For Your Black History Month: Real Housewives of Civil Rights

By Sexual Correspondent Andrea (AJ) Plaid

I guess I’m not the only one who found the solemnity-yet-randomness of the Black History Month Minutes in my youth a tad ridiculous.  I understood why the segments were needed and learned a lot from them–and still found my hand in front of my giggling mouth.  The comic troupe Elite Delta Force 3 may have felt the same way.

This is their send-up of some of the women–and a couple of the men–who helped shape the civil rights movements in the US and South Africa as well as the foolish tropes of the Real Housewives franchise; the troupe is more directly spoofing Real Housewives of Atlanta. Check out The Real Housewives of Civil Rights (RHOCR).

Yes, that’s Wayne Brady as “The Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King.” Yes, that’s “Coretta Scott King” (Robin Thede) admitting “Malcolm X” fathered the youngest King kid.  (As much as we know about Dr. King’s marital infidelities, as far as I know, all King’s children were sired by him.)  Yes, that is Marilyn Monroe (Angela Yarborough), who The Root says is supposed to resemble RHOA‘s Kim Zolciak. (Other sources say that Monroe was actually pro-racial equality, so her inclusion has some historical basis.)  And yes, that is a rotary car phone.

I’d put this webisode in the same humor section as Black Moses Barbie: both are taking the piss out of the the near-deified images we have of critically beloved Black heroes. Like using Barbie dolls to encapsulate the story of Harriet Tubman, Elite Delta Force uses the “oh no they didn’t” frisson of placing these women and men–often seen as paragons of righteous Black folks who did their damnedest to uplift The Race in their own ways–in situations and saying things that would get their Righteous Black Folks’ Cards yanked.   Viewers like me–deeply ingrained with love for what these people did that allowed me, the Altanta housewives, and Elite Delta Force to be here and be our Black female selves in 2011–can both raise our eyebrows and laugh out loud.

Where the troupe goes off-point for me is with Winnie Mandela and Malcolm X. The chracterization doesn’t seem so specifically and historically based on Mandela so much as I got an affable Earth Mother Africa stereotype with a generic “African” accent and generic “African” gear.  I felt the same about how El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz is portrayed: I understand that he is a man rendered inelegant due to dealing with the fallout from a tryst with his wife’s friend, but I think it would have been funnier if the actor played with Shabazz’s well-known fiery eloquence, even if he has to Denzel it.

I also know some people are feeling some kind of way about RHOCR, as witnessed in the comment section on YouTube.

while there was some humor; I thought it was in poor taste for the most part. It belittled the true ladies who were in their own right important in the struggle for equal and human rights.

Wow somehow this seems wrong cause its Black History month . Sorry none of it was funny to me . Those people lives has now been rendered a joke . This is a mockery . But you wanna know what’s funny? They suffered gaining us Civil Rights only for somebody to call something like this humor? If white people would have did this I wonder if y’all would be laughing . This is a slap in the face coming from us our pride is gone.

wow ..the late Coretta Scott King is referred to as a b!tch, and a “baby’s Mama”, to someone Martin once was at odds with ..and ya’ll just think we should laugh at it? That’s the problem …blacks folks laugh at a lil’ too much of everythang, and what’s even sadder, is that we’ll laugh along w/ whites at this kinda shit..(people who are just laughing AT us) *smDh*

Coonery!!!!

I can respect that–it seems that we young(er)bloods are laughing at people who died tragic or vicious deaths or are still alive. Our laughter seems to be disrespecting our elders.  But it begs a couple of questions: when does it become “safe” to laugh about the ancestors and our own current ridiculousness?  Does every conversation about Black heroes have to be a Teaching Moment? Would this be the kind of comedy Dr. King would come back and yell at us for?

I’m not sure.  I just plan to keep my hand in front of my mouth.

