone has a sense of humor about their culture it's black folks. But to just use a stereotype as a joke is trite and thoughtless. It is not funny and it NEVER has been...!

"If a white man falls off a chair drunk, it's just a drunk. If a Negro does, 
it's the whole damn Negro race"

~Bill Cosby

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