Friday, November 21, 2014

Why I Can’t “Get a Sense of Humor” about Racist Jokes

by Linda Rodriguez

Wednesday night, the National Book Awards took place, and a multiple-New-York-Times bestseller and hugely successful white male author of children’s books, Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket), was the host. During the course of the night, he made several racist jokes, including bemoaning the fact that he hadn’t won a Coretta Scott King Award (for African American children’s book writers or children’s literature showcasing African American life--both categories together make up less than 3% of the field), calling two African American nominees for the award in poetry “probable cause,” and topping off his whole night of micro-aggressions with a major watermelon joke directed at African American writer, Jacqueline Woodson, winner of the award in children’s literature.

Here’s the entire event on C-Span. You’ll find the watermelon joke just after the 40-minute mark.

The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, NPR, and a number of other mainstream news outlets covered the awards the next morning and complimented Handler’s performance as emcee without ever mentioning any of these remarks. Just as the overwhelmingly affluent white audience laughed and applauded.

Not surprisingly, people of color and white people of good conscience were upset by Handler’s behavior at one of the most prestigious book award ceremonies in the United States. Articles and blogs were written. Twitter came alive over it. Finally, Handler apologized on Twitter with the usual non-apology—“my failed attempt at humor.” People rightly asked, “In what world are these things supposed to be funny?”

Then, the defenders came out. Online comment after comment after tweet after Facebook post after blog post of “What’s the big deal?”, “race-baiting,” “Get a sense of humor.” I’m used to them. We all are. Every time someone wealthy, famous, and white (and usually male) says or does something racist or misogynist, the defenders come out in force with these same comments. The comments include many that are much worse and sometimes downright foul, but I won’t detail those here because they’re from real trolls, while I think the comments I have listed are sometimes, at least, from people who genuinely don’t see or understand the racist or misogynistic content of the controversial remarks.

People try to explain why these remarks are a problem. I know I have many times. Usually without success. Perhaps it will help if I spell it out this time, looking at the watermelon joke, which caused the most uproar because Handler dragged it out for several minutes and included Cornel West, Toni Morrison, and Barack Obama. Woodson is a gifted young writer who has twice before been a finalist for this ultimate award. Winning it should have been a pinnacle point for her entire career. At that moment, this wealthy, successful, white male writer in her own specific field (children’s literature) reminded her publicly that, no matter how much she achieved, she would always be Other and lesser in his and everyone else’s eyes.

When you face these kinds of insults and injuries in little and big ways every day—even if the people who say or do them are truly unaware of the offense (and let’s be honest, they usually know quite well)—it takes a toll on you. Then, if you object, if you try to say, “This is wrong,” others who share the offender’s views tell you not to take it so seriously—“Get a sense of humor.”

I want to turn that back on them. To all those people who think it’s funny to insult and stereotype people of other backgrounds and genders, you get a sense of humor. Learn what’s really funny and not just cruel and embarrassing and referencing for fun traumas that have been inflicted on whole peoples. Grow some intelligence and wit, instead of making watermelon jokes when someone wins one of the highest awards in the American literary world.

REPLIES TO COMMENTS (because Blogger hates me):

Thanks, Pam. Aren't you getting tired of these idiotic things, too?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Remembering The Good

Remembering the Good
By Laura Bradford

Isn't this a lovely idea?


I think I just might try this, this year...maybe even make a jar (with these instructions) and give them to friends for the holidays.

Have you ever given a homemade gift for the holidays (as an adult)? Tell us about it...


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Sneak Peek at My New Mystery

By Kay Kendall

Today marks a red letter day for me. I sent the manuscript of my second Austin Starr mystery to my publisher, Stairway Press of Seattle. Part of my celebration is sharing with you a short excerpt from the book, RAINY DAY WOMEN, to be published in June 2015.

The tale is set in 1969, when my amateur sleuth Austin Starr is now the harried young mother of a three-month-old son. Despite her family duties—to husband and son—and the demands of her grad student career, she rushes to the aid of her best friend, Larissa. She is a prime suspect in the murder of the leader of her women’s liberation group in Vancouver. Soon another member of a women’s group in Seattle is killed. Austin must find the real killer before her friend is jailed for murder.

In the excerpt below, Austin questions Mia, a friend of the dead women’s liberation leader, Shona. I hope you dig the sixties atmosphere, when in my book the Pacific Northwest is drenched in blood, not rain, for a change.

 “I’m busting to know what you think of him. Tell me.” I guess my voice got loud because two passersby gawked at us.

Mia rolled her eyes to the heavens. “More questions.” A heavy sigh escaped her lips. “Jack always said I was ballsy. Of course, I took that as a compliment. He doesn’t like wimps. The problem with Jack and me, however, was that we were competitors.”

“At what?” I said.

“We competed for Shona’s time, attention, and affection. Jack and I never talked about it, but my sense is we both knew what was going on. He worked at getting under my skin, and he succeeded. Jack belittled everything I did, called me ‘poor little rich girl.’ He was jealous of my wealthy family, but I wouldn’t let Shona tell him how I’d been sexually abused.”

“Sounds tricky for you to put up with. What happened when he succeeded in getting under your skin. How did you react?”

She ran her hands through her short hair and gazed across the street at the tall trees on campus. I let her drown in her own thoughts for a while, hoping she’d come out with something useful in solving the puzzle of two deaths. Or, at the least, one—Shona’s.

After a few moments, she turned to me and took off her sunglasses. “Once Jack and I came to blows at a party, and I was the one who ended up throwing the first punch. He was a drinker, and I did dope. In my experience, our two types don’t mix well. That night he was ragging on me about being rich, and I had reached my limit. I drew back my arm, aiming for his arrogant mug, but Shona jumped between us. I pulled the punch, and it hit her shoulder instead, but not a hard blow. Jack cackled in triumph and started pushing my buttons again, making nasty taunts. With Shona there, I pulled my punches in general and just stomped off.”

“Then I guess you won’t have an unbiased answer to my next question.”

“Go ahead,” she said. “Shoot.”

“Could Jack have murdered Shona, and perhaps Bethany, too?”

“My honest opinion?”

“Yes, please.”

 “Jack could be the murderer.” Mia stopped and put her sunglasses back on. “Absolutely, and there is no doubt in my mind.” 
Kay Kendall set her debut novel, DESOLATION ROW--AN AUSTIN STARR MYSTERY in 1968. The sequel is Rainy Day Women, will be out in 2015. Her amateur sleuth Austin Starr must prove her best friend didn't murder women’s liberation activists in Seattle and Vancouver. A fan of historical mysteries, Kay wants to do for the 1960s what novelist Jacqueline Winspear accomplishes for England in the 930s–write atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit of the age. Kay is also an award-winning international PR executive who lives in Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to the bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she’s a Bob Dylan buff too. 


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A New Type of Book Event by Marilyn Meredith

Recently I received an email from a woman in a neighboring city who is planning a book event in her home. She mentioned the writers she'd invited and asked if I'd like to be a part of what she and another author were planning.

Of course I said yes.

The plan is that there will be advertising in the local newspaper and cards about the event spread around the city and the various towns we writers come from.

On the day of the event, she'll have a banner in her front yard that says, Neighborhood Book Store.

Inside her lovely home, the authors will be situated in various rooms in her house--there are many.

Because I can't attend the meeting she's having with the various authors, I stopped by to meet her and see her home.

In her large kitchen will be wine and snacks which we writers will bring. A couple of husbands will supervise this part.

The event will be held the first weekend in December and sounds like a lot of fun. Whether we'll have many customers remains to be seen.

Has anyone tried anything like this?