Shit White Girls Say... To Black Girls: Funny and Important Social Commentary
When Shit White Girls Say…To Black Girls landed on YouTube this week, it seemed that thousands, hell, hundreds of thousands of black women across the globe cried, Hallelujah! and then doubled over with laughter. The two minute clip features comedian and blogger Franchesca Ramsey, wearing a extremely cheap blond wig in a number of stereotypically white settings, and most importantly, emulating a number of oh-so-common questions and sayings that many Black women have heard, from… uh, white women about skin color, hair texture, and the cultural co-opting of language and physical mannerisms which it is presumed that all Black folks share. While there was plenty of satire in Ramsey’s parody of a blond airhead, there was no joke in the casual racism she emulated.
Shit White Girls Say... To Black Girls is the latest spin-off from the original viral video parody of Kyle Humphrey and Graydon Sheppard’s Shit Girls Say, which has also spawnedShit Gay Guys Say; Shit Yogis Say; Shit Black Girls Say and Shit Black Guys Say. However, this particular video has hit a nerve. Many black women have acknowledged that they have experienced strangers patting their Afros as if they were a furry, four-legged animal; asking them if their chemically relaxed hair is “theirs,” and how often do that wash “it”; or declaring something or someone that they find distasteful, dirty or cheap as “ghetto” when they have never been to one. All those actions can be incredibly annoying and hurtful. Some white commentors have responded with the usual straw-man arguments, such as, “If a white person made of video of ‘Sh*t Black Girls Say….To White Girls’ it would be called racist.” From Womainst Musings:
Do you want to hear some of the things I've heard black girls say to white girls? Like, for example: "White people smell like wet dog.";
From Good Culture:
It's simply not the case that anyone who uses "ghetto" as a synonym for "cheap" is a racist. And I worry that implying they are isn't advancing our goal of better racial understanding.
Por ejemplo: In college, I used the word "ghetto" this way in the presence of a friend who understood how offensive it could be. He pulled me aside and told me, in a relatively non-accusatory way, how it sounded to him. It made me think twice about my use of the word. Had he ended the friendship and/or called me "racist," I would have been much more likely to get defensive and much less likely to learn anything.
And yes, while conversations like this are usually occur during casual conversations, they are casually racist. Those who speak first and think ten seconds later if - they understood that what they said was offensive - are pointing out a perceived difference about black women, and the speaker’s own subconscious belief that she is the idealized version of how a normal woman look and act. Perceived differences centered on skin color and hair texture that presumably lead to differences of socio-economic or geographical class that are alluded to in Shit White Girls Say… To Black Girls reflects the fact that white privilege may be at work -- even in friendships between white women and black women. There is a sense of entitlement when white women demand an answer for all the things that are different from them and how they see the world. The transfer of power happens when the white girl’s questions strip the power and self-respect of the person from whom they are demanding an answer. Is the white girl trying to be offensive? No. But that doesn’t mean that the things she says are not offensive and demeaning.
Most often these “questions” are phrased in the form of generalized assumptions, often involving things “learned” about black people from watching television. The respondent to questions like “ Why do black people…?” are then responsible for answering for an entire population and are stripped of their individuality. Now, many people would say, “Well, then how am I supposed to learn about black people?”
My answer: Watch Jay Smooth's video.
Please read Racism 101.
It’s safe to say that this particular spin-off of Shit White Girls Say has made the most impact of all of them. Why? Because with laughter, there is the acknowledgement of pain and there is finally an opportunity to communicate how hurtful it can be to realize that your "friend" is not seeing you for your individual traits, and that maybe that friendship isn’t as strong as you thought it was, and that there are an uncomfortable amount of people who do not have any respect for your body (hence the petting of the Afro). Most importantly, this video shed a light on the fact that, yes, there are other black women who have experienced stupid questions from people who -- while not intentionally cruel or ignorant -- see you by the colour of your skin first and by your character or your individuality… second.
While many, like myself, laughed, Ramsey explained why she was compelled to do the video:
Over the years I've found that dealing with white people faux pas can be tricky. If I get upset, I could quickly be labeled the "angry black girl." But if I don't say anything or react too passively, I risk giving friends and acquaintances permission to continue crossing the line. So I decided to create my own parody, "Shit White Girls Say...to Black Girls," to make all people laugh while, hopefully, opening some eyes and encouraging some of my white friends and acquaintances to think twice before they treat their black friends and associates like petting zoo animals or expect us to be spokespeople for the entire race.
Somehow it doesn't feel #blackcool to me. Feels mean. It's well executed, and rings true, but where's the love? SGS was funny because the mocking didn't have the edge of contempt. The connection was not broken. This feels damaging to the relationships between black and white women in a way that the original piece did not between women and men. This is significant, I think, in the larger discussion of race/class/gender/privilege/families/relationships/humor, etc. Anger is warranted, but it's a dangerous emotion to play with.
I do not agree with Walker. I think that black women -- or any women of color who have had to endure these conversations in the name of “friendship” -- have the right to vent their frustration. Just because we share the same genitalia does not mean we, as black women need to work harder developing and cultivating our relationships with white women. As Ramsey noted, by responding or defending oneself, the result is that you will be labeled as “angry”, or as I was labelled by a former boss, “aggressive” or “agitated.” If that happens, those relationships are not worth cultivating or saving. We have to put our feet down. Was in some ways Ramsey’s video passive-aggressive? Yes, but according to some of the comments, when people have an Oprah moment and realize that they have unwittingly offended their friends or co-workers, it has worked.
Contributing Editor - Race, Ethnicity & Culture
Blog: Writing is Fighting: www.lainad.typepad.com
Writer: Hellbound: www.hellbound.ca