A children’s museum in Indiana is apologizing for offering “Juneteenth watermelon salad” at an upcoming event intended to celebrate the holiday.
The pre-prepared and packaged salad, which was intended to be served at a “Juneteenth Jamboree” held by the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis on June 18, has been pulled from the menu following backlash from some who saw the food option as offensive.
While the museum says its inclusion on the menu was well-intentioned, many felt it played into racist stereotypes about Black people. And to offer it at a Juneteenth celebration — a holiday celebrating, in part, the end of slavery in the U.S. and Texas in particular — some considered doubly insulting.
“So y’all decided ‘hey let’s celebrate by perpetuating offensive stereotypes.’ Y’all really thought this was a good idea?” one person commented on the museum’s June 3 post.
“Juneteenth isn’t a holiday to ‘celebrate’ with salad. Acknowledge the suffering of Black Ancestry in the US,” said another. “Don’t use it to sell anything. It’s offensive to even try to turn a profit from it.”
During the Jim Crow era, and to some extent beyond it, Black Americans were frequently caricatured in degrading ways, and often depicted eating watermelons in those same caricatures, experts say. Through this, a longstanding and insulting association was established in American society between Black people and the fruit — one that persists to this day.
Initially, the museum apologized for not providing enough context to go along with the packaging.
“There should have been a label explaining the history and meaning behind this menu item and it should not have been on the shelf before that label was ready,” the museum said “We are pulling it from our food court immediately until the sign is ready to accompany it.”
The museum added that “a lot of research goes into the food choices we make for special events. Watermelon, along with other red foods, are a staple of Juneteenth Celebrations, including our food court manager’s family Juneteenth celebrations.”
But proper context wouldn’t fix the problem, critics responded. Watermelon was an offensive choice regardless, they said.
Later, the museum said in a release that it would be getting rid of the salad altogether.
“As a museum, we apologize and acknowledge the negative impact that stereotypes have on Black communities. We are currently reviewing how we may best convey these stories and traditions during this year’s Juneteenth celebration as well as making changes around how future food selections are made by our food service provider,” the release said.
“We resolve to do better, and continue bringing all voices forward in our work.”
While Juneteenth has been celebrated by many for years, it only became recognized as an official national holiday in 2021.