Imagine if, every year around summertime, your social media feeds became flooded with posts saying, “It’s June, so you know what that means: Black people will be eating watermelon”. And what if this became a popular topic of numerous memes? What would be your reaction? You might point out that it’s a stereotype and that watermelon is widely enjoyed by many different ethnicities and cultures. You would likely question why such a popular, common food in the US was associated with African-Americans. And you might wonder why this is a subject of ridicule because watermelon is awesome.
So why are people making posts that enjoying any food related to pumpkin or pumpkin spice is a “basic bitch” or “white girl” thing? And why are some people who are usually pretty critical of stereotypes – including when it’s made satirically or in jest – chiming along with this? I don’t know how long this has been going on, but I first noticed this on social media as of last year. The “pumpkin” stereotype refers to the range of pumpkin-related products, including foods that may not contain pumpkin, such as pumpkin spice lattes and artificially-flavored pumpkin foods.
When the memes first started going around, I did immediately picture a friend who fit this stereotype. But there are a lot of women who happen to be white and were part of the popular trend of wearing UGG boots. Chances are, if you take a group common to the US (white women), select a massively popular chain (Starbucks), mention a common seasonal item (pumpkin spice latte), and point out a fashion trend of the time (UGG boots), many of us will say we know someone who fits this description. If you told me in 2003 that white men with emo haircuts drank Red Bull, I would’ve pictured some people. What’s going on here is confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias refers to a type of selective thinking whereby one tends to notice and to look for what confirms one’s beliefs, and to ignore, not look for, or undervalue the relevance of what contradicts one’s beliefs. For example, if you believe that during a full moon there is an increase in admissions to the emergency room where you work, you will take notice of admissions during a full moon, but be inattentive to the moon when admissions occur during other nights of the month. A tendency to do this over time unjustifiably strengthens your belief in the relationship between the full moon and accidents and other lunar effects.
Memes were created that a love of autumn and pumpkin is a white woman thing. People posted it. Others saw it and thought, “Ha, I know several white women who fit this description”, it got passed along, and the idea was set in many people’s mind. The numerous white men, Latinos, Asian-Americans, etc. who talked about loving fall and who ate pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving were ignored because they didn’t fit the “norm”. The many white women who hate pumpkin and who find this time of year depressing aren’t thought about when many of us see these memes; only the ones who fit the stereotype pop into our minds.
I’ve always loved pumpkin since I was a kid. My mom would buy fresh pumpkin and cook it. We’d eat straight up pumpkin, or it would be mixed into other foods. My mom is Korean-American. But I’ve recently been hearing people tell me I’m “acting white”. Never has eating this food resulted in having to start a sociological discussion until recently. Some people who realize I’m multiracial will try to rationalize it by saying it must be the white part of me coming out. There’s at least one man I know who got called “being girly” for eating a pumpkin cookie, but has eaten other cookies around the same people without ridicule.
This year, I’m noticing women who fit the stereotype poking fun at themselves. And I think that’s great. But now I’m starting to see people get angry at that. I’ve seen selfies of a white woman eating pumpkin and captioning it with something like, “I’m white, so of course it’s pumpkin time” and there are some angry comments in response. “No, pumpkin isn’t yours. It’s for everyone. I’m a black man and I love it. Stop claiming it.” Same thing with Starbucks posts. I don’t know if the responders haven’t seen the memes and don’t get that these women are mocking that, or if they are angry for some other reason. But the point is, now this has turned into a whole other issue, where it’s getting misinterpreted as white women saying pumpkin is theirs. That’s not what’s going on.
Even if a dependable study were carried out that showed the majority of pumpkin eaters in the US were white women, I’d still point out that similar stereotypes involving ethnic minorities would be considered bigoted. And that pumpkin is amazing, so I don’t understand why this is a bad thing. It’s true that some of the memes are meant in jest and aren’t hateful, but others have progressed into being nasty. Originally, I saw this being shared in a lighthearted way and wasn’t much to fuss over. But it continued on and spread to the point where people would go on rants about how they hate certain types of women and then would throw in “basic pumpkin bitches” in their anger.
I realize it looks like I’m making a big deal over stupid pumpkin memes and that they aren’t that serious. It’s not the hugest deal, some of it is being silly, and I doubt there is major oppression happening to white women because of this food stereotype. But the hypocrisy I’m seeing is what is puzzling. And it isn’t only white women who end up getting ridiculed for simply eating something; men and persons of color are sometimes scorned for supposedly being abnormal. Not a major social justice issue of our time, but it confuses me.