INDIANAPOLIS – The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis blames a lapse in vendor oversight for a controversial Juneteenth salad that set social media on fire earlier this month.
After the museum promoted its Juneteenth Jamboree in a Facebook post, a Facebook user posted a photo of a “Juneteenth Watermelon Salad,” an item that had made it onto the menu ostensibly to celebrate the U.S. federal holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves.
Jackson Moon, who posted the photo, called the salad racially insensitive. Another Facebook user took a screenshot of Moon’s post and replied to the museum’s post, resulting in a tidal wave of social media backlash.
Many commentors agreed that the watermelon salad promoted Black stereotypes and effectively served the exact opposite purpose of honoring the holiday.
The museum removed the item from the menu with the explanation that there “should have been a label explaining the history and meaning behind this menu item” and implied that it could bring the salad back.
The Children’s Museum has decided to permanently remove the item from the menu, which it said had been put out by a contracted food service provider.
“We want to say how deeply sorry we are for the hurt this situation has caused,” read a statement from the museum.
The Children’s Museum’s statement said the staff is “very intentional” about the content they develop for their exhibits and experiences, as well as the review process that goes on behind the scenes. In this case, the museum fell short.
“This situation has shown us that we need to expand this process beyond our exhibits and experiences and that we must be inclusive in this work.”
Since 2020, the museum has relied on a vendor to create thematic menu items for the food court. In this case, the label for the Watermelon Salad wasn’t reviewed by the staff.
“Through this, we learned a really hard lesson that oversight must play an important role in every museum relationship.”
The Children’s Museum promised a “more robust review process” for vendors and pledged the revised oversight process would be released to the public and communicated to vendors.
“We are an imperfect institution, but we are committed to improvement and will work tirelessly to regain your trust,” the museum said in a letter. “The entire museum family, from our staff and volunteers to our board of trustees, is fully dedicated to making this right.”
The Indianapolis NAACP responded with a statement:
“As news of Indianapolis Children’s Museum Juneteenth watermelon display captured the attention of the community, we at the NAACP view this as a teachable moment. In particular, we feel this moment allows us to learn the importance of context and perception in an organization’s message
“As we understand it, the caterer — a person of color — sought to embrace Juneteenth and how this event was honored within their own family. However, in trying to make the point, they missed the historic context of how watermelon has been used in racist ways to demean African-American people. In reality, the watermelon is a natural fruit for human beings, dating back more than 5,000 years to the Kalahari Desert in South Africa. Watermelon seeds and paintings have been discovered in Egyptian tombs more than 4,000 years old. The racist watermelon stereotype was perpetuated by white supremacists and blackface minstrel shows in the Jim Crow era, which portrayed Black people as overly fond of watermelon in ways that made them appear ignorant, simple-minded and lazy. While the caterer may have tried to convey a message of togetherness while enjoying a nutritious, healthy fruit, they miscalculated how the item would be perceived by the community within the museum’s Juneteenth celebration.
“We look forward to working with the Indianapolis Children’s Museum to increase awareness of the holiday and continue to share the traditions that bring us as a community closer together.”