There's national watercooler talk about Cleveland hero Charles Ramsey, his spirited interviews and whether subjects like him, Sweet Brown and Antoine Dodson are just being exploited by reporters and meme-makers. Detroit's Fox 2 wants in on that action, apparently.
And by "wanting in" I actually mean wanting to overshadow Ramsey by airing its own "hilarious black neighbor" archetype. Meet "Melinda! Brown! Duncan! Baby!," a Detroit resident upset about the current leadership of the city. Watching the video is key, but here's the transcript.
Dave Bing and the governor, y'all just sitting up there and collecting checks. If y'all really want to sit up there and run the city of Detroit, come around here and every block of the city of Detroit, look through these houses, they ain't no good, tear that shit down so people can stop finding dead relatives in these damn houses. And pay these damn Detroit cops what they're supposed to earn for being out here protecting the city of Detroit. If not, put my ass in office and I'll show you how to run the damn city of damn Detroit, and I know nothing about it. But I'll learn quick, fast and in a hurry and get y'all sorry asses up out of here. And do the right damn thing. That's why people don't want to come to the city of Detroit cause y'all sorry asses won't get off your asses not doing shit. If it was y'all damn family members, y'all would do the right damn thing, so kiss my black ass and get out of office. Bye.
We won't dispute that Brown Duncan's concerns aren't valid and they definitely need to be heard. Let's talk about Fox 2's approach to making them heard, though.
First off, we have no context why Fox 2 (the same station that dedicated a special report to wearing weaves during Black History Month) reporter Maurielle Lue was in Melinda! Brown! Duncan! Baby's! neighborhood. There are just two grafs on the post, the last of which simply reads, "Nothing more to write here, just play the video to get 1:10 seconds of keeping it real."
"Just play the video." There's an ad before the video, so hooray for the marketing department. But it's clear what the intentions are, and that's just play the video.
No, Fox 2 is not going to hand-deliver Melinda! Brown! Duncan! Baby's! concerns directly to the mayor. Bing, nor Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who's also name-checked, isn't even mentioned in the Fox 2 post. But, just play the video! Just play the video of this angry black woman screaming into the camera and keeping it real.
And here's where we dive head-first into the swampy, alligator-infested, malaria-ridden waters of racism, class and media.
Going back to Charles Ramsey for a minute, there have been two thoughtful posts on Slate and NPR concerning whether we're laughing with Ramsey or at Ramsey. Yes, he was trying to enjoy his McDonald's. But he also aided in the rescue of three physically and mentally abused women chained for years, one of which bore a child to their captors. The question, for the TL;DR crowd is, should Ramsey be auto-tuned and memed to no end, and do those auto-tunes and memes overshadow his heroic efforts?
The other question is whether Ramsey, like Sweet Brown, Michelle Clark and Antoine Dodson before him, are low-hanging fruit in the viral world. They all fit the "black eyewitness" mold: High-strung, low-income, accidentally funny.
In the wake of Ramsey, who's now the lightning rod for this conversation, there have been criticisms that black people who see Ramsey's interviews want to keep "people like him" off the camera and in the house. I'm not going to be Mr. Black America Spokesperson, but I can say that's generally not the case. It's not so much being embarrassed by Ramsey; we all have an uncle, a cousin or a neighbor just like him, and he's family. It's the exploitation I'm concerned about.
Aisha Harris, who wrote the aforementioned Slate piece, explains it better than I could:
Granted, the buzzworthy tactic of reporters interviewing the most loquacious witnesses to a crime or other event is nothing new, and YouTube has countless examples of people of all ethnicities saying ridiculous things. But none of those people have been subjected to quite the same level of derisive memefication as Brown, Clark, and now, perhaps Ramsey...It's difficult to watch these videos and not sense that their popularity has something to do with a persistent, if not unconscious, desire to see black people perform.
When I posted the Slate piece on my Facebook wall, my response to the "you're being too sensitive"-type comments has been "Where's the viral meme or auto-tune of Uncle Ruslan, who instantly lightened up the Boston bombing horrors with equally loud rants and calling his nephews 'losers?'"
Will Brown Duncan's concerns about the city of Detroit be heard, or will they be lost because there's no context to her video? Probably the latter. Because, again, Fox 2 wants you to "just watch the video," and you can see Lue laughing it up at the tail end of the video. Does she even take her serious, or were she and her cameraman flying back up the Lodge to the studio rushing to get this on the website, foaming at the mouth for the traffic numbers that would roll in?
For the record, since Fox 2 didn't bother to explain, Bing really does "collect a check," as he has little power under state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr, which is a valid concern as his salary could be used elsewhere.
The budget for the Detroit Police Department has been cut several times in the last few years (including deep pay cuts for officers and working long hours to reduce overtime pay) and, most notably, a gang squad task force was dissolved to move officers to other beats.
The city also has been slow to deliver on a promise to tear down thousands of abandoned homes, many of which become crime scenes — and yes, dead relatives are often found there.
And while places like the MidCorkDown radius are filling up fast, census figures show there still is a steady decline of residents "that don't want to come to the city of Detroit" because once they go north of Eight Mile, chances are they aren't coming back.
Scroll past the "OMG soooooooo funny" comments on Fox 2's Facebook page and you'll learn that Brown Duncan is a retired engineer at General Motors (so says one Facebook commenter), and not merely just another "Detroiter" that Fox 2 describes her as. But again, never mind finding out about where Brown Duncan is coming from with her concerns. Just play the video.
(H/T to Alan Stamm!)
(UPDATE: I dropped in a YouTube link of the Fox 2 interview that just recently surfaced at the top.)