Jacqueline Woodson published an article 'The Pain of the Watermelon Joke' in The NY Times, OpEd. Nov.29. 2014. It deals with the painful stereotyping of the black people in the US, the watermelon jokes being one of many. I hereby would like to muse on that topic and extend on it a little bit.
I am an immigrant from Russia, first generation, and watermelons were and still remain my favorites, although here, in the US I do not eat them. I grew up in Ukraine, famous for the juicy and sweet Kherson watermelons, the darker, smaller types with thick stripes. Those were seasonal; they first appeared in August or September and were sold from huge motor- crates. They cost nearly nothing and with a piece of fresh rye bred and a cup of tea one hefty piece of watermelon, dripping with juice would constitute a healthy lunch. We collected the seeds, dried them and ate those too- that would be a traditional family treat. Another cherished childhood reminiscence is the ritual of 'killing' the watermelon. After being washed and placed on the big plate in the middle of the table it was customary for a father or a male in the family to pick a big knife and stick it into the fruit while looking sideways, not directly at it. If you heard the cracking sound that would mean it was ripe and it usually meant sweetness. Doctors recommended watermelons as perfect urinal tract cleansers and detox.
Big, respectful and more costly watermelons came from Astrakhan on Volga or from Uzbekistan. Those were the kings of watermelons- lighter, with narrower stripes and usually a little over - ripened due to transportation. Those we bought only for special occasions and as gifts. I remember buying one on the market for my future wife. We treated it as a King's meal. It was customary to brew a very strong tea to accompany it and enjoy it slowly, with proper elegance, although it was the traditional food of the very poor; in the old Russia those fruit were frequently used to feed vagrants and convicts. It was healthy though and we protected the leftovers from flies who would come in clouds. Those were great times; watermelon was a sun- fruit - no chemicals were allowed, ever.
In the US I cannot eat it; whatever watermelon I tasted left a burning sensation in my mouth. They are full of chemicals, mostly nitrates used to enhance the growth. They are also always either not ripe enough or over- ripened - never good, even the organic ones. They are tasteless and difficult to eat, the 'meat' is too sturdy. There is no fun, so if Mrs. Woodson feels allergic to that fruit - good for her; I can assure her, she has not lost much.
Thus watermelon as a 'fruit of the poor' is not a new concept to me. The new aspect to me was it being stereotyped as a 'food of the blacks'. I would speculate that white poor also ate watermelons in the US; when you are poor being finicky is the last of your vices. Still, for some strange reason, that innocent fruit became the symbol of the 'black primitivism' a schism, defining an ethnic group of simpletons, not capable of any reasonable sophistication. That is very odd for me also maybe because in Russia, even in the darkest times, poor people were never considered primitive; desolate- maybe, ignorant- obviously, incapable- sometimes, but never savage, never designated for an eternal life of the second- hand creatures. Russia never was a racist country before; it picked it up only now, together with the Soros's textbooks and NGOs. At the same time, as a former multinational Empire , Russia is not a stranger to negative food-people stereotypes. Here are the most notorious ones:
- Russians- compulsive vodka- drinkers
- Ukrainians- gluttonous lard- eaters
- Jews- smelly garlic - consumers
- Armenians- fat meet- eaters
- Chuckchas ( Siberian natives) - stupid fish- eaters
- Georgians- greedy orange - growers and sellers
- Byelorussians - primitive potato - eaters.
- Moldovans- simple- minded mamaluga (corn cereal, like grits)-eaters
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