I appreciated that Leslie Jones wrote an extended riff on slave sexuality and the African American experience on Saturday Night Live. I recognized the controversial elements, but it was also a crash course on hierarchy for a few SNL viewers.
Slavery was an institution built on rape. Angela Davis notes that the representation of Africans as animals also meant a notorious breeding/rape part of the economy. Driven by profit, slave masters would rape in order to make more slaves.
It also necessitated a whole hundred years of representations of black women’s sexuality as somehow complicit in this sexuality. Hierarchies of white sexuality as pure and desired versus black sexuality often articulated as lusty and despised (bogus).
So when Leslie Jones turned her criticism of the subject to her own body she skipped the rape part of of slave economy. Of course the humorous part of the skit was imagining that a slave would be empowered as . . . perhaps a number one draft pick. Jamilah Lemieux, editor at Ebony was quick to notice this and argue that it’s a little 2014 for representations of happy slaves:
What about the producers, directors, cast members who watched this play out? No one said, “You know this is going to upset a lot of people, right?” SNL now has at least five Black actors and writers…one would hope that that would have been enough to stop this train. That is why we wanted Black women in the writers’ room in the first place, to prevent exactly this. Because I am willing to bet that had a Jewish writer conceived an ‘Anne Frank meets Justin Bieber’ skit after the singer made his regrettable comments about the young Holocaust victim, someone would have had the good sense to shut it DOWN.
(When does someone shut down jokes about slavery? And how bad are the racist jokes that don’t make it past the drawing board?)
No doubt SNL is a racist institution and much of their humor hinges on toxic sexist and racist tropes. Jamilah Lemieux makes clear the positionality of Jones in the ways she lampooned her own desirousness.
I don’t know if she’s just doubling down and committing to defending a completely indefensible (IT WASN’T REALLY WASN’T FUNNY, MA) skit, or if she really just doesn’t grasp what was wrong with it. But it’s depressing that Jones would play out her own issues with feeling undesirable in a way that not only made her, in that moment, perhaps as unattractive as humanly possible, but also mocked other Black women who may be taller, larger or outside the ‘norm’ in the process. Comedy can be cathartic, dark, subversive…but that takes skill that wasn’t displayed here. She didn’t call to question why women like her are, by her accounts, less wanted than the Lupitas and Beyonces of the world; she talked about fighting Crips for a White dude and popping out NBA-worthy babies on demand.