[media url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcLSI3oyqhs” width=”420″ height=”315″ jwplayer=”controlbar=bottom”]
By now, we all know the name Charles Ramsey. Hopefully it’s because he’s the heroic man who helped rescue Amanda Barry, Georgina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, three Cleveland women who went missing A DECADE AGO and not because he’s the latest in a string of problematic Internet memes, joining the ranks of Antoine “Hide Yo Kids, Hide Yo Wife” Dodson, Sweet “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That” Brown and Michelle “KABOOYAH” Clarke. (Aisha Harris wrote this excellent piece for Slate, which traces the — albeit recent — history of ‘The Troubling Viral Trend of the “Hilarious” Black Neighbour.’ Among her many incisive observations: “It’s difficult to watch these videos and not sense that their popularity has something to do with a persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform.” TRUTHBOMB.)
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Indeed, Ramsey’s act of heroism is being completely eclipsed by the public’s obsessive need to autotune the “catch phrases” of poor/working class folk, which is really upsetting. Here is a man that, unlike most people, actually RESPONDED to what he thought was a domestic incident. Here is a man that, unlike most people, took a woman’s cry for help seriously. It takes a mighty big person to run towards trouble not away from it.
And yet, instead of revering this man, we’re laughing at him. I’m not saying you’re a TERRIBLE person if you happened to giggle at the “I barbeque with this dude. We eat ribs and whatnot and listen to salsa music” quote. I laughed, too. Ramsey’s a funny dude and he’s a great storyteller with the cadence of a comedian. Thing is, HE’S NOT A COMEDIAN. When these quotes get flipped and auto-tuned (ugh), they become completely divorced from the (usually tragic) stories they helped tell. Do we even remember that Dodson — who inspired The Gregory Brothers’ “Bad Intruder Song,” which has been watched over 100 million times on YouTube and went GOLD in the U.S. — actually rescued his sister from being raped by an intruder? It’s easy to laugh when these memes start making the rounds with no context, just a “have you seen this yet?” or a “LOLZ.” And then stories about Charles Ramsey start appearing in the Entertainment section, and then we forget the real reason we know his name.
Ramsey made a striking comment on racism that made the reporter so uncomfortable he promptly ended the interview. “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms.” Funny how people are referring to it as a punchline.
Jen Zoratti is a freelance music journo and a Spectator Tribute columnist. Look for her book, Raining Sanctimony: The Jen Zoratti Story in 2028. Follow her on Twitter @JenZoratti.