I hate to sound all Seinfeldian, but what’s the deal with all of these S#%T people say videos?
The term as a pop culture comedy theme actually started a few years ago in the incredibly funny Twitter Feed, book and eventual CBS sitcom S#%T My Dad Says, by writer Justin Halpern. Whereas Justin’s initial feed was just a way to relate some of the crazy stuff coming out of his Dad’s mouth (and trust me, it’s a funny feed) the evolution of the S#%t (Blank) Says has moved mostly to YouTube.
If you’re unfamiliar with the comedy trope being shared here, it’s fairly simple. Someone doing an impersonation (for example a Man dressed up as a woman) proceeds to do a quick video in various scenarios featuring typical phrases from whom they impersonate. It’s much funnier to see and hear than it is to explain, trust me. Where it began is with Sh@t Girls say – and then evolved into the varyingly funny SH*T Black Girls Say, SH%T Black Guys say and the most recent viral sensation Sh*t White Girls Say…To Black Girls by YouTube personality Franchesca Leigh Ramsey.
The interesting thing about all of these videos is that like most comedy on YouTube they have attracted a ridiculous amount of discussion and criticism usually from people who don’t get the joke, or who generally get angry about not being in on a joke.
That is why the most recent entry Sh*t White Girls Say…To Black Girls is so interesting. Whereas most of these videos are more or less in-jokes (Men to Men, Women to Women, Blacks to Blacks) SWGSTBG (nice acronym) is the first of these videos to explicitly deal with relationships between different kinds of people. SWGSTBG is a wonderful collage of the never ending series of annoying things that African American women often hear from White Women who are their colleagues, co-workers, and in some cases friends. From the annoying overuse of the word ‘ghetto’ and ‘Heeeeeyyy GURL” in White-mocking-Black accents to the more insulting but no less common “I’m not that into black guys’ and ‘your hair feels like a brillo pad’. The segments are funny, believable and of course have opened up doors for the overused term ‘discussion’ about race and racism. However, I’m not too sure that the lesson about race or the purveyor of the video really gets what she is saying or the solutions.
I read up on SWGSTBG creator Franchesca Leigh Ramsey, a comedienne and designer also known for her Chescalocs v-blog on natural hair advice. She did an interview with MTV where she revealed some of her life experiences and why she was inspired to make the video about What White Girls Say and what she sees as the blog’s potential. Perhaps I’m just a stickler, but whenever someone makes a big cinematic or literary splash about ‘race’ I am compelled to see not just their work but the mindset behind it. With Leigh Ramsey, despite the one million viral hits in 24 hours, I was a bit disappointed.
FLR: Growing up my White friends always outnumbered my Black friends. The Black kids made fun of me and those that didn’t were just like me. But, truthfully with the exception of a few close friends from childhood and college, most of my Black friends today I met online! My White friends “helped” me in the sense that many of the lines were direct quotes from them. The response from my friends has been awesome.
This is a key evolutionary point for me when there is ever a discussion about interracial friendships amongst Black folks. I was just like Franchesca, I grew up around mostly White kids in an upper middle class neighborhood in suburban Washington D.C. The few other black kids in my high school at the time were usually from poor neighborhoods, and they made fun of me for talking ‘proper’ or ‘White’ and I was usually one of only two African American students in my AP, or GT classes. With that in mind I got where Franchesca was coming from, there is a unique dance with race that you have to play – WHEN YOU’RE IN HIGHSCHOOL – and you are one of the few minorities around. However, as the interview went further, I got a bit more disappointed and started looking at the video much differently.
FLR: Strangers are one thing, but when it’s your friends it can be kinda hurtful. And even more so that when I told them I was bothered by it they didn’t seem to understand why. After that I started thinking about all the random things that have been said to me about race and made a list in my iPhone and thus the video was born!
