The troubling viral trend of the “hilarious” Black poor person
May 7, 2013
Charles Ramsey, the man who helped rescue three Cleveland women presumed dead after going missing a decade ago, has become an instant Internet meme. It’s hardly surprising—the interviews he gave yesterday provide plenty of fodder for a viral video, including memorable soundbites (“I was eatin’ my McDonald’s”) and lots of enthusiastic gestures. But as Miles Klee and Connor Simpson have noted, Ramsey’s heroism is quickly being overshadowed by the public’s desire to laugh at and autotune his story, and that’s a shame. Ramsey has become the latest in a fairly recent trend of “hilarious” black neighbors, unwitting Internet celebrities whose appeal seems rooted in a “colorful” style that is always immediately recognizable as poor or working-class.
Before Ramsey, there was Antoine Dodson, who saved his younger sister from an intruder, only to wind up famous for his flamboyant recounting of the story to a reporter. Since Dodson’s rise to fame, there have been others: Sweet Brown, a woman who barely escaped her apartment complex during a fire last year, and Michelle Clarke, who couldn’t fathom the hailstorm that rained down in her hometown of Houston, and in turn became “the next Sweet Brown.”
Granted, the buzzworthy tactic of reporters interviewing the most loquacious witnesses to a crime or other event is nothing new, and YouTube has countless examples of people of all ethnicities saying ridiculous things. One woman, for instance, saw fit to casually mention her breasts while discussing a local accident, while another man described a car crash with theatrical flair. Earlier this year, a “hatchet-wielding hitchhiker” named Kai matched Dodson’s fame with his astonishing account of rescuing a woman from a racist attacker. But none of those people have been subjected to quite the same level of derisive memeification as Brown, Clark, and now, perhaps, Ramsey—the inescapable echoes of “Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife!” and “Kabooyaw,” the tens of millions of YouTube hits and cameos in other viral videos, even commercials.
It’s difficult to watch these videos and not sense that their popularity has something to do with a persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform. Even before the genuinely heroic Ramsey came along, some viewers had expressed concern that the laughter directed at people like Sweet Brown plays into the most basic stereotyping of blacks as simple-minded ramblers living in the “ghetto,” socially out of step with the rest of educated America. Black or white, seeing Clark and Dodson merely as funny instances of random poor people talking nonsense is disrespectful at best. And shushing away the question of race seems like wishful thinking.
Ramsey is particularly striking in this regard, since, for a moment at least, he put the issue of race front and center himself. Describing the rescue of Amanda Berry and her fellow captives, he says, “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway!”
The candid statement seems to catch the reporter off guard; he ends the interview shortly afterward. And it’s notable that among the many memorable things Ramsey said on camera, this one has gotten less meme-attention than most. Those who are simply having fun with the footage of Ramsey might pause for a second to actually listen to the man. He clearly knows a thing or two about the way racism prevents us from seeing each other as people.
Now that you know this is a thing, please stop sharing these memes. Poor Black people speaking candidly about various serious incidents isn’t a hilarious joke.
The 16-year-old Jasmine Thar was shot and killed in the front yard of a Chadbourn home on December 23, 2012. The Killer James Blackwell, 23 year old White Man, who lived across the street, says his 700 Remington Rifle went off without pulling the trigger. Jasmine was in the car with her mother and the bullet actually hit both of them. Jasmine would die from the bullet wound. The investigation determined that the death was the product of an “accidental discharge”. When the investigators searched James Blackwell’s (The Killer) home they found Confederate flags and NAZI memorabilia. As of now they are saying James Blackwell WILL NOT be arrested.It think ridiculous is an understatement for how disheartening these “Investigation conclusions” are. I will say this again stemming from my last post. THE RESPECT AND CARE FOR BLACK DEATH IS NON-EXISTENT. I used to scratch my head in frustration trying to figure out how much more obvious something needs to be for them to get that it was a Race Crime. Then realized that I was naive, they can see exactly what I see but their intention was to justify the crime not to punish the Criminal. How can you possibly expect her family to accept that she was killed by some guys rifle by accident? Is this a hunting area? This is so sad and such bullshit. White people kill blacks and know that the Police will give them “The benefit of the doubt”, Unwritten Rules: When you’re BLACK you’re GUILTY until PROVEN innocent, when you’re WHITE you’re INNOCENT until PROVEN guilty. You never hear of black people “accidentally” killing white people. Why? Because Black people know the POLICE, The prosecution, and White folks won’t tolerate it. We can get Killed by Zimmerman’s or Blackwells and they courts will take the side of the killer because of Privilege. Furthermore these BLACK DEATHS ARE A CONTINUOUS PATTERN.
