Tag Archives: slavery

Positionality: Ebony on Leslie Jones, humor and slavery

Photo from Ebony Magazine, via Saturday Night Live

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?)

via Once Again, No One Is Laughing at ‘SNL’ – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

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.

via Once Again, No One Is Laughing at ‘SNL’ – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

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Filed under media, protest, race, representation, rhetoric, sexual assault

Valuable documentary: Black in Latin America

Henry Louis Gates has produced a wonderful new documentary series Black in Latin America.  It is a series that looks at the historical representations of the importation of African slaves in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Peru, and Brazil.  Each episode is pretty strong standing alone, but viewing them together really helps to synthesize some of the shared dynamics — the ideas cross over episodes.

Particularly interesting to me is the impact that cane sugar has on European tastes and the relationship sugar has to plantation economies.   When Toussaint L’Ouverture and the Haitian rebellion denied Europe this now vital commodity, Cuba is flooded with slaves to gear up sugar cane production.   This not only allows European flavor access, it also speaks to the compelling desire to never be without refined sugar.  Not to mention enabling France and the United States to isolate and embargo the newly-emancipated Haiti, crushing the economy and facilitating US military take-over.

Also fascinating are the attempts to ‘whiten’ the populations by encouraging immigration from Europe and the impact this has on racial self-identification.  As Gates notes when asked about the racial difference between the nations in the documentaries and the US he notes:

Whereas we have black and white or perhaps black, white, and mulatto as the three categories of race traditionally in America, Brazil has 136 kinds of blackness. Mexico, 16. Haiti, 98. Color categories are on steroids in Latin America. I find that fascinating. It’s very difficult for Americans, particularly African-Americans to understand or sympathize with. But these are very real categories. In America one drop of black ancestry makes you black. In Brazil, it’s almost as if one drop of white ancestry makes you white. Color and race are defined in strikingly different ways in each of these countries, more akin to each other than in the United States. We’re the only country to have the one-drop rule. The only one. And that’s because of the percentage of rape and sexual harassment of black women by white males during slavery and the white owners wanted to guarantee that the children of these liaisons were maintained as property.

via Q&A with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. | Black in Latin America | PBS.

Gates covers the history with a certain quickness.  But he get’s at the cultural impact — in each nation we find some folks whitening, changing the features on statues and in history books, shifting the representation of black leaders to affirm non-blackness.  He also maps the resistance of music, religion, language and the threads of political pan-African identity.

This is a massive topic and I would watch a 12 or 15 part series on the subjects.   It is a shame that Gates only has five episodes to get at the story.  He does an admirable job organizing the ideas and also exposing current themes in each nation that point back to their historical relationship to the slave economy.

The episodes are up for viewing on pbs.  Highly recommended.

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Filed under human rights, media, slavery