Stay Woke is the New Watermelon

By Metro Councilman Kumar Rashad, JCPS teacher and KEA Board Member

“Stay Woke” as a phrase is the new watermelon.  Most of us have heard about the demonization of Black people by the media and society during the Jim Crow era.  According to the digital magazine, before the Jim Crow era, the watermelon “…symbolized black self-sufficiency…” (Black, 2014) According to National Geographic, the watermelon originated in Africa thousands of years ago.  (Strauss, 2015)  The states that this wonderful fruit was brought over from African and transported with Africans across the transatlantic during the slave trade. (Cheyenne, 2022)

The following is an excerpt from the article that demonstrates how Black people became disenfranchised due to media attacks on Black culture and ways of being:

“…Throughout the Jim Crow era, smear campaigns involving African Americans eating watermelon began to be spread, partially as a form of bigotry, but also as an attempt to squash African American businesses. Ads and ephemera used images of African Americans “stealing, fighting over, or sitting in streets eating watermelon,” in an effort to “shame Black watermelon merchants,” according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Degrading African Americans by way of watermelon also acted as a ploy to derail Black people from gaining and sustaining positions of power…” (Cheyenne, 2022)

And just as the colonizers and enslavers of Africans from Europe and the Americas imposed their will and promoted a myriad of false beliefs of Africans, the same tactics exist today.  This white supremacist tactic of demonizing Black people or their coveted items was used to deprive Black people of self-love and self-pride by replacing these values with right wing media depictions of Black people as lazy and animal-like while they were eating watermelons. 

In fact, the watermelon was a source of income and pride for the enslaved during slavery and especially for the newly freed people after the Emancipation Proclamation.  (Cheyenne, 2022)  But a Jim Crow nation cannot let Black folks gain independence and heaven forbid if these Black people want self-efficacy.  Plessy v. Ferguson had already set a precedent by establishing separate and unequal legal and social status laws that reinforced the second-class citizenship of African Amercians. (Zucchino, Wilmington’s Lie : The Murderous Coup Of 1898 And The Rise Of White Supremacy, 2020)

The quote, “Stay Woke” is now the new watermelon.  ‘Woke’ was originally used in 1923 by Marcus Garvey according to the Legal Defense Fund. (Robinson,, 2022)  Marcus Garvey encouraged Black people to wake up and understand the social and legal issues that affected them.  The Legal Defense Fund also shares how this word has been used by Black authors and artists alike.  In every context, it is used as a source of Black pride and Black awareness just like the watermelon used to be.

In many instances throughout history people have used this phrase “Stay Woke”, “Wake up”, or variations to warn against injustices in society.  Many times the injustices are racial or social justice issues.  

It is human nature for one to protect him or herself.  As a youth I was a martial artist and earned my black belt during college.  My Sensei was a Black Grandmaster from Lexington, Kentucky and he taught us that the first rule of self-defense is to protect yourself at ALL TIMES.  This is the true meaning of “Stay Woke” which is that Black Folks and others should protect themselves at all times.  An educated person does not believe everything she or he is told and awareness is very important to survival.  How can one be aware if he or she is sleeping physically or mentally?

So just like the fate of the watermelon, right wing politicians like DeSantis in Florida and Republican legislators in Kentucky use the words “Stay Woke” to demonize Black political agendas by creating false narratives of what the words mean.  None of them appear to have any idea what the phrase “Stay Woke” means but they redefine this phrase as an educational attack on white children and white professionals. This parallels how the watermelon was deviously used to convey that Black people were animalistic in the depictions that displayed us as lazy savages who eat watermelons and plan attacks on white people.

It is a shame that a phrase that is used to promote Black awareness and Black representation in our democracy is being bastardized by a political party of people. So now as a Black person I am demonized if I eat watermelon or if I am woke. It is ironic how eating watermelon and being “woke” or aware are both healthy options. So I will emphatically declare that I will choose to have good health both physically (eat fresh foods like watermelon) and mentally (stay woke by feeding my mind as much information about the world around me as possible) as a priority despite the racist rhetoric I am constantly being fed by politicians. This is exactly the reason we must “Stay Woke”!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s