Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Keep Shakin' That Black Ass

In class on Tuesday I kept thinking about one of, if not the funniest, encounters I’ve ever experienced. My roommates and I were at Blockbuster sophomore year, waiting patiently in line, when all of the sudden from the end of the line a black woman darts out of the store at the speed of light. Three of us turn around to find my roommate Amanda, mouth agape, holding a young infant, who we assume was this woman’s child. What were we to do? Head to Babies R’ Us? Construct a crib in Campion 316? About 8 minutes later the woman returned to my friend Amanda to retrieve her child. She thanked Amanda and said, “Thankya chile, forgot my card, glad ta know ya’ll whiteys so trustworthy, woulda neva run off with my baby!”

When we got back into the car, after laughing for about 10 minutes, we asked Amanda what had happened behind us on line. Amanda said the woman had mumbled something to her self on line, then just tapped Amanda on the shoulder and handed over her child, gave a little smile and proceeded to run out the store. This got me thinking. In what world would a mother be able to leave her own child with a complete stranger? Was she careless? Or did she truly think that Amanda was trustworthy because she was white? Would this woman have left her child with another black woman, black man, or a white man?

The main ingredients in this soup of hilarity were race and a slight invasion of personal space. I wonder if Madea witnessed this situation if she would find it funny, or even if she would retell the story the same way in which I did. With Madea as the narrator of Don’t Make a Black Woman Take off her Earrings, Perry is able to say what he wants sans consequence. In doing so he combines wisdom with ridiculousness.

This got me thinking about the reliability of narrators, how much we can believe of what we hear, and if it is appropriate to laugh at it. If Amanda and the woman had switched roles, would the woman turn around and explain to her friends the hilarious occurrence at Blockbuster, would she brush it off as if nothing had happened, or would she be angered that this “whitey” thrust such a strange responsibility onto her? In response to Chelsea’s blog, regarding the right that have authors take on different perspectives, I agree that an author should be able to do so as long as it is beneficial for the reader. For example, reading Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin last semester angered me. I could not depend on the authenticity of my narrator solely because the author was white.

This constant tension of race within humor is still difficult, and highly situational. For example, many have told me that I am gifted in the art of “booty-shaking.” I recall an 8th grade dance, I was feeling good with my high heels and my retainer, when my friend came up to me and said “Damn Christina who knew such a little white girl had such a wild black ass!” I felt very highly complimented, because having a wild black ass clearly meant being able to dance very well, or at least well enough to hold my own with the black girls in my class. I may have misconstrued the situation entirely, but because she smiled, laughed, and began to dance with me I felt okay and that my compliment had come from a reliable source. She proceeded to write, “Keep Shakin’ that Black Ass” in my 8th grade yearbook. After completing Perry’s novel I feel that there is not such a clear-cut line dividing race within literature, but rather a large grey area. One must walk through this area on eggshells though in order not to offend, and we must take Madea’s advice, if you don’t understand why something is funny, ask.

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