On Racially-Charged Barbecues

My September advice column is up on the website (but really, subscribe) so I thought I would share one summer-related question:

I'm having a fight with my wife over a seemingly stupid issue. We're having friends over soon for a barbecue, and in planning the menu, I said we should have watermelon for dessert. She objected because some of our guests are African American, and she thought they might take offense. I said it's not racist to serve watermelon to black people, and she agreed. But she thought that, to avoid making our guests uncomfortable, we should be sensitive to stereotypes. Is she being hyper-politically correct, or is she right that people might think we're projecting racial stereotypes onto our guests?

H. R., Philadelphia, Pa.

Dear H. R.,

Well, it sounds like we're in for a very relaxed barbecue. Are you serving existential angst for an appetizer? To borrow from Freud, sometimes a watermelon is just a watermelon. My suggestion, though, is for you to serve cantaloupe, or honeydew, or another member of the melon family, or perhaps a selection of berries, not because watermelon would necessarily offend your guests, but because its presence would destabilize your excessively thoughtful wife. And we'd like her to enjoy the barbecue too.


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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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