Man Fired For Bringing a Watermelon to Work

by Evil HR Lady on October 10, 2017

Watermelon, when in season, is available at every grocery store. At many grocery stores, you can buy it whole, quartered, or even cut into rind free, individually wrapped pieces. But, if you show up with one at a certain Detroit firehouse, you’ll be fired. That’s what happened when firefighter trainee Robert Pattison brought a whole watermelon as a present for his new co-workers.

Traditionally, probationary firefighters bring in a gift for the existing group. Donuts are the top choice but are not required. The firefighters at Engine 55 at Joy and Southfield in Detroit are 90 percent African American and some took the watermelon gift as a racist statement. They complained, and Pattison was fired.Fire Commissioner Eric Jones Jones said:\

To keep reading, click here: Man Fired For Bringing a Watermelon to Work

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Maria Rose October 10, 2017 at 2:38 pm

Your article hit the points right on the nose. As most of the reasonings behind the firing were left out, other than using the excuse of inappropriate choice of gift deemed racist by staff of that firehouse, this firing appears incorrect.
You keep discussing at will employment frequently— my question to you is does an employee have any recourse to keeping job when the power of employment is all based on employer decision?

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grannybunny October 10, 2017 at 3:42 pm

Since we don’t really know all the facts, we cannot really opine as to whether or not this firing was justified.

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Dorothy October 10, 2017 at 5:39 pm

I agree. I think Suzanne is a bit off the mark here. She’s assuming the action was neutral but we don’t have access to the incident report. We don’t know what he said, or about any previous actions or remarks that occurred.

It’s hard to imagine a bunch of militant black firefighters taking exception to a sweet, young white boy innocently treating them to watermelon.

When I supervised a factory that employed about 75% black employees in Houston, I bought watermelon for my team a few times. People ate it with apparent enjoyment.

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Evil HR Lady October 12, 2017 at 8:41 am

I agree that there probably is more to the story. The reason I came to the conclusion I did is because they said they fired him because of the watermelon. They didn’t say, “bringing the watermelon was one in a series of inappropriate behaviors.”

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Elizabeth West October 10, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Wow. This was incredibly tone-deaf, for sure. However, without more information about his other interactions with coworkers, it’s hard to say. If they truly investigated and found other times where he exhibited bias, then yes, it probably was justified. I can’t say because there’s not very much information here.

But you’re right about at-will employment. If an incident creates enough animosity on the team, the employer might decide they’re better off without you. They can legally fire you for that one incident if they’re not running afoul of discrimination laws themselves.

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Wang-Lo October 11, 2017 at 4:52 pm

As the great Sigmund Freud famously said, sometimes a watermelon is just a watermelon.

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David October 11, 2017 at 5:04 pm

I’m wondering what the statue of limitations is on this perceived racism. I mean, I can’t imagine a situation (beyond stories like this) where my 9 year old daughter will ever associate watermelon with a racist message. Those jokes have largely gone out of style, and it’s likely she’ll never naturally come across the association. So one day, should she offer watermelon to one or more black people, will she be able to do so without fear of being accused of racism?

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grannybunny October 11, 2017 at 6:02 pm

I’m not sure what Country you and your daughter live in, but in the United States, White Supremacy — including all the negative stereotypes about Black people, including fried chicken, watermelon, etc. — is attempting to stage a public comeback, so, unfortunately, in America, we are far from approaching a “post-racial” society.

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David October 11, 2017 at 7:03 pm

I’m in the US an well aware of this, though my statement is a far cry from claiming we’re in a post-racial society. Rather, I’m saying that while watermelon and fried chicken were well-worn stereotypes for me growing up in the 70s and 80s, we’re so hyper-aware of this now that I doubt my daughter will actually encounter those things in that context unless we explicitly tell her that some people consider these food items offensive, and therefore they should never be mentioned or offered to a black person.

When I was a kid, there was a Beetle Bailey comic where the black lieutenant asked the cook what was for dinner. The cook answered that he was serving fried chicken and watermelon, and he was sure the LT would love it. The LT chewed him out for assuming the stereotype applied, but in the last panel expressed it was a shame, because he really loved fried chicken and watermelon.

Point being, I don’t know if my daughter will ever be exposed to the stereotype, even in that context, and I have no intent of pointing it out to her. In this case, it’s confusing. It’s not like applying a stereotype by saying “all blacks are uneducated.” It’s untrue and unwelcome by any black person hearing that statement. But many black people (along with people of all colors) like fried chicken and watermelon.

I’m not trying to be difficult…this is a real concern for me. My daughter is one of those kids who has a very limited list of foods she’ll eat. And it just so happens that fried chicken and watermelon are right near the top. When she looks at watermelon, all she sees is one of her favorite foods. Do we teach her to never offer it to a black person to avoid an instance such as this? How do we resolve this against the fact that her black family members have eaten those things for as long as she can remember?

All of this is to say that the man in this case (granted…we don’t know all the details) could be in the same boat as her. If we work hard to eliminate a stereotype, does the day ever come when it simply isn’t a stereotype any longer? Because I’m thinking this is going to be one of the first to go.

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Evil HR Lady October 11, 2017 at 7:48 pm

I’m with David on this. I grew up in the intermountain west. I had no idea about fried chicken and watermelon having any racist connotations. We had fried chicken and watermelon for our regular family parties-and we’re pasty white people of Scandinavian and Scotish descent.

We just got back from Bulgaria where you could see watermelons at every roadside stand. I’m sure there’s no connotation of racism against African Americans there.

I think stereotypes should be allowed to die out when the reasoning behind them goes away.

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charles October 12, 2017 at 12:59 am

same here. I grew up not knowing such stereotypes; at least, not until college where I would hear it from someone of that “group” who either used it themselves or they used it as a way of claiming victimhood status.

So, either many of these stereotypes are dying out; or I grew up under a rock.

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FiveWheels October 12, 2017 at 11:24 am

Well it would be very bizarre if Europe discriminated against African Americans. Black people yes, but Americans of a particular sort? Unlikely.

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LK October 12, 2017 at 1:46 pm

My thoughts exactly – this could be me. We have a great farm stand in Ohio that gets sugar baby watermelons from Georgia every summer. I give them to everyone because they are SO DELICIOUS. I didn’t know the association…

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the gold digger October 12, 2017 at 6:05 pm

I thought “calling a spade a spade” was about playing cards. I grew up on US air force bases and didn’t hear much racist conversation.

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Bobboccio October 16, 2017 at 8:41 pm

…it’s not?

Huh, from Wikipedia…

As perceived slur[edit]

The phrase predates the use of the word “spade” as an ethnic slur against African Americans,[9] which was not recorded until 1928; however, in contemporary U.S. society, the idiom is often avoided due to potential confusion with the slur.[16] Nevertheless, media commentators continue to use the phrase even when discussing racially sensitive issues. For example, CNN anchors and commentators used the phrase repeatedly when questioning President Trump’s initial refusal to call out white-supremacist and other hate groups in connection with the August 2017 terrorist attack against counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.[17]

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Jeff M October 11, 2017 at 7:19 pm

David, that is an interesting point you raise. As a Gen-Xer I can recall this being used as a negative stereotype but haven’t heard reference to it in over 20+ years.

It’d be a fascinating case study to see where Millennial’s and beyond identify with this.

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