The Pain of the Watermelon Joke

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/29/opinion/the-pain-of-the-watermelon-joke.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=c-column-top-span-region&region=c-column-top-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-top-span-region&_r=0

A well-known writer receives an award–and an insult publicly.

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Excerpt from the article: 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.

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