INDIANAPOLIS – The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has come under fire for offering a prepackaged watermelon salad as part of its Juneteenth menu, an option criticized online as offensive after a photo of the salad circulated on social media.
The outcry at the photo circulated comes when the museum invites the public to its Juneteenth Jamboree, which features live performances and community artists.
Juneteenth is a holiday that celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. Although the Emancipation Proclamation declared the enslaved people free from January 1, 1863, news of the proclamation did not reach the enslaved people in Texas until June 19, 1865. It became a federal holiday in 2021.
“As a museum, we apologize and recognize the negative impact that stereotypes have on communities of color,” the museum said in a statement. “The salad has been removed from the menu. We are currently looking at how best to convey these stories and traditions during this year’s Juneteenth celebrations, as well as making changes to how future food selections will be made by our food service provider .”
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The museum said in its statement that its food service provider is using the food and beverage menu to commemorate and raise awareness for holidays like Juneteenth.
“The team that made this selection included their employees, who based these food choices on their own family traditions,” the museum said.
In response to a Facebook comment online, the museum explained that watermelon and other red foods are a staple of Juneteenth’s celebrations, including in the celebrations of the food court manager’s family.
“There should have been a label explaining the history and meaning behind this menu item and it shouldn’t have been on the shelf until that label was ready,” the museum said in its Facebook comment. “We understand how this seems without context and we apologize. We will immediately remove it from our food court until the plate is ready to accompany it.”
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Online critics still oppose the museum’s statement that red food is used during the Juneteenth celebration, arguing that the menu item was still selected with poor taste.
Watermelon as a favorite food among black people became a Jim Crow-era racist stereotype, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture. The racist trope was one of many that reduced black Americans to caricatures.
“As we work to create a culture of empowerment and inclusivity, we know there will be stumbling blocks along the way,” the museum said in a statement to the IndyStar. “As a museum, we have gone to great lengths to share the critical and diverse stories of a wide variety of individuals.”
Some black museum visitors on Saturday were disappointed but resigned themselves to mistakes like the museum’s in recognizing black heritage, saying a lack of education, sensitivity and awareness are to blame.
“To have so many people in a room and no one raises their hand to say, ‘This is a little awkward,’ is disturbing,” said Licey Smith, 32, of Indianapolis, who was there with her daughter and cousin.
Smith said she was stunned that the museum apparently believed people of color would be honored by the gesture.
“It’s not like if I saw that salad I’d say to the kids, ‘Oh, great, let’s buy it to celebrate Juneteenth,'” she said. “It shows that we are still not seen as who we are, but as stereotypes.”
Medoume Ndiaye, 27, said businesses and institutions were eager to celebrate Juneteenth without thinking about what it means.
“Looks like a money grab,” Ndiaye said. “They say something about items and feel like they’ve done their part. It just seems like not a single person of color had been in the room when this was decided.”
“Maybe they learn from it, take it on the chin and don’t do it anymore.”
Sean Magee, 37, called the incident “an uncool stereotype.”
“It’s a little disturbing and a little surprising that we’re still seeing this,” he said. “I don’t know what the thought process was.”
Eva True, 20, a white man from LaPorte, called the case “insensitive” but said the museum’s apologies should be accepted.
“At least they apologized and admitted they made a mistake,” he said.
And Patrick Bush, 36, of Indianapolis, who is black, said he didn’t see the salad on the menu as a problem.
“Context is important,” he says. “Everyone loves watermelon. I wouldn’t have been offended if I had seen it.”
Follow Amelia Pak-Harvey on Twitter: @AmeliaPakHarvey† Follow John Tuohy on Twitter: @John_Tuohy.