Nova Scotia

Halifax staff say they'll no longer call buildings 'watermelons'

The city of Halifax is apologizing for using the term "watermelon" to describe quasi-rooming houses after learning the word has long been used as a racist slur.

'It's not right, it's insensitive,' says Irvine Carvery

Lynn Jones says as a child she avoided eating watermelon in public because of the stereotypes that associated it with laziness. (CBC)

The city of Halifax is apologizing for using the term "watermelon" to describe quasi-rooming houses after learning the word has long been used as a racist slur. 

"A decision to immediately stop using the reference was made the moment we became aware the word could be perceived as having a negative connotation," city spokesman Brendan Elliott said in an email.

"The term 'watermelon' was created based purely on the fact it was an uncommon word that could be easily remembered. The term was used internally to temporarily describe this yet-to-be-named category of properties."

Elliott also said the city "apologizes if anyone took offence to the use of the word."

After a CBC investigation on rooming houses, there was significant outcry from people who say the term has a long history.

Ugly stereotypes 

"Watermelon has always been used to depict lazy, no good for nothing, black people who just want to sit around and eat watermelon," said Irvine Carvery, president of the Africville Genealogy Society.

Lynn Jones used to avoid the fruit when she was growing up in the Truro area. She says it's a stereotype that goes back generations.

"I remember when we were young we were actually afraid to eat watermelon in the public forum because it was used as part of the negative name calling against black people in Nova Scotia," she said.  

Irvine Carvery, president of the Africville Genealogy Society, says ignorance is no excuse for using a loaded term to describe quasi-rooming houses. (CBC)

Carvery said he's disappointed city bureaucrats would use the term to describe housing, which in many cases is for people who have few options.

"The use of the term watermelon house is to say well, we don't respect you, we have no regard for you, so whatever you have there is good enough for you," he said.

"It's not right, it's insensitive and in 2015 to have a bureaucrat within HRM to use that term just points to the insensitivity on the part of our bureaucrats in dealing with the issue."

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