Fruit baskets can be pretty great, though as far as gifts go, they're usually a bit of an afterthought. But despite their seemingly innocuous nature—fruit and basket—they aren't always perceived as harmless.
A group of seniors in a Houston-area high school band are in trouble after a fruit basket they gifted to another high school band at a football game was deemed racist by the recipients.
Last Friday, the Atascocita High School Eagles played their rivals, the Summer Creek High School Bulldogs, with both schools part of the Humble Independent School District. It's tradition for school representatives to exchange gifts at the start of the game as a gesture of good sportsmanship. Atascocita gave the band from the opposing team a plastic Halloween pumpkin basket containing a watermelon, a coconut, a can of pineapple, and a pack of watermelon gum.
But after taking a closer look at the slightly unusual collection of fruity gifts, Summer Creek students felt the gift was racist. After the schools reviewed the incident, the students that presented the offending fruit basket were suspended from band performances for the rest of the football season and put in in-school suspension for up to three days. The suspended students say they didn't intend for the fruit basket to be perceived as offensive or racist, and have apologized.
"We weren't being racist towards them," senior Carolina Andaverde, who plays flute, told ABC 13 KTRK the day before. "We didn't do anything wrong … We wouldn't do that because we know better than that. Our parents raised us better."
"I'm mixed (race)," senior Alyssa Taylor said. "I don't take offense to that. How can someone else take offense?"
"If they took it that way, we're sorry," Andaverde said. "We didn't mean any harm."
But Summer Creek students felt differently.
"If (the recipients of the basket) find it racist, then that is their perception, and you can't invalidate the feelings of someone," Summer Creek senior Briget Davies told ABC 13 KTRK. "So I would say it's race involved."
William Daniels, principal of Atascocita, wrote an email to the parents of the students explaining their punishment. "My investigation did not lead me to believe that the students were engaging in racial harassment, but their actions were inappropriate given the context," Daniels wrote. He then suspended the students from performances and dished out in-school suspensions. A Change.org petition with nearly 1,500 signatures sought to overturn the suspensions, though its creator has asked people to stop signing the petition because "there are a lot of kids getting in trouble."
Before the incident, there had been existing racial tension between the schools. Students at Summer Creek High School told KTRK that at a recent volleyball game, Atascocita students sang chants that joked about "welfare," implying that students at Summer Creek were recipients, and included the lines "We have real hair," and "Where's your daddy?"
KTRK's correspondent speaking to the Summer Creek students called the watermelon in question a "small deformed watermelon."
Watermelon is often tied to racism and racial insensitivity, a derogatory symbol used to portray African-Americans in a negative light. This year, a cartoon in the Boston Herald was lambasted for showing a scene in which the White House fence-jumper offered President Obama watermelon toothpaste. On a march to Ferguson, protestors of the killing of Michael Brown encountered the Confederate flag flying near a display of fried chicken, watermelon, and a 40-ounce beer bottle in the town of Rosebud. And a New York City pizzeria recently found itself under fire for offering a "Pic-A-Nika" pizza that featured toppings such as "Southern fried chicken, sea-salted watermelon, and a crust made of sunflower seeds."
The Humble Independent School District (ISD) issued a statement addressing the allegedly racist fruit basket:
"It is a tradition for student representatives of competing schools to exchange gifts on the field at varsity football games. On Friday, students from one school presented students from the other school with a watermelon, a pineapple, a coconut, and watermelon gum. On Monday, school administrators conducted an investigation and after considering the totality of circumstances, determined that the gift was inappropriate and lacked good sportsmanship. Atascocita High School will not tolerate racial insensitivity."
The district declined to comment further on the nature of the suspensions. "School officials are very limited when it comes to discussing student disciplinary action due to federal privacy laws," Jamie Mount, Director of Public Information at Humble IDS, told MUNCHIES.
Summer Creek high students, meanwhile, say they have accepted their rivals' apology, and hope it's a learning experience for those involved. Unfortunately, they lost the football game to Atascocita, 49-27.