I don’t watch SNL (Saturday Night Live). Unlike when running the streets and clubbing was my thing, at my age, I can’t even stay awake long enough to get past the 10 o’clock news on a Saturday night. But thanks to Kimberly Foster over at For Harriet, I found out that SNL has finally hired a couple black comediennes after some protest from the black community. However, as black women empowerment and equality would have it, the sisters aren’t too happy with one of SNL’s recent hires now.

This from For Harriet:

For years many of us called on Saturday Night Live‘ to add a Black woman to its cast. Sasheer Zamata was hired as a cast member in January and LaKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones joined the writer’s room. But unfortunately it seems the presence of Black women’s bodies has only emboldened the long-running variety show to make tasteless jokes that they otherwise would have avoided.

 

[…] Leslie Jones was featured in a disgusting segment in which she proudly asserts that she would have been picked 1st in the slave draft. “Back in the slave days, I woulda never been single,” she explained. “I’m 6 feet tall and I’m strong. I mean look at me. I’m a Mandingo.”

Let’s remember that Leslie is joking about the habitual rape of enslaved women. The callousness with which that history is treated is absolutely horrifying.

Check out the video of the skit below:

So I guess you’re wondering how I might feel about this one. With me being the ever-present professional racism chaser, you’re probably waiting for me to blast SNL and throw Jones into the slave-catcher category for their slave joke. If that’s what you’re waiting for, please, don’t hold your breath. The truth is that I found the skit to be hilarious. I thought it was excellently written and delivered.

Unfortunately, Kimberly Foster (and, many people on the Tweeters) didn’t “get” the joke. Which really sucks because I love For Harriet and all that it stands for and represents. As I see it, the commentary by Jones in the skit speaks to the plight of women in America. That would be, that black women in America were valued more throughout slavery than they are today by dominant culture, ergo, the shit they often take from black men. But I suppose this isn’t true and all is hunky-dory for sisters.

Leslie Jones
Leslie Jones

Real talk: Black women weren’t viewed as bitches and hoes during slavery (as they are today through the lens of pop culture and hip-hop); nor were they treated as such by black men (and society at large) back then. There was no “angry black woman” trope; or a cast of “angry black women” on reality teevee being accepted by mostly black women who abhor the stereotype. And as paradoxical as this may be, a 6′ 2″ dark-skinned black woman who looks like Leslie Jones still isn’t getting any love from black men or society at large thanks to White Supremacy and its insidious relationship with the world. I didn’t make that up; it’s the way it is, folks.

To be clear, there’s nothing funny about slavery (even though I’m sure slaves shared and occasional laugh or two on good days). Neither is there anything funny about rape or forced copulation in the interest of breeding, during slavery. However, a very cleverly written and delivered joke with a play on words helps to convey (and magnify) the tragedy that was the inhumane institution of slavery in America, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. Not to get too deep into defending comedy, but the ability to take the pain of slavery — or any pain for that matter — and deliver these truths as an indictment of “whiteness” is something as a writer and person of color, that I greatly appreciate.

After all, context is everything, yes?

While it’s cool that Lupita Nyong’o was named as the most beautiful person of 2014 — a title well deserved worth celebrating –by People Magazine. The truth is that as token-ish as it may be for Lupita to grace the cover of People, like it or not, most women who look like her are not deemed aesthetically pleasing relative to European standards of beauty today. Yes, it is the very reason Lupita’s emergence in Hollywood has been necessary, welcomed, and appreciated mostly by women of color.

But let’s be real: During slavery, for black women, their utility as the giver of life to more would-be slaves determined much of their worth to slave masters. As such, a woman like Jones would in fact be a prime specimen for breeding as needed by plantation owners. Jones isn’t lying nor did she make that up. What she did do was speak an uncomfortable truth often overlooked or accepted by dominant culture. Which is funny in and of itself when you consider that a black woman having children out-of-wedlock today is seen as the scourge of society. So much so that this narrative is used to justify very regressive political policy by lawmakers.

(It’s the reason a Clivern Bundy can question whether blacks were better off during slavery)

But of course in today’s culture of social media “monkey see monkey do” outrage, the message of the bit is lost on many. Which if you’re black and you don’t agree with the prevailing consensus that this isn’t funny, your hair automatically becomes straight and you mysteriously lose some of your rhythm along with the ability to not fall when running in scary movies.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong about all of this and Kimberly Foster and others are correct. Perhaps these aren’t the type of jokes to be told in the company of white folks (truthfully, I think that’s the real problem folks are having with this). I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this in the comment section below. But do remember, I am the same guy who laughed just like the rest of black America laughed when Eddie Murphy sang “Kill The White People” in an SNL skit back in the day. Yes, and as a humorist my motto is that if you’re not laughing then you’re not paying attention. So for me, the question here is, why are we celebrating Lupita?

SNL-Leslie-Jones-Slavery-Joke (1)More to the point: How many black women that look like Leslie Jones are getting significant movie roles and winning Oscars?

Yep, it’s called tragicomedy, folks.

 

Note: Click here to read the followup to this post written from a black woman’s perspective.