Is Madonna Ignorant About The Racist Watermelon Trope Or Is She Trying To Be Provocative With Her Black Children?
I don’t have to tell you that Madonna is known for pushing the envelope. From the lyrics in her songs, the visuals associated with her projects, writhing around on stage. It’s her thing.
But Madonna hasn’t been even one of the most popular artists in at least three decades. And from all evidence, it seems that she misses the attention that position provided. I can only assume that it’s the reason she keeps pulling these stunts at her big age. She’s grasping for attention. What’s different about these most recent publicity stunts though is that they involve her children.
In 2014, she hopped on Instagram to call her then-13-year-old son Rocco, who is White, the N-word. She posted an image of her son working out and wrote this in the caption: “No one messes with Dirty Soap. Mama said knock you out! #dis[n-word]”
When people of all walks of life confronted the pop icon about her usage of the word, she responded defensively. “Ok let me start this again. #get off my dick haters!”
Days later, she eventually apologized.
“I am sorry if I offended anyone with my use of the N-word on Instagram. It was not meant as a racial slur…I am not a racist. There’s no way to defend the use of the word. It was all about intention…It was used as a term of endearment toward my son who is white. I appreciate that it’s a provocative word and I apologize if it gave people the wrong impression. Forgive me.”
But it doesn’t seem that she’s done with her old ways.
Recently, Madonna shared some questionable images of her two Black daughters on her SnapChat.
I think many of us are aware of the racist propaganda that connected watermelon and Black folk. According to racist lore, Black people had an insatiable appetite for watermelon and the fruit was featured in racist imagery going back to the 1800s. And the racist trope has not stopped in modern times. In 2014, The Atlantic wrote about the history of this racist trope, describing ways it had been used in the 21st century. The Boston Herald published a cartoon showing a fence-jumper offered then-President Obama watermelon-flavored toothpaste. A high school football coach was fired after his post game ritual of smashing watermelon and making ape sounds came to light. Activists protesting the shooting death of Mike Brown were confronted by malt liquor, fried chicken, a Confederate flag and a watermelon.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) explained in a series of tweets that after emancipation, African Americans began growing and selling watermelon. They were easy to grow and more importantly, it was a way to establish themselves economically outside of the institution of slavery. It was a symbol of freedom. Naturally, White folks weren’t happy about the business and sought to demonize Black folk and the watermelon mean to provide self-sufficiency. White folks started associating Black folks eating watermelon with poverty, “a feast for the unclean, lazy and child-like.” According to The Atlantic, unclean because eating watermelon can be messy and sticky. Lazy because it was easy to grow. And child-like because the fruit is sweet, colorful with very little nutritional value—like candy. Images were developed to depict Black people stealing and fighting over watermelon and eating them in the street.
It was a strategic campaign that worked. The images lingered and Black folk —while we never gave up eating watermelon— we can particular about how we were seen doing it. It was one of those things you didn’t do in front of White folk. I was born a century and some after Emancipation and I still learned about Black folks and this racist watermelon trope—though I never knew where it came from.
So back to Madonna. It is possible that she was simply trying to participate in the Watermelon Dress Challenge. It’s where people—mostly White people— bite slices of watermelon into shapes that look like clothing when you hold them up to people. Maybe this is what Madonna was attempting to do. But if so, she didn’t do that great of a job. The other pictures are shaped to fit the body. Madonna’s pictures just look like someone took a random small bite out of a watermelon and held it up to her daughters’ bodies.
There is a chance she doesn’t know about the trope. But living in this country as long as she has, being around diverse groups of people for several decades, reading the news stories that I mentioned earlier, I would be surprised if she never heard of this trope. But adopting Black children and not knowing this is a problem in and of itself. I honestly think this was another way to get people to talk about her. Madonna has done this forever but what’s particularly sick about this is that the stunts are racist in tone and are done and shared at the expense of her Black children.