An Atlanta IKEA planned a lunch to “honor” Black Americans for Juneteenth. But it didn’t quite go as planned.
An email that was reportedly sent to employees last Friday said that the IKEA location would have a special menu on Juneteenth for workers that included fried chicken, watermelon, mac n cheese, “potatoe salad” [sic], collard greens, and candied yams.
CBS46 reporter Shon Gables tweeted a screenshot of the email:
What seemed to trigger the controversy most was the combination of fried chicken and watermelon.
White media and popular culture used the fruit to stereotype Black Americans during Reconstruction and it exploded in the Jim Crow era, writer and then-PhD candidate William R. Black reported in the Atlantic.
Although stereotypes around the fruit existed for other ethnicities prior to the 20th century, white media aligned it with Black Americans in response to their newfound emancipation, he wrote.
“Free black people grew, ate, and sold watermelons, and in doing so made the fruit a symbol of their freedom.” Black said. “Southern whites, threatened by blacks’ newfound freedom, responded by making the fruit a symbol of black people’s perceived uncleanliness, laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence. This racist trope then exploded in American popular culture, becoming so pervasive that its historical origin became obscure.”
Backlash to the IKEA menu was undoubtedly fiercer with no Black employees reportedly involved in its creation, making the menu appear more in line with this history of stereotyping than celebratory.
Off-camera, an employee told CBS46, “None of the coworkers who sat down to create the menu, no one was black.”
Thirty-three workers did not report to work on Juneteenth, though it’s unclear whether it was merely in observance of the holiday, in protest, or both. Either way, the workers’ absence appeared to motivate the store to share an amended menu that replaced the fried chicken with meatloaf and omitted watermelon. Though an employee shared with CBS that fried chicken was still served.
The IKEA store manager has since apologized for the incident, CBS reports.