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Food by VICE

This Restaurant's MLK Day Special of Fried Chicken and Watermelon Didn't Go Over Super Well

Pyle said that she wanted to “have some fun” on Martin Luther King Day, because what’s better than a zany celebration to honor the late civil-rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner who was assassinated in 1968?

by Jelisa Castrodale
Jan 18 2017, 10:00pm

Photo via Flickr user T.Tseng

I hate to generalize, but if you're being forced to tell a media outlet that you're not racist, it's usually because you've done something that is pretty damn racist by most standards. Just ask Sabrina Pyle, the owner of the Azle Cafe in Azle, Texas.

Pyle said that she wanted to "have some fun" on Martin Luther King Day, because what's better than a zany celebration to honor the late civil-rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner who was assassinated as he stood on his hotel balcony in 1968? But then, her already misguided efforts took a hard right from "possibly well-meaning" to "what the actual fuck?"

Pyle's idea of a super-fun Martin Luther King Day was to offer a lunch special of chicken and waffles with a side of watermelon. No, really. And because this is the 21st century racism, she even advertised it on Facebook with both a chicken leg and a watermelon emoji. "I was trying to do it on a celebratory level, like I would do on Cinco de Mayo with tacos or like I'd do on Thanksgiving with turkey," Pyle told MUNCHIES. "I didn't think it through, no."

Sure, Sabrina. Sigh. The hateful trope connecting African-Americans and watermelons dates back to post-Emancipation America, when bitter former slave owners were upset that now-freed slaves were allowed to eat and sell watermelon. Many slave owners had served the fruit to their slaves, and expected them to be grateful for it, to eat it under their supervision and—in some cases—to literally run to accept it. But, after those slaves were freed, these terrifically awful white men saw this continued enjoyment of watermelon as a way of taunting their former owners, and, as a result, they attempted to subvert its meaning.

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"Southern whites, threatened by blacks' newfound freedom, responded by making the fruit a symbol of black people's perceived uncleanliness, laziness, childishness, and unwanted public presence," The Atlantic wrote in its exploration of the stereotype's origins. "This racist trope then 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."

And now it has surged for more than 150 years, although Pyle claims innocence—or ignorance. "I didn't know about the watermelon thing until I read the story on Channel 8 news this morning," she said. "I had no clue the symbolization [sic] of watermelon."

Image via Yelp

Image via Yelp

The addition of watermelon to the proposed MLK Day lunch special seems curious, then, especially because she told us that watermelon would normally only be part of a special during the summer months. Regardless, she claims that she deleted her Facebook post almost immediately, when a friend called and expressed concern that it might be offensive.

"Somebody else that was bored with their time took a screenshot to share it and created this nightmare," she said. "I took the post down within 30 minutes and decided it didn't come off with the creativity that I had hoped for. Two hours later, I checked Facebook and somehow I'm a racist."

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Brad Pelt was the "bored" person who called Pyle out online, taking a screenshot and sharing it on his own page. He eventually deleted it as well, because he didn't want her to be subject to online harassment. "I still think you have to have communication to move forward," he told WFAA. "You can't just say I'm sorry and move along."

Wellllll, maybe Pyle can. "I didn't mean to offend anybody," she said. "For cryin' out loud, my grandson is half-black and he's the love of my life. I'm not racist, by far."