By Melanie Snyder
Author Daniel Handler, famous under his pen name Lemony Snicket for A Series of Unfortunate Events, raised controversy over his racist remarks made at last month’s National Book Awards. Preceding Jacqueline Woodson’s acceptance speech for an award for her memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, Handler took the stage and joked about Woodson’s watermelon allergy, saying: “Jackie Woodson is allergic to watermelon. Just let that sink in your mind.”
Handler apologized for his slur soon after the awards. Although Handler and Woodson were supposedly long-term friends, his attempt at humor was not well received. In a column in The New York Times, Woodson replied: “By making light of [the] 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.” Handler’s ill-conceived joke and Woodson’s bitter response embodies our country’s current racial divide.
Evident from the backlash he received, Handler’s joke clearly crossed a line. Perpetuating meaningless stereotypes of African-Americans only furthers racial disparities and conflicts. That said, Woodson’s response, while justified, was unduly harsh.
This is not a question of who was right or wrong. It is simply another instance of our nation’s inability to approach racial disparities maturely. It would be difficult to make the argument that either is truly “ignorant.” Handler and Woodson are both well-educated, award-winning authors. If these intelligent people, who even have a history of friendship, can’t communicate effectively about their racial differences, what does that say about where the country is heading on this issue?
The aim of these controversies should be to find a neutral ground, which can only be achieved through more productive communication. Today in America, race is either discussed disrespectfully or not discussed at all. Whether this is due to ignorance or to feelings of discomfort towards the subject, racial conflicts demand more attention.
We have to take a cue from these authors, and from all issues of this nature, that the racial gap in this country needs to be addressed.