An important point was raised by Rebekah Ubuntu at our last event Women and Non-binary Identities. As a response to a question on how media represents black folk (specifically about the representation of women and non-binary/queer folk in the media)
Rebekah touched upon a topic that has been on my mind for a while.
From time to time we are introduced to these comical personalities by news anchors, these incidents have mainly happened in American news stations. But in all the cases we will be reviewing there has been a tragedy, and the news anchors have targeted black folk to explain the tragedy, then, later on, they had been mocked on the internet for their dialectics or way of talking and became viral for being different and “funny”.
The history of marginalised groups and comedy value is a long history that has presented itself in various ways. It goes back to media and popular culture showing differences as having comedic value instead of celebration, some examples of these are stereotypes such as the: nerdy jew, geeky ginger, camp gay men, uneducated butch women and funny black token friend.
As well as representation there is a comedic value to the way people speak. In his documentary Do I Sound Gay, David Thorpe points out that historically characters in cartoons who had lisps also had camp aesthetics and were portrayed as the evil character, this then influences the idea that queer folk have physical impairments as well as being evil and not to be trusted.
Based on this ideology we can see the pattern that follows, black folk have always been used to add comedic value to movies, because of either stereotypical “street language” or certain dialectics.
In examples below we see several incidents in which black folk were used by news anchors (most probably on purpose) to add comedic value to a situation.
There are several issues with this:
-Creating more stereotypes:
Most of these news reports play on the idea of the mockery of class, the people represented in the videos are most probably from working class background, and have non-posh ways of talking which can seem funny to some, but very problematic and classist.
These people are predominantly chosen because of their race, and because of the stereotype of “black people being funny”.
These videos make the image of working class women of colour a joke, which is an intersectional issue, as women of colour who are working class are constantly the subject of jokes.
Some of the folks represented in these interviews have certain queer aesthetic and dialectics, for example, the way they say certain words or certain punch lines that are linked to western queer dialectics. This can be linked to the idea brought up earlier from “do I sound gay” why is it that people talking in a non-traditional manner are the subject of jokes? Why do we find it funny and why do we think it’s ok to laugh at these people.
The bigger problem here is also that black folk are the subject of the joke, which has led society to believe that the problems that black folk face in their lives are not serious. If most of the representation a marginalised group get, are based on comedy then that implies that that group is inherently comical and not to be taken seriously.
Doesn’t this affect how bigger issues such as police brutality and violence against women of colour are not taken as seriously as they should be?