The Museum of fine arts in Boston is feeling the heat after a group of seventh-grade honor students from the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy reveals its account of harassment and racial slurs. Their visit served as a reward for high academic achievement. Ms. Marvelyne Lamy, a seventh grade English teacher said that the visit was scheduled to enhance what the students learned in their history class.
Unfortunately, the visit emphasized a darker side of our U.S. history with alleged racial slurs taking center stage. Lamy said that her students were treated differently than white students who were also visiting the museum. Lamy also claims that a museum staffer allegedly made the “no food, no drink, no watermelon” during an overview of museum expectations.
Lamy shared her observations on social media citing that her students were followed relentlessly by security, accosted for touching displays that white students also touched without recourse.
Several of the students had their own accounts of racism at the museum which they shared with their school principal, Mr. Arthur J. Forrest. A young female student alleges that a museum patron told her that she needed to pay attention during the tour so she could avoid being a stripper. The museum apologized via an open letter.
In the letter, the museum executives they pledged to conduct an investigation into the incident and said that Makeeba McCreary, the museum's chief of Learning and Community Engagement, has been in contact with Coblyn.
"We want to apologize specifically to the students, faculty, and parents of the Davis Leadership Academy," the museum's letter concluded. "We deeply regret any interactions that led to this outcome and are committed to being a place where all people trust that they will feel safe and treated with respect. We look forward to ongoing conversation and commit to using this situation as an opportunity to learn and create a culture of unwavering inclusion."
It is unfortunate that this story and others are quickly becoming our new normal. But moments like these can become teachable moments for those who would dare think, that the watermelon comment is not a racial slur.
Let’s go back in time, 1863 to be exact. Watermelons were grown, eaten, and sold by enslaved people who were emancipated during the Civil War. However, white southern felt threatened by this legal act of freedom and responded by making watermelon a symbol of black people’s perceived laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence.
Those that defended slavery planted a narrative that African American were simple-minded and happy when provided with watermelons and rest. That narrative was planted in the deep soil of this country and it manifested hate through minstrel shows, film, newspapers, and tv, permeating every part of our society for decades. A beautiful fruit that God created, and African Americans sold was transformed into a symbol of hate for an entire race of people. And just when you think the narrative died cities like Boston and others remind us that seeds of hate are still being planted and watered in our communities and institutions of learning.