Earlier this week a reporter called me to ask me how I felt about the Charles Ramsey viral internet sensation, asking if I could help explain whether I thought that when folks were laughing at the spirited accounts of tragedies given by Charles Ramsey and also Sweet Brown was racist. Normally, I can flip back to a reporter a well dressed stance or position on pretty well any issue but this one took a few days of deliberation. Why? Earlier last year I watched the Sweet Brown video which was shown to me by a black woman. I cracked up laughing and passed it on by way of tweet from time to time. I'm even guilty of quoting Sweet Brown on many occasions when I'm among family: "Lawd Jesus, izza a fir" or "ain't nobody gat time fir dat" but respond in jest in front of the camera? No. In the board room? No, and quite frankly this kind of dialect and the humor it sometimes encourages stays in the confines of my cultural community. Why? Well, nobody puts it better than W.E.B DuBois who studied in depth black culture. In his classic text, Souls of Black Folk, Dubois talks about the Negro's double consciousness, writing,
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.
W. E. B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folks
I interview on national and local TV outlets frequently, and I would be lying if I said that I don't get nervous. However, I'm not nervous about my position on an issue but, rather, the delivery of my content, whether for all of my experience at switching from one code to another I may one day, consciously or unconsciously, slip into my own Sweet Brown or Charles Ramsey inner me. Were I to do that, producers wouldn't call me back; blacks would criticize and question my intelligence. and lastly some whites would use You Tube and other commentaries to delegitimize me while also airing their racist rants against whatever cause I heralded.
Many laugh when they watch the Charles Ramsey and Sweet Brown interviews, but the joke is really quite sad. It is unfortunate that people laugh because of what they perceive as ignorance that may become their amusement, while overlooking the detail and precision used to make sure the audience they are speaking to understand them on the most elementary level, that's the real genius. So yes the response that trivialize the contribution and especially the heroic effort of Mr. Ramsey is racist. However, if you are like myself you laugh not in ridicule or disgust but laugh because they have learned not to slip into their other character and speak just as colloquially as Brown and Ramsey, which is to say without reserve. I see Brown and Ramsey as real, and, to me, that's honorable. What the two are doing when they speak so bluntly and passionately, with a hybrid Southern and urban twang, is using the language their communities have given them; the language is beautiful and has an almost melodic ring. "I am who I am," Brown and Ramsey seem to say, and in the words of Miles Davis: "So What?" I think I'll take a hint from these two and embrace that other me, loving anew my inner Sweet Brown and Charles Ramsey. Besides, "aint no body got time fir dat." and "you do what you have to do".