Laughing at Prejudice?

Laughing at prejudice?  Who in the world is foolish enough to do that?  Do you really want to know?


Everybody has met this guy…Charles Ramsey.  The humorous, animated, unwitting hero of this week’s kidnapping and hostage drama.  The guy is friggin’ hilarious, right?  The hair, the teeth, the ebonics.  The internet universe can’t seem to get enough of him.  He is literally everywhere!

But why, exactly, are we laughing?

People, especially black people, are having a little difficulty figuring that one out.  NPR is asking a question I have been asking for years.  Is society laughing with Mr. Ramsey, or is it laughing at Mr. Ramsey?

On the surface, this would be no big deal.  Here we have this really funny guy who helped save the victims of a horrific crime.  He is the best kind of hero, because he didn’t wake up that morning with the intention of doing anything drastic.  He was simply enjoying his Big Mac, and BAM…

“…..a pretty little white girl ran into a black man’s arms…something is wrong here!…..”

Yes, indeed, Mr. Ramsey.  I think something IS wrong here.

In the short span of a few hours, Charles Ramsey’s hilarity began to outshine the humanity of his act.  It became all too easy to see him as another poor, uneducated, black dude…who while needing a haircut and dentist, is funny as hell.  This man helped to free three women, imprisoned for a decade.  And, in the span of a few hours, he had joined the ranks of the “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” chic.

Say what, now??

And did you even hear what he said?  What you call humor, I call honesty.  It had to be serious because he was useful.  Useful.   Black people, men in particular,  have internalized a feeling of inferiority.  Society, without thinking, encourages it.  No?  Power on a television or computer.  A black man is wanted for a crime.  “Welfare queens”-in hair scarves, pajamas, and bedroom slippers-argue with baby daddies.  Maybe a comedy starring a black comedian..complete with stereotypes and foul language.  Most likely, it is Beyoncé shaking her groove thing.

I do not think society is intentionally prejudiced.  We all want to feel as though we are laughing with, as opposed to at, Ramsey.  But, as one of my fellow bloggers so eloquently stated…”While I rarely claim to speak for all black people, I think I’m fairly safe in saying that we’ve had enough of playing Amos and Andy and Mr. Bojangles for this country. As long as we can sing and dance, and make folks laugh, it’s cool. But black intellectuals rarely enjoy that level of acceptance.”  And I couldn’t agree with her more.  Our roles, in society, are very defined.  We are either cracking you up or starting crack houses in your neighborhood.

There is more to the black community than singing and dancing.  More than rap songs and rap sheets.  There are teachers and doctors; lawyers and scientists; parents and children.  Mothers who try to instill a sense of self-worth when none is felt.  Fathers who demonstrate remarkable pride in the face of  bigotry.  Sons and daughters who confront stereotypes on a daily basis.  And, there are, occasionally, opportunities to demonstrate that humanity is not solely reserved for the affluent.

But…We laugh.

We laugh because he is an animated guy.  We laugh at his hair, his teeth.  We laugh because who would have thought this guy would someday be someone’s savior.  We laugh without thinking how it would make him feel.  We laugh because we are so accustomed to this type of black person that we pay no attention to the insensitivity we are demonstrating.  We laugh as some young African-American seethes at yet another portrayal of the ignorant black person.  We laugh not realizing that we are shaping a little black child’s world view.  We laugh because we don’t understand.

But imagine if the shoe were on the other foot?

Would you laugh if Honey Boo Boo, and shows like it, were the prominent portrayal of white America?

Would you laugh when that portrayal began to influence the rest of the country?  When it became the basis of stereotypical opinions of white America?

Would you laugh when white lawyers, doctors, businessmen, and philanthropists got precious little air time?

Would you laugh if white women were constantly shown in broken down trailers, guns in hand, and dirty babies in tow?

Would you laugh when a white man performed a truly good deed and society made a joke out of him?

Well…would you?


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