People desperately want to feel like RACISM doesn’t exist and is a thing of the past. Some people do not want to acknowledge racism. They ignore it and try to look at things from perspectives far from racism no matter if it’s right in their face. Lets get this clear ignoring racism and avoiding it in itself is RACIST. You are an enabler of Racism, just like someone who is aware of but quiet about another being raped, mistreated, ETC…Then people want to call you racist for pointing out some racist shit.Black people have to stop being bamboozled by the “reports” and the media. Their agenda is always in favor of the agenda of the courts. Don’t allow their propaganda to desensitize you about something you Feel in your heart is Wrong. We cannot just pray about change ACTION is required. Blacks need to ORGANIZE and plan because this can happen to anyone of us at anytime.I know “The Overseers” are going to come out and say “Well we kill each other everyday, why should we care about that?” Well that is true but does that justify Hate crimes by other races? Every race in the world “Kills each other everyday” This post is about the Death of Jasmine Char and the mistreatment of her case. If you can’t understand that it’s not for you or your type of person.“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them”~~Assata Shakur
Written By @Solar_InnerG
Riding bikes everywhere? Using recyclable diapers? Carpooling? We’ve been doing that in Eritrea for decades. Where’s our reward for saving the Earth? Why aren’t we plastered all over Time magazine? If we lived in the same disgusting, gluttonous fashion that Americans lived, this planet would no longer be able to sustain the human race. But yet, they blame the world’s environmental ills on “overpopulation” (code: poor brown people existing) and then usurp our lifestyle habits, trademark it as their own and pat themselves on the back for doing the bare minimum. How convenient of such a narcissistic nation.
The former neighborhood watch volunteer accused of shooting a Fla. teen told a judge he would not seek a hearing based on the state’s “stand your ground” law
Good. Now he doesn’t have a leg to stand on at all.
Mountain Dew hit a new low when it comes to corporate racism. Not many people are surprised by the corporation latest actions, since their failure to drop Lil Wayne from his endorsement deal, after making crude and insensitive lyrics about Emmitt Till.
white privilege radically changes the appearance of Tsarnaev bros
This is how brofiling actually works in real life. The Week Magazine ran with this image as their cover sketch.
Just so it is said, clearly and unambiguously: the Tsarnaev brothers are white guys. They are white. The FBI’s own wanted poster for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lists his race as “white”, but you would never know it from the cover image on The Week.
Hold up the cover to someone else, and ask them how many white people they can see on the cover. Chances are they will identify Gabby Giffords on the top left and the image of the Boston policemen (all white men) on the top right, but how about those two guys in the center? Nope, not a chance that anyone would say these caricatures look white.
Why? Because in addition to being white they are also “Muslim”, which is the current dehumanizing “Other” that whiteness has constructed as a sanctioned target for violence in US popular culture.
This is how white privilege works in media representations and everyday life: when the criminal suspects are demonstrably white men, seize upon any aspect of difference and magnify it such that they become Othered, non-white, and menacing. If it is too hard to do so, simply dismiss them as aberrations and isolated cases of insanity. This is also how white culture, specifically the process of whiteness in conjunction with white privilege, portrays several non-white identities, including those that are now considered white but at one time were decidedly not so. For example, see here for how the Irish were depicted as violent apes or lazy drunks in the late 1800s to early 1900s.
