Jacqueline Woodson won a National Book Award for Young People's Literature at an awards ceremony on Wednesday for her memoir "Brown Girl Dreaming." But what distracted people from her award was the racist joke told by author Daniel Handler, who writes children's books under the name Lemony Snicket, when presenting her with the award, reports CNN. Many people took to Twitter the next day to voice their outrage after seeing a clip of the event posted by C-SPAN.
Handler, who is Woodson's friend, told the audience that he learned that Woodson, who is black, is allergic to watermelon. “Just let that sink in your mind,” he said. He also told the audience that he had suggested that Woodson should write a book about a black girl with a watermelon allergy, to which she responded that he should write it himself.
The racist watermelon trope, which suggests that black people have an inordinate love for watermelon, can be found in pop culture images and song lyrics that date back to the 19th century.
Roxane Gay, editor of The Butter, tweeted, "Daniel Handler's racist 'humor' at the NBAs last night is not okay and I am shocked that so few people are talking about it." Author Lalaila Lalami tweeted, "When Jackie Woodson won the NBA, she thanked people for loving books and for changing the world. Then Daniel Handler made a watermelon joke."
"My job at last night's National Book Awards #NBAwards," wrote Handler in a series of tweets, "was to shine a light on tremendous writers, including Jacqueline Woodson. ..and not to overshadow their achievements with my own ill-conceived attempts at humor. I clearly failed, and I’m sorry. My remarks on Wednesday night at #NBA were monstrously inappropriate, and yes, racist."
Daniel Handler's racist "humor" at the NBAs last night is not okay and I am shocked that so few people are talking about it.
â€” Roxane Gay (@rgay) November 20, 2014
â€” Laila Lalami (@LailaLalami) November 20, 2014
My remarks on Wednesday night at #NBAwards were monstrously inappropriate and yes, racist. -DH [1/4]
â€” Daniel Handler (@DanielHandler) November 21, 2014