In the previous paragraph Franchesca Leigh Ramsey discusses how she went to a high-school reunion with locked hair and as her mostly White friends got drunker and drunker they started touching her hair, and asking inappropriate questions, and despite her protests they kept at it. This is the point where I started to ask myself what this video was really about. What kind of self-respecting Black person voluntarily socializes with White people who think and act this way? High school is one thing, if you are the only Black kid in your neighborhood you may end up making compromises that later in life you would never make.
I remember being in high-school and having my ‘friends’ touch my hair all the time without permission. I complained, but put up with it because the alternative was having no friends. But that was high-school where your social options are limited by what your lunch period was and where your locker was at. As I grew into a self-respecting adult African American male I didn’t feel the need to educate anyone about how to respect my personal space. And White people that don’t get that are no longer my friends.
This is the ugly underbelly of race relations that CNN and Essence magazine don’t want to talk about when it comes to interracial interaction. Just how much of our own personal integrity does a Black person have to give up to ‘get along’ with the White majority under the guise of being ‘understanding’? Black women like Franchesca Leigh Ramsey, as well meaning as they may be, are really just as much part of the racial problems in America as the White people they pretend to mock.
FLR: Over the years I’ve found that it’s easiest to use comedy to diffuse some of those awkward moments. If it’s a friend assuming my hair is a weave, I explain that it’s not and that contrary to popular belief, it’s possible for Black women to have naturally long hair. Or, on the extreme end, if someone starts telling N-word jokes around me (which has happened before) I shut them down immediately. I explain that word makes everyone sound ignorant and that Black people’s use does not give them a pass….. The best way to continue that dialogue is to just try to be open minded and accepting because race is a super touchy subject, especially when friends are involved.
This last paragraph says alot about Ramsey and race relations in America. One of the most pernicious and enduring elements of White supremacy (Yes I just went there) is to convince African Americans that it is our responsibility to be ‘teachers’ to Whites about race relations. There are some basic ground rules of respect that should be afforded any human being and all too often African Americans let their White colleagues off the hook by telling ourselves that they’re just ‘ignorant’ or ‘don’t know any better’. When the reality is we are afraid that if we express our true feelings and frustration the White people we socialize with will reject us as being ‘too angry’ or ‘volatile’. That level of compromise is not progress – it is fear, shame and ultimately cowardice.
Unlike SWGSBG creator Frachesca Leigh Ramsey I haven’t had a white person tell a “nigger” joke around me since high school. Why? Because I don’t hang out with those types of White people. More importantly, the White people that I do spend time with know better than to think I’m that “negro” that will smile, laugh it off or give a sermon to teach them about common courtesy when they ought to know better.
Unfortunately, as funny and compelling as Sh*t White Girls Say to Black Girls may be, the video’s creator represents the worst and saddest aspect of our modern push for ‘diversity’ and understanding in America. If you are a Black person who wants to bury your self-esteem and bury your personal and racial integrity to marry or socialize with insensitive White people that is your own business.
However, that is not progress, it is not diversity it is false-consciousness masquerading as integration. Ramsey, whose fiancé is White, and whose social network is also mostly White clearly spends her time smiling and grinning while alternately fending off constant ignorant and hurtful statements from Whites that are her ‘friends’. Rather than socializing with a different type of White people (and trust me, I never have these problems with my White friends) or demanding a level of respect and consideration she hides behind comedy hoping that at some point the slings and arrows will stop, and she can try to be a full human being in the presence of the people she so desperately wants to be accepted by.
As I grew from my lily White suburb to college and then beyond I found my friendships changed. I could no longer hang out with my White friends who would joke that “Maybe back in the day my parents owned your family” or “Why are you getting a haircut your hair doesn’t grow” and instead chose better quality people to spend time with, White or not.
The reason this comedienne in the making made this video was likely less about educating than about her own refusal to combat the racism in her own social group. She has chosen a life of compromise in order to get along in the overall racial hierarchy rather than developing fully as a human being. In that way Sh*t White Girls say to Black Girls comes across less as a comedy skit on race relations and more a sad cry for help and respect by a Black girl who gave up her own racial agency years ago.
This article originally appeared online at Politic365.com.