Saturday, March 05, 2005

Atlanta Goes Bananas

When is a banana not a banana? When does it become an instrument of oppression? According to Tim Chitwood of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, an Atlanta-area woman, Gwen Stewart, apparently feels that banana-wielding police officers are too offensive to even talk about. Now James Taranto has officially designated the incident a kerfuffle. Allow us to be the first to dub the affair "Bananagate."

How did it begin? Where will it end? According to Chitwood:
"She [Stewart] saw two police officers eating bananas as she passed them on a bus going to the Columbus Civic Center, where people gathered for the Jan. 15 [Martin Luther King Day] march. The police department that day had sent around a snack van to feed officers working security for the event.

Stewart says she and others found the bananas deeply offensive [n.b.]. She complained to the police and to the mayor, and the mayor sent her a Jan. 22 letter of apology, which she never got because the address was wrong.

When I wrote a column about this Jan. 28, I relied on city officials' assessment that Stewart was offended because racists have compared black people to apes, at times, and in the context of a civil rights march, the bananas might be taken as a symbolic slur.

But I've since talked to Stewart twice by phone, and she would not tell me why she was insulted, and apparently she never told the mayor, either. In his letter to [US Congressman, Tom] Price, [Columbus Mayor, Bob] Poydasheff writes: 'Incidentally, through all of my communication with Mrs. Stewart concerning this matter, she has never told me why she was offended by the officers' conduct.'

Stewart tells me she shouldn't have to explain that. People should know why that's offensive, and if they don't, then they need to find out. But they're not going to find out from her -- even though she's the one complaining about it.

So these public officials are writing letters about a complaint from someone who won't explain why she complained. And they aren't the only ones writing about it, and neither am I."
So we can only speculate about reasons for Stewart's complaint. Apparently the problem was the policemen's bananas qua bananas. As Chitwood notes above, the initial suggestions that racism was involved are in question now. Commenting on Chitwood's January article that first broke the "Bananagate" story, the provocative Neal Boortz noted:
"Now I know what you're thinking. You're wrong. The officer wasn't playing with the banana. He wasn't holding it or eating it in any manner that might be considered to be sexually offensive or suggestive in any way. Insert banana. Bite. Chew. Swallow. Repeat. Grow strong bones. Just that simple."
While we await the appointment of a Special Prosecutor to sort things out, let's gather the low-hanging fruit. We suggest that Ms. Stewart avoid the supermarket produce section and take action to protect herself in the future. Forewarned is forearmed. Fortunately for us all, the power of the internet makes it relatively easy to find out how to defend yourself against a man armed with a banana.

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