Here’s a random creepy fact: one of the tunes that float out of ice cream trucks all summer is a racist song called “Nigger Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!,” first recorded 1916 or before. Have a listen.
During slavery, the African population’s supposed taste for watermelon was used to suggest that they were stupid. As I wrote in an earlier post:
…defenders of slavery used the watermelon as a symbol of simplicity. African Americans, the argument went, were happy as slaves. They didn’t need the complicated responsibilities of freedom; they just needed some shade and a cool, delicious treat.
Googling around, I learned almost nothing about the song. It seems clear that it’s not an inside joke between Black people, making fun of the stereotype. Instead, it’s an earnest, intended-to-be-humorous song meant to make fun of Black people. But I could find little contextualizing information. I also don’t know if the tune was also set to other lyrics that were or weren’t racist.
Still, the fact that the tune is an ice cream truck classic reveals how our racist history is still part and parcel of our everyday lives.
Hat tip to Theodore Johnson.Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.