“Stop That… White People are Looking”

Recently a friend sent me a clip from the Maury Show and my initial response was, “I’d rather tell people I smoke crack than enjoy some Maury Povich.” For those unfamiliar, the Maury Show is the epitome of daytime trash television. It’s infamous for parading the type of hood people that would make Jerry Springer blush.

When I thought of what really embarrassed me about enjoying Maury, it wasn’t that it was a show that exploits stereotypes but that my reaction was based on what people might think of me. I grew up in a town nicknamed Lake No Negro and had daily interactions with people that expected me to be a caricature from BET or MC Whoever’s music video. I’d have people making me feel ashamed for enjoying fried chicken or being good at basketball and in retrospect, it made no sense.

I’m not the only one that has been affected by this “Stop that… white people are looking” syndrome. As a people we tend to somewhat censor ourselves on everything from humor to serious discussions on race to not discomfort or confirm the prejudices of others.

Never mind that the people on Maury don’t represent me, nor are black or any people a monolithic group. There is this sense that the Maury Shows, Flavor of Loves or BETs are bringing us down as a people, mainly because they are overrepresented in the media. This is true and should be addressed by giving blacks more creative control to produce their own programs with characters that don’t just fit the negative media narrative. However, things like humor are universal and don’t need to be constrained by political correctness. Nor do we need to be serious all the time to appease others’ prejudices.

In the case of Maury, sometimes funny is just funny. The clip my friend sent me titled “Chicken Tetrazzini Ep. 2” had all the makings of a classic tragedy, which makes for great comedy. A man was cheating on his girlfriend with her best friend over chicken tetrazzini. Every time he had a confession to make the show would go to a screen with a prerecorded tape of him announcing an astounding new indiscretion. There was no dramatic pauses. He would just let it out and then the show would cut back to his girlfriend going after him. By the third or 4th confession it felt like a South Park episode. The comedic timing of the clip was dead on. That the circus was run by an old white man just added to the tragic nature of it, making the show so unbelievable bad it was entertaining.

While I’ve come across people who really do think all black people are like what you see on the media, the fact that they are that ignorant is reason enough to not let their stupidity reflect on you. Consider these words from Marcus Garvey:

“If others laugh at you, return the laughter to them; if they mimic you, return the compliment with equal force. They have no more right to dishonor, disrespect and disregard your feeling and manhood than you have dealing with them. Honor them when they honor you; disrespect and disregard them when they vilely treat you. Their arrogance is but skin deep and an assumption that has no foundation in morals or in law. They have sprung from the same family tree of obscurity as we have; their history is as rude in its primitiveness as ours; their ancestors ran wild and naked, lived in caves and in the branches of trees, like monkeys, as ours; they made human sacrifices, ate the flesh of their own dead and the raw meat of the wild beast for centuries even as they accuse us of doing; their cannibalism was more prolonged than ours; when we were embracing the arts and sciences on the banks of the Nile their ancestors were still drinking the human blood and eating out of the skulls of their conquered dead; when our civilization had reached the noonday of progress they were still running naked and sleeping in holes and caves with rats, bats and other insects and animals. After we had already unfathomed the mysteries of the stars and reduced the heavenly constellations to minute and regular calculus they were still backwoodsmen, living in ignorance and blatant darkness.”

We live in a hypocritical society. I’ve lost count of the white people that have told me we should try to live in a “colorblind” society and that blacks are oppressing whites despite the facts that the median wealth of whites is 20 times more than blacks and there are more blacks currently in prison now than there were in slavery in 1850 (mostly for drug offenses even though drug use is uniform across all races and studies have shown that when stopped and searched, whites are more likely to have drugs on them). When faced with this crazy talk, why should I feel bad about laughing at clips of Patrice O’Neal saying he expected to have white slaves after Obama’s election? Don’t I have a right to laugh at craziness just as you have a right to believe it?

If someone only pays attention to political correctness when I don’t exhibit it, then clearly the problem isn’t with my words. Whether you have a problem with me joking about Stephon Marbury eating Vaseline or being deadly serious about right wing Christian elites being overrepresented in house flipping schemes, it shouldn’t matter because of our First Amendment Rights. The real problem is that the Glenn Becks of the world can get hired to spew their craziness while someone like Cornel West gets tarred and feathered for saying something controversial, even if he can prove it.

These obstacles are real and should be fought persistently. However, we should not let them discourage us from laughing and smiling whenever we so feel like it.

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