Retail furniture giant Ikea finds themselves in hot water over serving fried chicken and watermelon for Juneteenth. This particular incident happened at their Atlanta, Georgia store. Apparently, the food was for the employees and was catered at the store. An immediate backlash was the reaction from employees and outsiders who heard about it. People were offended that the “stereotypical” foods were served on a day special to blacks. Chicken and watermelon as food items have been used as stereotypes to attack black people in the past.
An Ikea employee spoke to local Atlanta news under the condition of anonymity. They said that Ikea should have known better to serve watermelon because slaves were fed that same food during slavery. This line of reasoning does not make much sense because slaves ate all types of food, including everyday food like chicken, pork, and beef. This is the basis of what is called “soul food” today in the United States. It is also the basis of Southern Cuisine, which is not race-specific at all. Fried chicken is a food that everyone tends to enjoy equally.
The manager of this Ikea location responded to the controversy with a statement, and the message found within that statement is probably the honest truth. The statement, in part, reads as follows:
“I truly apologize if the menu came off as subjective. It was created with the best of intentions by a few of our coworkers who believed they were representing their culture and tradition with these foods of celebration.”
The statement from Ikea points toward this being created (and probably prepared) by black employees of the store. There may have even been a black-owned catering company that provided the food. Soul Food restaurants are everywhere in the South. As mentioned earlier, fried chicken and watermelon are foods that are simply part of southern cuisine. The Atlanta Ikea location also served collard greens, candied yams, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and a few other items.
Knee-jerk reactions to label everything as “racist” are unfortunately part of modern culture. Racist depictions of blacks eating watermelon do exist and they are part of history, but racist propaganda should not prevent people from eating food that they enjoy. Nor should the 100-year-old propaganda be used to attack a Swedish company that allows their black employees to craft a menu that suits their tastes and traditions.