Lorne Michaels must have a massive pair of balls.
Not only did he brush off the call for more black women in the Saturday Night Live cast earlier this Fall, he also put his rubber stamp of approval on what was possibly the most offensive two minutes of television I have viewed in a long time. For those of you that missed it, this past Saturday SNL featured a skit with a mock trailer for a fake film titled, “White Christmas.” The film was a spoof of the recent surge of black films parodied with an all-white cast. The “trailer” parodied the single mother struggling to make ends meet, who takes her son, Rasheed, to go stay with a relative (cue Paul Rudd as Tyler Perry’s “Madea”). According to the trailer, it featured everything “you’d” (I can only assume this is directed at non-black people) expect from a black movie, “women snapping peas,” “a gun-toting grandma,” and “a guy wearing a necklace over a turtleneck.” Perhaps it may have been mildly tolerable had it been left at that. However, it was the subtle, non-narrated portions of the skit that catapulted it over the line: the group of women sitting around talking about men being dogs who leave them for “white girls.” The gratuitous images of Paul Rudd as “Madea” shaking his overinflated rear-end and holding a plate of fried chicken. The quote from Town and Country saying, “I talked to the screen and it felt great.” The celebration of stereotypes that had little, if anything, to do with black film. There were a few somber clips of Keenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah looking into the camera. In the end, Jay Pharoah even asked if “we” were going to get in trouble for this, as if their comic solemnity somehow tempered the inherent offensiveness in the skit.
There is a litany of reasons why this skit was offensive. Not the least of which is inherent in the content of the skit. I won’t bore you with a history lesson. Google “Hottentot Venus” and “Saartijie Baartman” if you want to know the historical significance of why I don’t find a white man pretending to be a black woman with a prosthetic rear end funny. However, what I am more concerned about is our insistence on being in on this joke. What broke my heart more than anything was watching black women on social media struggle to find the humor in the skit, as if we weren’t the butt of the joke. It’s the same desperate attempt to be entertained by ignorant reality television with an heir of superiority, as if we can watch other black women degrade themselves and each other, call it “ratchet,” and thank God it’s not us.
It is us.
The truth is, as a black woman, when I walk into a room, my image has already been packaged, sold and purchased. Whether an individual admits it or not, one assumes what to expect of me before I even open my mouth and in every venue of my personal and professional life, I have been tasked to prove them wrong. In order to have my humanity accepted by the public, I must be an exception. I don’t eat fried chicken? Exception. I’m not concerned about a white woman stealing my husband? Exception. I’m not a single mother or struggling to make ends meet? Exception. The thing is, I could blame Lorne Michaels for producing the skit. I could even blame Keenan Thompson and Jay Pharoah for bugging their eyes and making their best well-paid-slave-face into the camera instead of giving the skit a big “hell no” the minute it came out of someone’s mouth (even though I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them wrote it).
Instead, I blame myself.
I blame myself for tuning into SNL on Saturday night despite their blatant disregard for the diversity of their cast. I blame myself for ever turning the channel to, paying money for, or supporting any stereotypical, damaging or poor representations of black women on film and television. I blame myself for watching a full season of any reality television show that negatively portrayed black women, our sisterhood, our sexuality, our beauty, or our ability to love and parent responsibly. I blame myself for once believing that rap music that calls women “bitches” wasn’t talking about me, it was talking about “another kind of woman.”
Some in our society wonder why we have shows like Black Girls Rock that insist on instilling in our girls a strong sense of self. Might I draw your attention to Exhibit A; SNL with a skit so full of psychological racism, and most people will likely never acknowledge its harm. Whether it is our names, our appearance, or our faith, the image of African American women is under attack. If the media isn’t highlighting the poor and distasteful behavior of a few, it is pumping the American public with stereotypes and statistics meant to divide us as a country and worst of all, fill us with self-hate. This week alone, a Facebook “friend” posted an article citing statistical proof to back up the fact that black women were the least desirable of all races in online dating. A few years ago, Psychology Today published an article about the inherent unattractiveness of black women. Everywhere we turn, statistics are telling us we are unattractive, ignorant, uneducated, diseased, and generally worthless.
Except when we aren’t.
Except when we are educated, beautiful, loving, strong, and worthy. F*ck SNL. And I mean that with all the respect I can muster. Far too many words have been wasted trying to convince others of the greatness of our humanity. We can demand better for ourselves and it starts by turning off the television and refusing to accept degradation. We can demand better because we are better.
Faye McCray is an attorney and author living with her husband and two children in Maryland. She has an undergraduate degree in English from Binghamton University and law degree from Howard University School of Law. Connect with Faye on her blog, www.fayemccray.com, Facebook at www.facebook.com/fayewrites, and follow her on Twitter @fayewrites.