This story is about a probationary firefighter. He has a name, but we’ll call him “the white guy”. He gets transferred to his station house. It is a tradition among the fire fighters that the new guy brings a gift. So the white guy brings a really big and juicy watermelon with a bow on top. Turns out most (but not all) of the other firemen were black.
I’m sure you can see the problem. The White Guy brings the Black Guys watermelon thus clearly making him a racist. It was a racist watermelon.
Some of the others complained and the new guy, a mere trainee, was let go. Fired on his first day of firefighting. The White Guy said, “…the melon was not intended to be a joke, but he also did not mean to offend anyone with it.” It is possible that he’s lying and his intention was to be racist. But, what if, just spit balling here, it was just a watermelon?
I get the reference of course. It’s stereotyping to say that black people like watermelon and fried chicken. They say he knew the racial make up of the fire station. I do understand that some people can use these old notions to mock or show disdain for others. I just wonder, what if that’s not what was happening in this case? There’s nothing in the story that indicates how the fire department came to the conclusion that that he needed to be fired. They say there was an investigation and it was determined his conduct was inappropriate for the workplace.
Also, there’s the fact that this stereotype isn’t really about race as much as it is about culture. Germans and sauerkraut, Irish and potatoes, Mexicans and tortillas, Swedes and their little red fish, that’s not about what color a person’s skin is. It’s about where they come from and the traditions of those places.
It seems there’s a point, and we may have already crossed it, that racial sensitivity is as harmful as the racism itself. A person lost their job over this watermelon so it seems the intent as well as the offense should be clear.
Robert Pattison, 41, a trainee firefighter assigned to a station in Detroit, was fired after bringing a watermelon as a gift for his colleagues despite knowing most of them were black.