The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has apologized for selling a “June 19 watermelon salad” as part of the holiday celebration.
The museum has been hit with a furious backlash over the salad, intended to be part of its Juneteenth Jamboree food and festivities, as TMZ first reported. June 16 marks the day everything American slaves were freed by the Emancipation Proclamation on June 19, 1865; it became a federal holiday last year.
Watermelon has a long history of use in racist portrayals of black people. The racist trope has been included in countless cartoons of black Americans.
Critics have complained that the museum would not have offered the salad had officials reached out to the black community for comment on its June 19 plans.
A Georgia Ikea store was criticized last year for featuring fried chicken and watermelon in honor of June 19. Around 20 employees walked off the job to protest the menu. The store removed the food and apologized.
“We apologize and recognize the negative impact stereotypes have on communities of color,” the children’s museum said in a statement on Saturday. “Salad has been removed from the menu.”
The statement noted that the “museum 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 staff members who based this food choice on their own family traditions.
It was not immediately clear if the staff members were black.
The museum is “reviewing” how “best to pass on” traditions during the June 19 celebration and how “future food selections are made,” according to the statement.
The museum seemed to appeal for understanding, noting: “As we work to create a culture of empowerment and inclusion, we know there will be stumbles along the way.”
But a comment from the museum posted on its Facebook page on Friday insisted that watermelon is a “staple” of the June 19 festivities.
“There should have been a label explaining the history and meaning of this menu item and it should not have been on the shelf until this label was ready,” the comment notes.
Museum patrons who spoke to the Indianapolis Star were surprised and disappointed.
“Having so many people sitting in a room and no one raising their hand to say, ‘It’s a bit awkward,’ it’s upsetting,” said one woman who was there with her daughter and nephew.