Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Them Niggas Were Coonin' Too: The Ironic Subjectivity of the Black Minstrel

I’ve often wondered why African Americans give the Black pioneers of cinema a pass, yet the modern-day African American community, as a whole, particularly those of the scholarly or academic ilk, castigate the new-age minstrels (i.e. African American reality kings and queens) such as those characters portrayed on the Love and Hip Hop shows, both Atlanta and New York, Real Housewives of Atlanta, and R&B Divas among others are demonized as the worst thing that has happened to the image of Black Americans since the crack epidemic, Gangsta Rap, and Flavor Flav. 
A couple of days ago my father and I were having our usual post-breakfast conversation on America and pop culture and Black America and Black American pop culture and I brought to his attention how, back when I was in Graduate School, the African American professors at the university in which I attended, always, like sheep, fell in line and were obedient in lauding the Black actors and comedians, who seemingly consistently portrayed stereotypical Negroidian roles on stage and film, as pioneers who paved the way for the New Negro to revel in national, and oft times international fame, notoriety and wealth, yet lambaste the Black actors, rappers, comedians, and, even athletes, of today as being coons who were and are disrespectful of those who have paved the path for them to economically and socially flourish in the 21st century.  Moms Mabley came to mind.  I said, “Daddy, them niggas didn’t have a choice, but neither do these new Niggas.  I mean, sure they perpetuated the derogatory stereotypes be it their aesthetic appearance (i.e. bucked eyes, bulbous lips, spooked-out/frightened/dumbfounded facial expressions, or tattered and subservient attire) or their perpetual use of Black slanguage or Black Speak (see bell hooks or Zora Neale Hurston).” He casually replied, “Hell, they didn’t have to do it either.  They should’ve just not taken the roll or acted the part.” 
I laughed and agreed.  This is true.  Was being in show business that important?  I know that one’s art or craft, whether it be to live vicariously through a written role in a film or to make someone laugh or dance or cry, or, in a writer’s case, to think, is a gift and talent, but I wouldn’t write for the sake of garnering money or fame or acceptance.  So, why did these people?  I am fully aware that great entertainers like Moms Mabley utilized their artistic expression to subtly cram racism and sexism in the face of the hierarchical structure under the guise of comedy, but can you not say that Stevie J of Love & Hip Hop Atlanta isn’t doing the same by deconstructing the notion that the only way to obtain wealth, or at least a consistent paycheck, while being a Black male is to be educated at the finest universities or colleges and procuring internships and wearing slacks and loafers and neckties and speaking with clarity and enunciating his syllables and pronouncing his words correctly?  You know, being “articulate” as Black and white Americans say when hearing a Negro who doesn’t sound like a Throwback-Thursday Antebellum slave.
The peculiarity in the way that Black reality stars are demonized befuddles me, because, for the most part, they are utilizing all of the characteristics and motifs that early Black comedy, Black Exploitation films of the 70’s, and Hip Hop of the late 80’s, 90’s, and early 21st century have done.  They are being “them”, or at least I hope so, because I’m a fascinated fan of realism and ratchedness that they portray on the television screen week in and week out.   Both Black and white Americans alike love voyeurism, and reality television is a hit, and has been since the early 90’s when MTV introduced The Real World.  So, why not be compensated and be afforded the ability to provide yourself and your family and friends with a lifestyle that is reminiscent of what we all have been told and sold as the American Dream?  Expensive everything: car(s), house, clothes, jewelry, and food.  If being a perpetual stereotype, no matter whether any positivity or negativity can be found within the textual message one is disseminating, is a crime, do you really want to be right?  If these niggas are coonin’, let them coon.  Coons gotta eat, right?

                                                                                                 -Gee Joyner

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