Books, Watermelon Jokes, Racism & Pissing on Dreams

I’ve been reading and commenting on posts about the St. Louis Grand Jury’s outrageous finding and racism in America, but I’ve avoided posting anything myself, because I’m an old white dude and who’s going to give a damn about what I’ve got to say?  Then this Limony Snicket faux pas popped up and I couldn’t resist:

https://msbribap.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/black-privilege-the-fried...

A few days ago Daniel Handler aka "Lemony Snicket" made a bad joke while hosting the National Book Awards.  After Jacqueline Woodson collected her prize for Brown Girl Dreaming, he mentioned an exchange with her that he said he would make public only should she win.  He had learned that Woodson was allergic to watermelon and suggested she mention it in a book.  She in turn suggested that he mention it and so he made this joke:" “I'm only writing a book about a black girl who's allergic to watermelon if I get a blurb from you, Cornel West, Toni Morrison and Barack Obama saying, This guy's OK. This guy's fine.”

Later Handler tweeted that he had meant to celebrate the achievements of Woodson and others and that his "ill-conceived attempts at humor" had distracted from that, "I clearly failed, and I'm sorry."

Yesterday Ms. Woodson responded to the incident in an Op-Ed in the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/29/opinion/the-pain-of-the-watermelo...

“As a child in South Carolina, I spent summers like so many children — sitting on my grandparents’ back porch with my siblings, spitting watermelon seeds into the garden or, even worse, swallowing them and trembling as my older brother and sister spoke of the vine that was probably already growing in my belly… But by the time I was 11 years old, even the smell of watermelon was enough to send me running to the bathroom with my most recent meal returning to my throat. It seemed I had grown violently allergic to the fruit.

“I was a brown girl growing up in the United States.  By that point in my life, I had seen the racist representations associated with African-Americans and watermelons, heard the terrifying stories of black men being lynched with watermelons hanging around them, watched black migrants from the South try to eke out a living in the big city by driving through neighborhoods like my own — Bushwick, in Brooklyn — with trucks loaded down with the fruit.

“In a book I found at the library, a camp song about a watermelon vine was illustrated with caricatures of sleepy-looking black people sitting by trees, grinning and eating watermelon. Slowly, the hideousness of the stereotype began to sink in. In the eyes of those who told and repeated the jokes, we were shuffling, googly-eyed and lesser than.

“Perhaps my allergy was actually a deep physical revulsion that came from the psychological impression and weight of the association. Whatever it was, I could no longer eat watermelon.

“…Just this month, I received the National Book Award …As I walked away from the stage to a standing ovation after my acceptance speech, it was the last place in the world I thought I’d hear the watermelon joke — directed by the M.C., Daniel Handler, at me. ‘Jackie’s allergic to watermelon,’ he said. ‘Just let that sink in your mind.’  Daniel and I have been friends for years.  Last summer, at his home on Cape Cod, he served watermelon soup and I let him know I was allergic to the fruit. I was astonished when he brought this up before the National Book Award audience — in the form of a wink-nudge joke about being black.

“In a few short words, the audience and I were asked to take a step back from everything I’ve ever written, a step back from the power and meaning of the National Book Award, lest we forget, lest I forget, where I came from.  By making light of that deep and troubled history, he showed that he believed we were at a point where we could laugh about it all. His historical context, unlike my own, came from a place of ignorance.

“‘Brown Girl Dreaming’ is the story of my family, moving from slavery through Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement, and ends with me as a child of the ’70s.  It is steeped in the history of not only my family but of America. As African-Americans, we were given this history daily as weapons against our stories being erased in the world or, even worse, delivered to us offhandedly in the form of humor.

“… How could I come from such a past and not know that I am on a mission, too?

“This mission is what’s been passed down to me — to write stories that have been historically absent in this country’s body of literature, to create mirrors for the people who so rarely see themselves inside contemporary fiction, and windows for those who think we are no more than the stereotypes they’re so afraid of.  To give young people — and all people — a sense of this country’s brilliant and brutal history, so that no one ever thinks they can walk onto a stage one evening and laugh at another’s too often painful past.”

Connecting the dots between the lame twisted exhaustion of this painful joke incident, Ms. Woodson’s experience is not lost on me.  I too was a kid from the suburbs who visited the family farm where I sat on my grandparents’ front porch with my siblings, spitting watermelon seeds or, even worse, swallowing them and hearing my older brother tease that a melon might grow in my belly.  We also ate fried chicken and biscuits for Sunday dinners, along with squirrel and rabbit too (Chasing Headless Chickens and other Delights).  My grandparents were “white trash” dirt farmers and my parents were hard working upwardly mobile middle class folk, busting their asses to provide a better life and opportunities for their children.  Despite all of those common experiences, we never experienced the institutional prejudice that Ms. Woodson’s family faced.  My people benefited from “white privilege” and they grew up hardcore Indiana rural Republican racists.

