Implausible Deniability: Obama and the Watermelon Stereotype

John Christian Hopkins

Well, at least the Boston Herald had the decency to apologize for a blatantly racist cartoon involving President Barack Obama.
The cartoon is supposed to be a comment on the recent White House intruder—but one key word changed everything.
 That word was watermelon.
 The “intruder” is sitting in the tub as Obama is brushing his teeth and asks the president if he’s tried the watermelon-flavored toothpaste.

I’m sure some may think that the president is Irish—a wee laddie named Barack O’Bama—but you’d be wrong. It turns out that Obama is black. Who knew, right? 
Some want to blame the cartoonist for this racial fiasco; however the artist Jerry Holbert—who apparently has just arrived from Pluto—claims he never heard of the stereotype about blacks and watermelon.
 Holbert said he got the watermelon idea from his kid’s toothpaste tube. Completely innocent; and it sounded better than the original line: “Got any fried chicken?”

In the spirit of full disclosure, let me admit that I actually use Colgate’s watermelon-flavored toothpaste. But I’m not black, so it’d be like askIng me—an American Indian—If I use frybread flavor.

Is it reasonable that Holbert had never heard of this rather broad stereotype? How about every other editor at the Herald? 
Even at smaller papers the pages are proofed by several editors; It must be so at the Herald, too.
 After more than a quarter-century in the newspaper game, I can tell you that at most of the papers I’ve worked I was the only minority on staff. That means the chances of having a minority editor who would be more sensitive to an issue like this is low indeed. 
And then there’s the “blind” factor. I have some white friends who think the “race card,” as some call it, is a game, a “get out of jail free” pass. 

To them Trayvon Martin was a hoodlum; who knows what he was going to do with those Skittles and iced tea? Maybe he planned to mix up some Skittle meth? 
And what about Michael Brown in Ferguson? 
Or, for that matter, Viola Young in Tallahassee?
 She is the 61year-old, unarmed black woman who was tasered by Community Police Officer (!) Terry Mahan as she was walking away. Maybe he considered her backside a dangerous weapon?

With so many race-related incidents happening all around the country, maybe Mr. Holbert just forgot about that whole watermelon stereotype.

But let me ask you a question. 
Is that believable?

John Christian Hopkins is a member of the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island. He is the author of Carlomagno. He currently lives on he Navajo Reservation with his wife, Sararesa.

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