Leslie Jones and Her Take on Slavery
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
By: Kurt von Behrmann
Let me start off by stating that I firmly believe in “freedom of expression.” Individuals, and groups, have the right to express themselves. Censorship is always an awful idea without exception. Along with this having been said, I also have the right to make commentary on what others say and do.
What prompted me to write this entry on Facebook is rooted in a skit on Saturday Night Live. Already controversial, comedian Leslie Jones, who is African American, performed a piece that made light of slavery. Written by Jones, the piece in short centers around how improved her “sex life” would be if she had been alive during Slavery in the United States. The link attached to this article goes into depth regarding what was said.
The truly offensive part of this piece, and there are more,was that it demeaned and trivialized slavery. It not only made light of a serious subject, the manner in which Jones presented the material was highly stereotypical.
The image of the abrasive forceful African-American women has become established as descriptive of most, if not all, African-American Women. While there is great diversity in the presentation and depiction of European Americans, the same cannot be said of the frequently presented “type” that has become shorthand for African-American woman. The smart mouthed maid, the vulgar sex worker, the abusive mother and the materialistic predator who use sex to advance their economic position, these are the common place images of Black Women.
Some can argue that this is not the entire range presented. There are exceptions. However, opposing images are rare. When someone ventures beyond a racially narrow description, they are sometimes criticized as lacking authenticity. If one presents a more “refined” image, through some mysterious leap of logic it is somehow construed as attempting to be “white.”
Blackness is now defined by a strict image. Speaking in street vernacular, boastful statements of achievement, the threat of violence, overt displays of wealth and a marked disdain for academia, these and many other less desirable features are now the logos of Black ethnicity. Steeping outside of these clearly defined walls means losing identity. What is lost when you depart from the stereotypes is a failure to meet expectations. But, what is gained is self-respect and pride.
SNL has be criticized for its lack of inclusion of African—American women. When they finally address the inequity, they chose Jones. She certainly lives up to expectations. Vocal, noisy, blaring with arms a flutter, Jones physical presentation and use of language was in perfect line with what is expected. Jones fit the profile of Black behavior and comedy to perfection. She became a loud uncouth manic woman sent into a furry of emotion powered by the intellectual reasoning of a five year old having a tantrum.
Confirmed true Feminists are on the front lines fighting misogyny. The oppression of a gender is something that should never be tolerated no matter where it takes place. Woman, all women, should take issue with the attempt to make a bad joke about the abuse of women. There should be loud protests on the part of women when they become the subject of a very very bad joke.
Jones attempt to find humor in the enslavement and rape of women is simply not funny. One could hear the nervous laughter that greeted her performance. It was not the response of a crowd taken to comedic paradise. It was more like a painful trek into the disconcerting world of an idiot.
Verbal assaults and the like can be the effective arsenal of a comic. There is nothing new here. Jokes that drip with acidic veneers are the stock and trade of the profession. As offensive as comedy can be, the one cardinal rule of comedy is that it be funny. All is forgiven if the joke makes a room laugh. Jones violated the one rule of comedy; being funny.
It has long been a practice of having African-Americans demeaning themselves as entertainment. As long as the butt of the joke is telling the joke, everyone can laugh without feeling the sting of being called a racist. The reasoning here is that if Blacks are writing and performing the material, it is not offensive. Criticism is render null and void.
What a European American does with African—American material becomes a double standard. It is perfectly acceptable in some quarters for an African—American to use the infamous “N” word. If anyone else uses it, they are instantly branded as racially insensitive to say the least.
The “N” word is loaded. It comes with a history steeped in profound pain. The frequent use of the word is sometimes excused based on context and who is actually using the word. While Germans respect freedom of expression, it is forbidden by law to perform the N.S.D.A.P. salute. The history of those acts and symbols are simply too close, too painful and too destructive to be deemed socially and politically acceptable. There are truly some things better left alone.
One has to pontificate what would be the reaction and response to Jones humor anemic material if a European American had written and delivered the material? One does not have to wonder very long to come to the conclusion that the reaction would be widespread, swift and universally negative.
I seriously doubt if this material would have gone far beyond the cutting room floor if anyone other than an African-American had written it.
While I have not direct proof of this, it almost seems like the SNL wanted to demean African-Americans by having someone Black to do the dirty work. Or, could it be that SNL chose to only find stereotypical negatively based concepts as the only ones appropriate for a Black comedian. It is a point of conjecture.
Jones attempt at being funny, at the expense of an entire race, arrives at an interesting time. Cliven Bundy made remarks that had his supporters backing away from him at an Olympic pace. Stating that African—Americans were better off during Slavery earned a substantial amount of ridicule. Also on the racist horizon, Donald Sterling made his feelings about Blacks known when he made it clear he did not want them at his games. He did not want to socialize with African—Americans. The “irony” of Sterling’s remarks is that V. Stiviano, someone closely associated with Sterling, has openly stated her ethnicity to Barbara Walters as Mexican and Black.
As both examples indicate, prejudice in America is not deceased. It is still being kept on life support.