INDIANAPOLIS — The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has come under fire for offering a pre-packaged 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 outrage over the circulated photo comes as the museum invites the public to its Juneteenth Jamboree, which features live performances and community artists.
Juneteenth is a holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. Although the Emancipation Proclamation declared enslaved people free beginning Jan. 1, 1863, news of the proclamation did not reach enslaved people in Texas until June 19, 1865. It became a federal holiday in 2021.
“As a museum, we apologize and acknowledge 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 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.”
‘Cheap copycat’: Walmart pulls Juneteenth ice cream after critics call it insensitive
The museum said in its statement that its food service provider uses the food and beverage menu to commemorate and raise awareness of holidays like Juneteenth.
“The team that made this selection included their staff members, who based this choice of food on their own family traditions,” the museum said.
In response to one Facebook comment online, the museum explained that watermelon and other red foods are a staple of Juneteenth celebrations, including in the food court manager’s family’s celebrations.
“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 in its Facebook comment. “We understand how this appears with no context and we apologize. We are pulling it from our food court immediately until the sign is ready to accompany it.”
What’s everyone talking about?:Sign up for our trending newsletter to get the latest news of the day
Critics online still pushed back against the museum’s explanation that red foods are featured in Juneteenth celebrations, arguing that the menu item was still selected in poor taste.
Watermelon as a favorite food among Black people became a racist stereotype from the Jim Crow era, according to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture. The racist trope was among several that reduced Black Americans to caricatures.
“As we work to create a culture of empowerment and inclusivity, we know there will be stumbles along the way,” the museum said in its statement to the IndyStar. “As a museum, we have put a significant effort behind sharing the critical and diverse stories of a wide range of individuals.”
Some Black museum patrons Saturday were disappointed but resigned to mistakes like the museum’s in recognizing Black heritage, and said a lack of education, sensitivity and awareness are to blame.
“To have that many people sit in a room and no one raises their hand to say, ‘This is kind of awkward,’ is upsetting,” said Licey Smith, 32, of Indianapolis, who was there with a her daughter and nephew.
Smith said she was dumbfounded that the museum apparently believed that people of color would be honored by the gesture.
“It’s not like if I saw that salad, I would say to the kids, ‘Oh great, let’s buy it to celebrate Juneteenth,’” she said. “It shows we are still not looked at as who we are but rather as stereotypes.”
Medoume Ndiaye, 27, said corporations and institutions were eager to celebrate Juneteenth without putting thought into what it means.
“It seems like a money grab,” Ndiaye said. “They slap the word on items and feel they have done their part. It just seems like if a single person of color had been in the room when this was decided, it wouldn’t have gone forward.”
“Maybe they learn from it, take it on the chin and don’t do it again.”
Sean Magee, 37, called the incident “an uncool stereotype.”
“It’s a little upsetting and a little surprising that we still see this,” he said. “I don’t know what the thought process was.”
Eva True, 20, a white man from LaPorte, called the matter “insensitive” but said the museum’s apology 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 said. “Everyone likes watermelon. I wouldn’t have been offended if I saw it.”
Follow Amelia Pak-Harvey on Twitter: @AmeliaPakHarvey. Follow John Tuohy on Twitter: @John_Tuohy.