Monday, October 9, 2017

Out of Africa: Watermelon (UPDATE)

A brand-new firefighter has been let go because of a gift he presented to his new firehouse.
DETROIT (WJBK) - Earlier this month, 41-year-old Robert Pattison [a white man] went to introduce himself to his fellow firefighters at Engine 55 at Joy and Southfield in Detroit. Second Battallion [sic] Chief Shawn McCarty calls it a tradition for firefighters. 
"It's not mandatory, it's voluntary," he says. "You come in bearing gifts. The usual gift is doughnuts, but you are allowed to bring whatever you want to bring in." 
And Pattison, a probationary firefighter, decided to bring a watermelon wrapped in a pink ribbon. We're told some African-American firefighters were instantly offended, since 90 percent of the people who work at Engine 55 are black.(…) 
Fire Commissioner Eric Jones says the Fenton native was officially discharged. 
In a statement Jones says: "There is zero tolerance for discriminatory behavior inside the Detroit Fire Department. On Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, at Engine 55, a trial firefighter (probationary employee) engaged in unsatisfactory work behavior which was deemed offensive and racially insensitive to members of the Detroit Fire Department.
My personal experience with watermelon and white people: whenever both have been in the same vicinity at the same time, I've had to ponder bogarting my way into the fray in order to get a slice before it’s all gone. But, I digress.

A friend of a friend posted a link on how watermelon stereotypes have morphed in America over a relatively short period of time, but I figure that the original reason for the association is this:
The watermelon is a flowering plant thought to have originated in southern Africa, where it is found growing wild. It reaches maximum genetic diversity there, with sweet, bland and bitter forms. In the 19th century, Alphonse de Candolle considered the watermelon to be indigenous to tropical Africa. Citrullus colocynthis is often considered to be a wild ancestor of the watermelon and is now found native in north and west Africa. However, it has been suggested on the basis of chloroplast DNA investigations that the cultivated and wild watermelon diverged independently from a common ancestor, possibly C. ecirrhosus from Namibia.
Like our ancestors, watermelon was, no doubt, part of the cargo. However, I suggest that, instead of worrying about the shame that watermelon association has induced in black Americans, we should embrace it as one of the good things brought to America and one of the few things on which most Americans -- most anyone -- can agree: watermelon is tasty and healthy.

Kenyan farmer Geoffrey Ndung'u tends to his crop. Cite.
Shame is powerful, obviously. And it’s much easier to inflict it than to free oneself from it. But, hopefully, this tiny bit of knowledge is more even more powerful.

UPDATE: Rank-and-file black Detroit firefighters stand up for Patti(n)son.
But Tuesday a social media post by Tadarius Spearman stuck up for Pattinson, including a group photo of him with other African-American firefighters.

"Just want to let everyone know he's a real amazing dude and it was all good intentions," he wrote. "And our entire class (is) supporting him in this. Especially us African-Americans and that's all that needs to be said. Stay up brother. #DFD
Well done, gentlemen.

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