Charles Ramsey: He’s funny, and we should enjoy him without guilt
By RICHARD ROEPER May 8, 2013 8:02PM
Neighbor Charles Ramsey speaks to media near the home on the 2200 block of Seymour Avenue, where three missing women were rescued in Cleveland, on Monday, May 6, 2013. Cheering crowds gathered on the street where police said Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight, who went missing about a decade ago and were found earlier in the day. (AP Photo/The Plain Dealer, Scott Shaw) ORG XMIT: OHCLE101
“The Troubling Viral Trend of the ‘Hilarious’ Black Neighbor.” —headline from The Slatest
“Charles Ramsey is an Internet Hero for All the Wrong Reasons.” —headline from The Atlantic
“Stop being sensitive, Charles Ramsey is a Hero and He Happens to be Hilarious” —headline from Globalgrind.com
It didn’t even take a full day for Cleveland hero Charles Ramsey to become a viral video star.
And as far as some commentators are concerned, we should be ashamed of ourselves for reveling in that.
As far as I’m concerned, that opinion is a load of [BLEEP!], as Ramsey himself might put it.
Somewhere between, “I knew something was wrong when a pretty little white girl ran into a black man’s arms,” and, “I barbecued with this dude, we eat RIBS and what not, and listen to salsa music,” at least a dozen techno wizards were giving Ramsey the Auto-Tune mash-up treatment and posting his greatest hits on YouTube.
So, like Sweet Brown (“I got bronchitis! Ain’t nobody got time for that!”) and Antoine Dobson (“Hide your kids, hide your wife!”) before him, Ramsey has become instantly famous — with some observers (including yours truly) enjoying the hell out of his sound bites, while others expressed concern about the racial angle.
Are we laughing with these formerly anonymous citizens who are catapulted to Internet fame thanks to their off-the-cuff comments — or are we mocking them for their less-than-kingly English, their unkempt appearances, their economic situations, their race?
Here’s Ramsey on the 911 call to police after Cleveland kidnap victim Amanda Berry had escaped:
“Hey, check this out: I just came from McDonald’s, right? And I’m on my porch eatin’ my little food, right? This broad is trying to break out of the [bleeping] house next door! She said her name was Linda Berry or some [bleep]. I don’t know who the [bleep] that is.”
And here’s Ramsey on TV, recounting how he knew Amanda Berry was in trouble:
“I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway. Either she’s homeless or she’s got problems. That’s the only reason she run to a black man.”
OK, first of all, that’s just funny, and I’m not going to apologize for laughing. Ramsey’s delivery is part street philosopher, part Chris Rock.
Is Ramsey speaking some uncomfortable truths about a collective societal fear of the black man, especially in certain neighborhoods, even in 2013? Absolutely. But is it racist to chuckle at the viral videos on YouTube, to forward links to Ramsey’s greatest hits, to tweet how much you dig him?
Writing for NPR about the instant (and temporary) celebrity status of Ramsey, Brown, Dodson et al., Gene Demby observes, “Race and class seemed to be central to the celebrity of all these people. They were poor. They were black. Their hair was kind of a mess. And they were unashamed. That’s still weird and chuckle-worthy.”
From Miles Klee at Blackbook: “Perhaps it’s time for the world’s meme artists to stop assuming that any black dude getting interviewed on local TV about a crime he helped to foil can be reduced to some catch phrase or in-joke. … Through the whole experience, it seems that everyone, from the 911 operator to the news correspondents, is a little condescending to [Ramsey].”
Let’s not kid ourselves. Many of those giving Ramsey virtual high-fives probably would walk across the street if they saw him coming. And yes, of course at least a few of the folks chortling over the Ramsey sound bites are doing so in part because it confirms their stereotypes.
But can’t we just celebrate the awesomeness of those quotes without being called racist? Can’t we say Ramsey’s a hero and a sound-bite god?
It’s not as if only black men and women become viral video sensations or TV stars by virtue of their, shall we say, unrefined style, e.g., “Honey Boo Boo” and “Jersey Shore” and all those shows about wealthy, wine-swilling housewives and the moms of toddlers in beauty pageants.
The sanctimonious cries of “racist” about the Ramsey phenomena trivialize the term. There’s more credibility in saying we’re enjoying classist humor.
But if you want me to apologize for finding Charles Ramsey to be funny as hell, you’re going to be waiting forever.