Content warning: A white person talking about racism. I’m *trying* to get it right, and I hope I am in fact getting it right – white people are shockingly ignorant about racist images. This was never explained to me as a kid and it really, really should have been. I doubt that it’s explained in most social skills settings, and I haven’t seen much that tries to explain it in a cognitively-accessible way to people who don’t understand social cues and rules well.
Some symbols are images are innocuous in themselves, but have taken on racist connotations because they’ve been used in persistently racist ways. If you are white and do not know about these symbols, it’s really easy to inadvertently hurt people.
Here are some examples:
Racists compare black people to monkeys and apes. Do not do this. Even if what you mean is that the little kid climbing the tree is really good at it like a little monkey. Even if what you mean is that someone is amazingly and admirably strong like an ape. Even if you have no racist intention whatsoever and make exactly the same comments about white people. Context matters, and you live in a cultural context that gives these things racist connotations regardless of intent.
Watermelon and fried chicken are used in dehumanizing racist images of black people. Watermelon and fried chicken are in themselves delightful things, but as symbols they’re loaded. If you are white, do not make jokes about this. If you hear a white person making a joke about these foods and black people, don’t laugh at it (even if it’s funny, and even if it seems like it would be rude not to.)