Charles Ramsey should be lauded, not laughed at

Charles Ramsey – the man who helped save the 3 missing Cleveland women thought to be dead – is now becoming an Internet sensation because of the man’s interviews. As Slate‘s Aisha Harris points out,

“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.”

Many will recognize what Harris is talking about – the idea that the news media will interview someone who doesn’t ascribe to standard, mainstream English, or who will express him/herself with vivid language that is often laced with dialect or local slang. Unfortunately, Ramsey’s interviews – very powerful not only because of the dramatic story, but also because of how visceral his feelings of outrage over the horrible situation the three women suffered – have been manipulated and mutilated, some have even Auto-Tuned Ramsey – to add yet another “colorful” black figure for us to mock and laugh at.

What is getting lost is not only Ramsey’s heroism, but also the classist and racist environment that allows for something like this to garner favor; we cannot be as post-racial as we think we are, if we enjoy seeing black people being made to look like fools – this is all the more egregious because a) Ramsey is a hero – though mocking any poor black person for being disenfranchised socially and economically is wrong and b) Ramsey is cognizant of the racial dynamic of this country, as evident with his statement, saying he knew “something was wrong when a little, pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway.”

So to those Internet jokesters who think Ramsey is a good-natured simpleton, this last quote proves them wrong; instead, like most who live in a racially-stratisfied world, Ramsey knows and understands how race works in 21st century America. And there’s a poignancy to his devastatingly on-point comment, because even in Ramsey’s personal, private and sometimes-mundane world, racism rears its ugly and forces itself onto his consciousness.

Making black people look foolish has been sport for many for decades – even seemingly innocuous fare aimed at children like the old Our Gang shorts or early Shirley Temple vehicles made black people a source of comic mirth – the childish, inarticulate, emotional clown who’s good for a decent soundbite. One looks at great American film of the first half of the 20th century and can see this, too – most notably in Gone with the Wind, particularly with the character of Prissy (Butterfly McQueen), a jumble of nerves, who delivers her lines in an almost-brain dead-like soprano whine. Spike Lee took a blistering look at the nefarious practice of making blacks buffoons in his criminally underrated Bamboozled.

And unfortunately, Ramsey is included on the list of black people who are exploited by others, who want to get a cheap laugh at his expense.

So what can be done? Well, there are two things – one very simple and one very difficult. The difficult task first: challenge white male supremacy at every turn – even if it manifests itself as “just a joke.” Nothing is “just a…” Look at why someone is laughing at a racially-charged joke – what is the power structure and what is the context? School those around you when they think its okay to crack racist jokes, or to just assume black people are stupid; let them know that intelligence comes in many different forms, not just in pin-striped suit with a Yale or Harvard degree pinned to the lapel. You may look like a humorless scold, but so what? What would you rather be? A socially-conscious person who knows what’s right and wrong? Or do you want to be the life of the party and really popular among a group of racists?

The other task is easier – if someone on Facebook or Twitter posts some goofy video of Ramsey, making him look silly, don’t play it, and make a comment on the post, letting your friend know how you feel.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Charles Ramsey should be lauded, not laughed at

  1. Steve

    Blah blah blah it’s whiteys fault AGAIN. People are sick of your crap theories.

    • thecrowdedbookshelf

      @ Steve –
      Thanks for your reply and thanks for reading, although I would’ve hoped for a more articulate response than “blah blah blah” but you can’t ask for the moon and the stars….
      Regarding your defensive reaction to my post, it’s clear that I’ve struck a nerve, and for that I’m glad because it’s a difficult topic – racism is never easy to talk about and given your impassioned (if slightly knee-jerk) reaction, you’ve proven just how divisive the topic can be.
      And it’s not about finding fault – it’s about owning the fact that our society still has blind spots when it comes to things like making black people look foolish.
      Finally, I have to thank you for your line about “People are sick of your crap theories” because that makes it sound like there are lots of folks reading my blog and talking about it, so that’s always cool to hear 🙂
      Anyways, again, thanks for reading!

  2. I am one of those people that have laughed at the interview. I am a liberal feminist, but I absolutely loved the way he expressed himself, how articulate he was in expressing the world he lives in and for inviting us in to. As a Southerner from the coast I am very aware of the media exploiting my region for fodder. I always hope that when my family does not leave in a hurricane the media will ask them why, not because it will be what they want to hear, but what they need to hear. Charles Ramsey told us what we need to hear and he deserves to be lauded for it. I have not heard any racist laughter directed at him but I don’t hang out with that crowd. I think we liberals need to be more comfortable with what we fight for….loving your blog.

    • thecrowdedbookshelf

      Thanks for your reply – I had to think about my reaction to the various remixes and Auto-Tunes of Ramsey’s intereviews – why did I react so strongly? I think the issue isn’t so much Ramsey himself – but in the quick way people got a laugh at his expense, in particular some of the colloquial phrases; I think that Ramsey’s meme fame (which as I type this has already faded) plays into a similar theme with Antoine Dobson, the young man who saved his girlfiend from being raped, and who was also captured on camera, like Ramsey, being intereviewed and expressing himself in a distinct, emotional way that was quickly exploited in a similar way to Ramsey’s interviews (the Auto-Tuning, the dance remixes, etc). I don’t think that people who laughed at Ramsey’s original interview are racists, but I do wonder about the people that appropriate Ramsey’s interview and create new forms of art that specifically highlight his speech patterns, dialect, use of profanity, word choices, etc. That’s where I have an issue.
      Still, I could just be a scold poo-pooing on other people’s fun, too – I have also thought about that –
      Thanks for reading!

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