Yes, watermelon is awesome and chicken is arguably best when it’s fried. But not all associations with these foods are tasteful.
As much as we'd like to think everyone loves fried chicken and watermelon (perhaps not together), these delectables have been used as stereotypes against African-Americans for decades. They depict black people in degrading and demoralizing frames of reference and form ugly connotations that portray them as “lazy and simple.”
At least, that's how comedian and blogger Franchesca Ramsey puts it in a video published Wednesday. The three-minute video, titled “Are Fried Chicken and Watermelon Racist?” explores how these these stereotypes are racist and why their associations are harmful.
“When you automatically link fried chicken and watermelon with black people, you’re bringing all that baggage along with it, even if you don’t realize it,” Ramsey says in the clip.
The video is the first of a new MTV Web series Ramsey is hosting, titled “Decoded,” that will air on the brand's newly launched MTV News YouTube channel. Each week, Ramsey will take on race, social issues and pop culture with an honest and comedic spin.
“A show like ‘Decoded’ highlights why we need to break these subjects down, because there’s a lot of people who don’t understand and get uncomfortable when we talk about race,” Ramsey told The Huffington Post. “There’s still a lot of discomfort, there’s a lot people who need to learn things, but we’re trying to focus on people who are confused and want to learn and comedy helps to infiltrate that.”
To kickstart the series, Ramsey decided to explore the notorious racial stereotypes of watermelon and fried chicken. The labels formed around the foods are all too familiar -- and in case they’re not, you can count on Ramsey to remind you. She provides viewers a brief history of the stereotypes, and the ways they have been applied to African-Americans over the years, with examples that include Tiger Woods and even President Barack Obama.
“I think it’s a lot more impactful if [viewers] understand that this is just not my opinion,” Ramsey said. “It’s important to understand you can’t remove the historical context of racially charged stereotypes or slurs as much as we like to pretend that we can.”
Ramsey’s delivery is smart, funny and digestible. She has had success applying this approach in her past videos on race. Her 2012 YouTube video titled “Shit White Girls Say To Black Girls” went viral and amassed more than 11 million views and legions of fans who helped catapult Ramsey into one of the blogosphere's most vocal and empowering young voices. Her body of work also includes commentary on issues outside the realm of race, touching on body image, sexism and cultural appropriation.
“I just hope people can have some teachable moment or frame of reference for what they can do to treat other people better, have conversations about them and help educate people in their community,” Ramsey said.
If that means taking and slamming racist stereotypes that should have been eradicated years ago, then we say it’s a great place for the series to start.