A former student sent me a YouTube video meant, no doubt, to make me laugh.
Houston news station KPRC interviewed local Michelle Clark describing a hail storm and the damage it caused to her apartment building. "Man! Those jokers was big," she said. She described the hail as the "size of a quarter, doggone!" Her description of the way the hail sounded hitting the roof has given her the media nickname the "Kapooyow! Kapooyow!" Lady. (No doubt we'll all soon hear the "Kapooyow! Kapooyow!" Lady's autotune remix, featuring guest rapper Lil' Wayne.)
The seemingly benign video is anything but. Aside from explaining a wacky weather system, it birthed the next African American to be exploited by the Internet in what is becoming an all too common trend.
It seems as long as there has been news there has been a reporter's uncanny knack of identifying the most dentally challenged, inarticulate, Stepin Fetchit yokel in the crowd to interview. I swear, there could be a group of three folks at a scene and a reporter will talk to the dude wearing the du-rag and gold fronts standing between the two brothers in suits and ties.
I'm inclined to assume that perhaps if there were more people of color in newsrooms, this phenomena wouldn't exist. But I know better. I've seen videos of African-American reporters committing the same offenses as their white counterparts. They want ratings, and ratchet sells.
In all fairness, white Southerners get similar treatment. I watch the SyFy channel, and it seems almost every alien sighting or abduction is witnessed or experienced by some poor fellow from Two Stones, Ala.
I remember back in the day this exploitation even occurred on radio programs. I was living in Atlanta and Neal Boortz, a popular radio personality, had a highly successful segment about a shooting in DeKalb County, where they interviewed a local girl from 'round the way. The segment was simply known as "Boo Got Shot," and it eventually spawned marketing material, including "Boo Got Shot" T-shirts and mugs.
But it seems the need to exploit inarticulate black folks — and turn them into the next viral-video star — is becoming more incessant.
Who can forget Antoine Dodson and his famous, "Hide yo kids, hide yo wife, and hide yo husband cause they raping everybody out here," YouTube bit. Dodson appeared on the Today Show on NBC, and his sound bite was eventually remixed into the "Bed Intruder Song," of which he performed — surprise, surprise — on the 2010 BET Hip Hop Awards. Dodson worked his media mojo by churning out T-shirts, a "Bed Intruder" Halloween costume, and even endorsed a "Sex Offender Tracker" phone application. Talk about working your 15 minutes of fame.
So why should we care if these folks are exploited, especially if some seem to enjoy it?
Because as an African American, I know that person is representing — and often misrepresenting — my culture and community. A collective experience in the black community is sitting in front of the television, cringing with anticipation that someone who resembles you is about to make a fool of themselves.
The reality is that marginalized communities don't enjoy the same autonomy as mainstream ethnicities and cultures. Madonna can do whatever the hell she wants without incriminating white women, but a Real Housewives of Atlanta star acts ridiculous and she instantly becomes a representative of black women.
Minorities are unfairly perceived as having a uniform voice, and I honestly believe that on some level, most reporters understand that. Many just choose to ignore it. By choosing the less refined subject to interview, they implicitly undermine the intelligence and integrity of a culture.
I also understand that in our reality-show, fame-obsessed society, there is more demand to feed the media beast for the next viral one-hit wonder. But we should also put these media outlets on notice. We know what you are up to when you hand the mic to some of our less-refined brothers and sisters, and we don't like it. In the immortal words of another media darling, Sweet Brown, "Ain't nobody got time for that."
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