Image credit: granemporium.com

  • Rebecca_Schleider

    “(Other sources say that Monroe was actually pro-racial equality, so her inclusion has some historical basis.) ”
    Here are some links for that basis. She really cared deeply about human rights. Marilyn was strongly pro nuclear disarmament and even helped sponsor the first SANE meeting. It makes me sad that she is still primarily remembered as a self-destructive sexpot.
    She helped bolster Ella Fitzgerald’s career during segregation. http://daniellebollocks.tumblr.com/post/3198063069/marilyn-monroe-was-a-big-supporter-of-the-civil.
    http://www.travillatour.com/page19.htm

  • Kjen

    I thought the video was very funny. But I agree with the Andrea that I wish they had stuck closer to an actor replicating Malcolm X’s behavioral traits. At first I thought the actor playing Malcolm was making fun of Spike Lee’s bad acting. But now I think this was just ripping into the interaction between the Real Housewives of Atlanta’s Cynthia and her husband who was kind of/not really (who knows for sure) beefing with Nene.
    As for Mandela, I’m sorry to say I couldn’t say if she was an ‘accurate’ spoof or not, I realize that I only know about her from what I’ve read, not from film or even pictures really.
    And okay, I’ll put it out there…was I the only one who thought that the caricature of Marilyn Munroe got shafted in the looks department?

  • Charlotte

    I don’t know… the comment that questions whether the video would be funny if white people made it made me think. White people do do this to their own figures; that, Justin Bieber, and teenage girl vlogs make up much of the white contribution to YouTube. Without weighing in on whether the characterizations were offensive (I’m at work), it’s interesting to note that this seems to come from a place where black creators were producing comedy for black audiences without worrying terribly much about white surveillance, except for the one comment. It seems as if the question on this video for a lot of people is whether black creators should be ALLOWED to make fun of their own history because of the POSSIBILITY of white surveillance, not whether the individual renderings were offensive.

    I know that’s a clichéd way to try and redeem questionable pop cultural moments, but I see shockingly little of it that isn’t Tyler Perry, you know?

  • Big Man

    I found it hilarious. They were humans before they were black, even though being black shaped their humanity.
    I thought it was a good spoof, and not coonish at all.

  • http://DeadAmericanDream.blogspot.com AngryBroomstick

    well, I can’t really say if I find the video (posted above) offensive because there is no closed captioning or transcript available for Deaf people, but judging from the outraged comments above, I can’t say that I’d find the portrayals funny, either.

    I remember when MTV did a cartoon show (“Clone High” or whatever it was called) back in the 90s that mocked historical leaders– including Mahatma Gandhi. I, along with many other Indian Americans, were outraged at the disrespectful mockery of a beloved Indian icon who stood up against anti-Indian racism and fought for our motherland to gain independence from the British.

    So in that case, I wouldn’t see anything funny about mocking African American civil rights leaders, either.

  • http://twitter.com/thecaitd thecait

    Strangely…I saw this as taking the piss out of Real Housewives more than anything else. As in, “Look at the representations of black folk we get on tv today. Now this is how people think black folk act. Can you imagine if civil rights leaders behaved that way?” But maybe that’s just me projecting my hatred of the Housewives franchise.

    • Anonymous

      For your consideration, pulled from the OP: “This is their send-up of some of the women–and a couple of the men…as well as the foolish tropes of the Real Housewives franchise.” Though I concentrated on how the troupe get a laugh about these women, I also agree with you that Elite Delta Force 3 isn’t too kind about the Real Housewives franchise.

  • http://timjonesyelvington.com Tim Jones-Yelvington

    I had a little bit of trouble w/ Coretta, too, b/c I feel like her own fierceness and contributions as an activist still are not widely known, and this places her in some really stereotypically femininized roles, holding down the homefront in conflict w/ Martin’s political work and such. And to a lesser extent, the Rosa Parks depiction also… just b/c I feel like there’s still this idea folks have that her action was spontaneous rather than planned and supported by a social movement, so again, lots of people don’t really get that she was a committed activist during and beyond the bus action, and not just a woman who got fed up (not that there would be anything wrong w/ that), and this video doesn’t really do much to correct that. …But I get that that’s not its goal. I just feel like there is a way of making a different kind of video that is funny, humanizes these deified figures in the way you’re talking abt while also sneaking in a little bit more political education.

    But most of the Real Housewives send-up I think is hilarious… “Tardy for the Rally” killed me.

    • Anonymous

      “Maya’s” frustration and “Betty’s” reaction to the singing sealed “Tardy for the Rally” for me. Then, when the rotary phone appeared, I was pretty much on the floor.

      As for wanting “political education” with my laughter…I dunno. I just don’t feel like being “schooled” every blessed second of my life. Sometimes, I just want to laugh. But this also brings up an interesting point: how much background does the troupe assume people bring to the skit. I’d venture to guess they’re guesing people have a relatively well-read background about these folks in order to get the jokes. Hmmm….