Over the years they slowly softened and changed to a certain extent, to the extent that my dad voted for Jimmy Carter for President and while I was responsible for part of that change, all of this is irrelevant to what I want to say in this post:  Racism and privilege permeate American history and society at every level and the internal Byzantine convolutions of sexism, skin color and language prejudice among African American, Latino and Asian cultures in America exist below the surface of mass media.  That is fact. What is also fact is that with every generation of Americans, that prejudice and privilege is slowly eroded through marriage, family and popular culture.

What is day to day reality in the America of 2014, would have certainly been considered outrageously offensive in 1951.  Just as broadcasting Amos 'n' Andy (who were portrayed on radio by white actors, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll) would be considered an outrageous offense today.  That is what Daniel Handler forgot with his painful attempt to make a watermelon joke; but the real irony that continues to escape all of us is that in terms of simple story telling and comedic timing, Amos and Andy were funny as hell.  Stripped of its racial identity, re-written and re-cast in virtually any number of ethnic combinations or ethnic mixes the 78 episodes of Amos ‘n’Andy could be just entertaining and engaging as any TV sitcom today:

http://www.averagebro.com/2014/10/black-jesus-and-black-ish-great-s...

Historical media perspective aside, The Pain of the Watermelon Joke is something that requires our attention but at the risk of being declared an “ignorant, racist” old white dude, I’d like to think we could come up for some air and try to keep our Eyes on the Prize.  Sometimes the things we do to one another and how we so quickly lose ourselves in trivial slights and pissing contests about changing politically correct etiquette pile up in my broken heart and I just want to cry out like a lost five year old kid.  People are dying and bleeding and I have to ask: Wouldn't those precious column inches in the “Paper of  Record” be better dedicated to the exploring the reasons for the Grand Jury’s verdict in St. Louis. 

I’m considering this as an “ironic” Xmas Card or is that a racist joke?

Except for attributed photos and text, all content is copyrighted © 2014 JKM (an apparently ineffectual boilerplate joke?)

Views: 210

Comment by Arthur James on November 29, 2014 at 2:09pm
`
it sure
extra odd,
and giddy
goofy. i
read @ OS-
the deleter
sight. it a
informative
day. My new
habit is to
browse, and
read new post
off line. THEN,
I AM NOT TEMPTED
TO GO & ` POPS
OFF A QUICK `,'
ASSENTING ` Blurb '
and giggle & pass
gas? PLEASE ignore.
`
I Read Slow Later.
`
Comment by Arthur James on November 29, 2014 at 2:14pm
`
KNOCK KNOCK?
WHO KNOCKING?
`
EIFEL.
EIFEL
WHO?
`
I FELL
DOWN IN
A PATCH
OF MELONS,
AND GOT A
BLACK EYE
AND BRUISED
KNEE. NO SIP
WATERMELON'S
FERMENTED BREW?
`
IT ALMOST BED
TIME. IT ONE
FUN DAY IN
WASH/DC.
Comment by August von Doggus on November 29, 2014 at 2:58pm

I'm going to steal your Christmas card

Comment by August von Doggus on November 29, 2014 at 3:00pm

-damned like button isn't coming up- I'll try back later in a different browser

Comment by Lois Wickstrom on November 29, 2014 at 5:43pm

Political correctness can get in the way of dealing with our real problems.  Thanks for voicing this concern.

Comment by Arthur James on December 10, 2014 at 9:36am

`

Honest...

I just arrived.

It chilly today.

`

Folk need great

chilly con carne

soup. I no annoy

Cranky Farmers.

`

I go browse at a

deter-blog-site.

It run by who?

`

I THINK a

STINKER

Tank? huh.

`

I go chat with

old anchient long

dead Folk. I Read

Book ` Bout Old

Words ` Hubris '

and ` hubristes '

`

Hupokrites

`

hamartia 

`

and ` kalos '

is edification,

o, parakletos,

and other private

thoughts. it time

for hot soup. I stop

here on my way to a

quiet rebuilt Home.

`

later...

maybe...

nap time...

Comment by Arthur James on December 13, 2014 at 10:08am

`

noon nap time.

I saw JMAC on

the Member feed.

`

I've no substantive

stuff to share. I stop

Here on my Way To

a Quiet Home. Calm.

Comment

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