Occupy Wall Street…
What is it? What’s the goal of this “movement”?
I looked into it when it was in the media’s eyes… and I thought…
This is America at it’s finest… looking exactly like Congress…
A bunch of adults getting NOTHING done except taking up space and making small businesses around Wall St suffered.
Despite the Boston bombers having little to do with Chechnya, the media were quick to demonise an entire ethnicity.
In 1901, a 28-year-old American named Leon Czolgosz assassinated US President William McKinley. Czolgosz was born in America, but he was of Polish descent. After McKinley died, the American media blamed Polish immigrants. They were outsiders, foreigners, with a suspicious religion - Catholicism - and strange last names.
At a time when Eastern European immigrants were treated as inferior, Polish-Americans feared they would be punished as a group for the terrible actions of an individual. “We feel the pain which this sad occurrence caused, not only in America, but throughout the whole world. All people are mourning, and it is caused by a maniac who is of our nationality,” a Polish-American newspaper wrote in an anguished editorial.
It is a sentiment reminiscent of what Muslims and Chechens are writing - or Instagramming - today, after the revelation that Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings, are of Chechen descent. At this time, there is no evidence linking the Tsarnaev brothers to a broader movement in Chechnya, a war-torn federal republic in southern Russia. Neither of the brothers has ever lived there. The oldest, Tamerlan, was born in Russia and moved to the US when he was sixteen. The youngest, Dzokhar, was born in Kyrgyzstan, moved to the US when he was nine, and became a US citizen in 2012.
Despite the Tsarnaevs’ American upbringing, the media has presented their lives through a Chechen lens. Political strife in the North Caucasus, ignored by the press for years, has become the default rationale for a domestic crime.
“Did Boston carnage have its roots in Stalin’s ruthless displacement of Muslims from Chechnya decades ago?” asked The Daily News , a question echoed by the National Post , the Washington Post , and other publications that refuse to see the Tsarnaevs as anything but walking symbols of age-old conflicts. Blame Stalin, the pundits cry, echoing the argument made every time something bad happens in the former Soviet Union. Blame Stalin, because we can pronounce that name.Second Boston Marathon suspect captured alive
In one sense, this sentiment is not new. American Muslims have long had to deal with ignorance and prejudice in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. “ Please don’t be Muslims or Arabs ”, goes the refrain, as unnecessary demands for a public apology from Muslims emerge. This week made it clear that it is Muslims who are owed the apology. After wild speculation from CNN about a “dark-skinned suspect”, on Thursday the New York Post published a cover photo falsely suggesting a Moroccan-American high school track star, Salah Barhoun , was one of the bombers. ”Jogging while Arab” has become the new “ driving while black ”.
Later that Thursday, the FBI released photos of two young men wearing baseball caps - men who so resembled all-American frat boys that people joked they would be the target of “ racial bro-filing ”. The men were Caucasian, so the speculation turned away from foreign terror and toward the excuses routinely made for white men who kill: mental illness, anti-government grudges, frustrations at home. The men were white and Caucasian - until the next day, when they became the wrong kind of Caucasian, and suddenly they were not so “white” after all.
Crucifying the wrong Caucasian
Muslims face prejudice, but Muslims from the Caucasus face a particular kind of prejudice - the kind born of ignorance so great it perversely imbues everything with significance. “There is never interpretation, understanding and knowledge when there is no interest,” Edward Said wrote in Covering Islam , and until this week, there was so little interest in and knowledge of the Caucasus that the ambassador of the Czech Republic felt compelled to issue a press release stating that the Czech Republic is not the same as Chechnya.
