IBARW2 – The Audience Changes the Message

It is Int’l Blog Against Racism Week (IBARW) part deux!

For this post I wanted to talk about the way the intended audience changes the message of the book/tv/play/act. Race is important in the way we view the world, it affects the way we interact with any discourse in our lives. Now obviously this expands to our entertainment. There will always be shows that are interpreted differently on the base of our differences. We connect with the text in different ways.

From a very young age we are taught that while white people are individual PoC (People of Color) are a monolith. When a white person does something evil or wrong or just rude we are always encouraged to realize that people are people and some are fucked up. In the instance where an act is performed by a PoC we are all painted by the same brush, often the act in question need not have even happened to the person reacting to it. When I as an African-American male step into an elevator with a white woman and she clutches her purse so tightly to her side she is working off the idea that all Af.-Am. men want to steal. She may have not even had this interaction herself but the popular discourse on Af.-Am. men is that they are thieves, purse-snatchers yes and often much worse.

Now what does this have with interacting with texts you ask? Well as an Af.-Am. man, when watching any Person of Color being represented on TV I’m able to separate the visuals to see them as individuals as opposed to a representation of all of that group of people. This means that I view representations of Af.-Am. people (and PoC in general) in a different way than most white people are taught by society to do. Being part of the group let’s me refute the ideas so pervasive and ingrained in us.

An example, now I’ve never been an avid fan of the Dave Chapelle Show. I wasn’t adverse to it there was simply something about it that made me twitch a bit. I realized a lot of that was that the people pushing me to watch were all white and the skits they always insisted I watch were the ones that dealt with race in some way. Chapelle himself stated in an interview with Oprah that some of his skits were socially irresponsible but I want to trouble that statement. Because yes he was socially irresponsible if his characters are taken as representations of race and that is exactly what bothered me about these acquaintances trying to get me to watch. It was not “Come see Dave Chapelle do this funny interpretation of a crack fiend” instead it felt more like “Come see this one black guy make fun of how black people are”. That’s a very different attitude and one I didn’t feel the need to validate.

Even Chapelle said that at one point during his infamous pixie sketch he looked over and a white crew member was laughing in a way that made him feel uncomfortable and made him rethink the show. Chappelle said “it was the first time I felt that someone was not laughing with me but laughing at me.”

Becoming aware of the different ways race makes us engage with the text is a vital part of understanding race relations. We are all taught to see white people as individuals but PoC as part of a homogeneous monolithic groups. No one assumes that the older white man walking towards you is like Mengele or John Wayne Gacy or Timothy McVeigh, so why is it that when I walk down the street all you see is that black man who was arrested on Cops last night?

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2 responses to “IBARW2 – The Audience Changes the Message

  1. In sociology there are terms for this: unmarked vs. marked categories. They’re are all about the context.

    What you say about Dave Chappelle is really interesting. Do you think that’s why he stopped making the show? That he decided he didn’t like the effect it was having? You mention that all the people pushing you to watch the show were white. I know quite a few white people who are fans of The Chappelle Show, and I find it kind of disturbing that they don’t seem to have much interest in other entertainment featuring black actors. I can’t help wondering if there’s an element, not necessarily of racism in their enjoyment, but maybe an escape from white guy guilt, sort of, “This black guy is making fun of blacks! Maybe it’s not such a problem after all!”

  2. I think that his realization that the white crewman was laughing at him instead of with him definitely opened his eyes. I think that whether he says it or not it probably played a large part in his thinking. As for the erasure of guilt I think that’s actually a very large part of it. When I said what their interest felt like I didn’t mean to imply they were overtly racist. I believe they simply carried the messages of society with them and that this was a way for them to laugh at black people (which our society encourages) without getting any flack because it was a black man doing it. My refusal to participate put a damper on them that’s for sure.

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