IKEA slammed as Georgia store menu lists fried chicken, watermelon on Juneteenth

As many as 33 workers reportedly didn’t show up in response to the 'racist' menu, causing the store’s manager to apologize via internal email


                            IKEA slammed as Georgia store menu lists fried chicken, watermelon on Juneteenth
(Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

Juneteenth is now a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, celebrated on June 19. But an attempt to honor this day backfired badly for one Georgia Ikea.

A menu of an Ikea store in Atlanta angered Black employees who called it insensitive. As per CBS News, many didn't show up for work on Saturday, Juneteenth, and some even thought about quitting.

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An Ikea store is pictured as customers await opening on June 01, 2020 in Reading, United Kingdom (Photo by Warren Little/Getty Images)

Employees under the condition of anonymity said the special menu for customers and employees was one way to "honor the perseverance of Black Americans and acknowledge the progress yet to be made," on Juneteenth. The menu, however, included items such as fried chicken, watermelon, mac and cheese, and collard greens.

"You cannot say serving watermelon on Juneteenth is a soul food menu when you don't even know the history — they used to feed slaves watermelon during the slavery time," one employee said. “It caused a lot of people to be upset. People actually wanted to quit. People weren’t coming back to work.” As many as 33 workers reportedly didn’t show up in response, causing the store’s manager to apologize via internal email.

“She said, ‘I truly apologize. The menu came off [offensive],’” the employee said. Employees also said that the controversy could have been easily avoided if only people of color had been included in the team that chose the menu — they alleged not a single Black person was in that team. CBS News said the manager’s apology said, "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."

President Joe Biden signs the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law in the East Room of the White House on June 17, 2021 in Washington, DC (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

As per reports, the following day, the store manager said that a new, revised menu was released that included collard greens, cornbread, mashed potatoes, and meatloaf. "I'm just frankly disappointed in the learning process — you shouldn't learn after you have insulted all of your Black employees," said one employee anonymously.

"We value our co-workers’ voices and changed the menu after receiving feedback that the foods that were selected are not reflective of the deeply meaningful traditional foods historically served as part of Juneteenth celebrations," an Ikea spokeswoman said. "We are committed to educating ourselves and putting a process in place that will allow us to thoughtfully honor Juneteenth in the future."

Why are fried chicken and watermelon seen in racial light?

As per Claire Schmidt, a professor at the University of Missouri who studies race and folklore, chickens had long been a part of Southern diets, but they had particular utility for slaves. They were cheap, easy to feed, and a good source of meat. But as per her, what played a part in solidifying fried chicken as a Black stereotype was ‘Birth of a Nation’, a 1915 silent film made by DW Griffith — it has often been called “the most reprehensibly racist film in Hollywood history.”

The movie about the supposedly heroic founding of the Ku Klux Klan featured a scene portraying Black elected officials acting rowdy and crudely in a legislative hall. Some of the legislators are shown drinking. Others had their feet kicked up on their desks. And one of them was eating fried chicken. "That image really solidified the way White people thought of Black people and fried chicken," Schmidt told NPR in 2013.

The theatrical poster for 'Birth of a Nation' (Wikimedia Commons)

Schmidt also said fried chicken and watermelon’s mainstay in racist depictions of Black people come from the way it is consumed. "It's a food you eat with your hands, and therefore it's dirty," Schmidt said. "Table manners are a way of determining who is worthy of respect or not."

William R Black of The Atlantic, however, explained in 2014 that the stereotype that African Americans are excessively fond of watermelon emerged “for a specific historical reason and served a specific political purpose”. Black wrote that the trope came in full force when slaves won their emancipation during the Civil War. Free Black people grew, ate and sold watermelons, and in doing so made the fruit a symbol of their freedom. 

Southern Whites, he explained, threatened by Black people’s newfound freedom, responded by making the fruit a symbol of Black people’s perceived “uncleanliness, laziness, childishness and unwanted public presence.” The author said that this racist trope subsequently exploded in American popular culture, “becoming so pervasive that its historical origin became obscure. Few Americans in 1900 would’ve guessed the stereotype was less than half a century old.”

Is Ikea racist?

On Twitter, the furniture retail company was called out. “I don't buy for a second that IKEA didn't know that this menu was racist. How racist do you have to be to live in Atlanta, and not find ONE Black person to run this by? Or like, even a slightly progressive whitey who could have told you that this was some bullshit?” one person tweeted.

Another person wrote on Twitter, “SO IKEA decides to celebrate JUNETEENTH by serving fried chicken, mac & cheese, watermelon & collard greens.  YOU IGNORANT ASSHOLES. & the people who came up w this racist idea - NOT 1 WAS BLACK. But like always they apologized - SIRA = Standard Issued Racist Apology. FU IKEA.”

Actor Nyambi Nyambi, famous for his regular role in ‘The Good Fight’ tweeted, “I mean, this is how you know racists can’t help themselves. Very easily could’ve done the list out of order, (still racist, okay) but to lead your menu with fried chicken THEN watermelon as your Top 2 food items…for Juneteenth?! C’mon man!”