09 February 2012

Black History Sound Bite: Nibble 9 (Food for Thought)

Yesterday, while browsing Facebook, my roommate and I came across this video by comedian Dave Ackerman. And before we get into some of the problems of it, I just want to let it "speak for itself" for a bit:
So now to business. The video, originally titled "What BYU students say about black history month," was retitled "What do you know about black people?" So I guess it's only fitting to title this response to Dave's video:

(The title was apparently changed to "What do you know about black history" ... oh well)
Let's just take this video one painful issue at a time.

1. The Blackface
The first thing we see in the video is Dave being made over in brown makeup and donning a baseball cap. He then wanders onto BYU's campus and begins interviewing people--both White and Black--about Black history. Because apparently blackface was the only way to get this done?

Why It Could Have Been Funny: Had Dave bothered to point out to the folks he was talking to--particularly those who said they would "know a black guy when they see one" and somehow didn't comment on the fact that his was the worst makeup job in the universe--that he was not, in fact, a Black man at all, it might have been funny. Because if the folks had actually not realized he wasn't actually Black (which I kind of doubt; blame editing), the looks on their faces might have gone well with this:
This look of judgment is for you, Dave.
Why It Wasn't Funny: Because until there's something hilarious about being Black (which there isn't), there will never be anything funny about this. And trust me ... there is nothing intrinsically hilarious about being Black. Outside of the "I'm just gonna have to laugh at this because otherwise I'd hurt somebody" sense. The sense of hilarity that saw generations of dislocated Africans through slavery, Civil Rights, institutionalized prejudices, segregation, and the humiliation of their people in light of the minstrel tradition that John Strausbaugh said "[displayed] Blackness for the enjoyment and edification of white viewers." The idea that we should learn something--or that anybody could possibly learn anything true--about "Blackness" from a tradition of mockery is kind of hilarious, I guess. Anything that gave birth to a racial motif like the "Darky" icon, though, isn't hilarious.
This lighter figurine may be smiling, but my guess it's because he's
fighting the urge to burn the house down ...
2. We're asking BYU students what they know about what now?
In the video, Dave seems to get a pretty big kick out of calling it "Black History Mumf." On his Facebook page, in the description of the video, he also decided it was a good idea to describe the video thus:
Which should be pretty offensive to Black and White people...
Rather than trying to pretend there's any context in which I found this funny (again, beyond the "Let me laugh so I don't hurt somebody" context), let's just dive right into

Why It's Not Funny: Because while the video seems to be poking fun at the racially unaware, and the racial insensitivity that's in the world, it also doesn't make Dave look any better himself. Whoever told him that it was a good idea to make fun of Black people to make fun of White people who don't know anything about Black people was a fool. Possibly a person who knows nothing about Black people thinking it would be a good idea to take that ignorance and use it to poke fun at something (s)he didn't even begin to understand.

In defense of his own video, Dave points out this video and asks if it's any better:

Now, I guess I can see the parallel between Dave's video and Franchesca Ramsey's video. She dons a blonde wig and talks about whether or not blackface is still a problem; he dons blackface, and ... Well, okay, I guess that's about as far as I could take the comparison. The all-encompassing "[Radio Edit] White Girls Say ... To Black Girls" title could be taken as a prejudiced and stereotypical--one of my best friends is a White girl who would never say any of these things to me (please note the sarcasm, but the statement about my friend is true, she wouldn't)--but what she says in the video--these sayings that she's personally had folks say to her (and so have I, by the way, innumerable times)--is far from it. The fact of the matter is that there are things that get said to me as a Black woman, and that are said to Black people in general, that are so ridiculous I can't help but laugh. (Mostly to keep from crying.) Such as:
"Hey, that sheep looks like you!" (True story.)

But what Dave seems to miss is that this is an almost manic laughter. A laughter that says, "This world is crazy, and it's taking me with it." A laughter that says, "I laugh to keep from crying." A laugh that says, "If I wasn't laughing, I'd be doing this":
CAT FIGHT! (But seriously ... Awww!)

3. Someone thinks Black History Month is the month Black history started?!

Why It Could Be Funny: In the same vein as Jay Leno's walkabouts in which he reveals the general lack of knowledge among some of the people of the United States are funny, Dave manages to hone in on some of the foolishness running rampant in the World. Not only is Black History Month the dawning of Black hsitory as a whole, but :
  • Martin Luther is a pillar of the Black community
  • Malcolm X was a bad man who headed up the Black Panthers (I'm guessing they don't mean "SHAFT" "bad", either)
  • Eating fried chicken and drinking grape Kool-Aid are the traditional ways of celebrating Black History Month, and
  • Samuel L. Jackson is a major icon of Black History
... Wait ... what?
"What" ain't no country he's ever heard of!
Why It's Not Funny: Because it's too sad to be funny. That a guy came back from a mission trip to Alabama in the 2000s and thought it was still appropriate to call Black folk "Colored people" is sad.

That attraction between a White person and Black person is still called "Jungle Fever" is sad.

That a Black guy who acts like a White guy is considered "classy" is sad.

And it points out, and perhaps perpetuates, the idea that humor at the expense of Black people, or beign Black, or Blackness, is still so popular in American culture.

While trying to come up with a graphic to support this idea, I ran across this picture:
First I laughed.

And then I started to cry.

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