Knowing nothing of the Tsarnaevs’ motives, and little about Chechens, the American media tore into Wikipedia and came back with stereotypes. The Tsarnaevs were stripped of their 21st century American life and became symbols of a distant land, forever frozen in time. Journalist Eliza Shapiro proclaimed that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was “named after a brutal warlord”, despite the fact that Tamerlan, or Timur, is an ordinary first name in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Her claim is equivalent to saying a child named Nicholas must be named in honour of ruthless Russian tsar Nicholas I - an irony apparently lost on New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who made a similar denouncement on Twitter (to his credit, Kristof quickly retracted the comment).
Other journalists found literary allusions, or rather, illusions. “They were playing the nihilists Arkady and Bazarov in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons ,” explained scholar Juan Cole, citing an 1862 Russian novel to explain the motives of a criminal whose Twitter account was full of American rap lyrics. One does not recall such use of literary devices to ascertain the motives of less exotic perpetrators, but who knows? Perhaps some ambitious analyst is plumbing the works of Faulkner to shed light on that Mississippi Elvis impersonator who tried to send ricin to Obama.
Still others turned to social media as a gateway to the Chechen soul. Journalist Julia Ioffe - after explaining the Tsarnaevs through Tolstoy, Pushkin, and, of course, Stalin - cites the younger Tsarnaev’s use of the Russian website VKontakte as proof of his inability to assimilate, then ranks the significance of his personal photos.
“The most revealing image of Dzhokhar is not the one of him hugging an African-American friend at his high school graduation, but the one of him sitting at a kitchen table with his arm around a guy his age who appears to be of Central Asian descent,” she writes . “In front of them is a dish plov , a Central Asian dish of rice and meat, and a bottle of Ranch dressing.” Again, it is difficult to imagine a journalist writing with such breathtaking arrogance - why is the Central Asian friend more “revealing” than the African-American one? What, exactly, are they “revealing”? - about the inner life of someone from a more familiar place.Family in Dagestan defends Boston suspects
One way to test whether you are reading a reasonable analysis of the Tsarnaev case - and yes, they exist - is to replace the word “Chechen” with another ethnicity. “I could always spot the Chechens in Vienna,” writes journalist Oliver Bulloughs in the New York Times . “They were darker-haired than the Austrians; they dressed more snappily, like 1950s gangsters; they never had anything to do.” Now substitute the word “Jews” for “Chechens”. Minority-hunting in Vienna never ends well .
Demonising an ethnicity
It is easy to criticise the media, and after this disastrous week , there is much to criticise. But the consequences of the casual racism launched at Chechens - and by association, all other Muslims from the former Soviet Union, who are rarely distinguished from one another by the public - are serious. By emphasising the Tsarnaevs’ ethnicity over their individual choices, and portraying that ethnicity as barbaric and violent , the media creates a false image of a people destined by their names and their “ culture of terror ” to kill. There are no people in Chechnya, only symbols. There are no Chechen-Americans, only threats.
Ethnicity is often used to justify violent behaviour. But no ethnicity is inherently violent. Even if the Tsarnaevs aligned themselves with violent Chechen movements - and as of now, there is no evidence they did - treating Chechen ethnicity as the cause of the Boston violence is irresponsible.
One hundred years ago, the violent act of one Polish-American caused a country to treat all Polish-Americans with suspicion. Now, the Poles have become “white” - which is to say they are largely safe from the accusations of treason and murderous intent that ethnic groups deemed non-white routinely face. When a Polish-American commits a crime, his ethnicity does not go on trial with him.
But this change is not a triumph for America. It is a tragedy that it happened to Poles then, and a greater tragedy that we have not learned our lesson and it happens still - to Hispanics, to Arabs, to Chechens, to any immigrant who comes here seeking refuge and finds prejudice instead.
“I respect this country, I love this country,” the suspects’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, said in an emotional condemnation of his nephews. “This country which gives chance to everyone else to be treated as a human being.”
Chechens and other Muslim immigrants from the former Soviet Union are human beings. They are not walking symbols of violent conflict. Do not look to a foreign country to explain a domestic crime. Look to the two men who did it - and judge them by what they have done, not from where their ancestors came.
Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist who recently received her PhD from Washington University in St Louis.