Open Thread: The Rush To Memeify Charles Ramsey

By Arturo R. García

As both Kat Chow at Code Switch and Slate’s Aisha Harris have pointed out, it did not take long for Charles Harris to join Antoine Dodson and Sweet Brown as the latest figure to be posted on many of our friends’ Facebook pages with notes like “Best. Interview. EVER.” or some variant of “HILAR.”

Like Dodson, what got Ramsey into this spotlight was being the right person at the right time and helping three women escape from a Cleveland home where they had allegedly been held captive for ten years. Three people have since been charged in connection to the crime. But what got peoples’ attention was his interview with a local station in which he described how he ran into one of the women, Amanda Berry:

There’s a lot to unpack in not just his account of not just his interactions with the suspect, but his statement that, “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms.” (Not to mention the reporter’s cutting the interview at precisely that point.)

But that’s not what’s coming across in many people’s reactions to the story. Take, for instance, this comment I found on a friend’s thread:

I found this funny and I don’t think he’s a joke. It’s just cool the way he told the story. He was funny…not a joke.

And even as people are (justly) applauding Ramsey’s actions, authorities are already seeking to minimize his involvement. And the story of at least one of the kidnapping victims, Michelle Knight, is also getting far less attention than the other two.

So, this story is only just beginning to be told. But for now, let’s get your take on how Ramsey has been represented.

  • http://twitter.com/EdTalent Seth Saavedra

    Appreciate this conversation deeply. What do we make of similar memes/videos mocking fancy, affluent and/or white culture, such as the “Harvard Sailing Team” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gspaoaecNAg.

    Isn’t there a part of these tendencies strongly connected to people’s desires to make fun of, marginalize and laugh at others, whether black, white, brown, rich or poor?

    • Greg_G

      I think the fact that the Harvard Sailing Team is a sketch comedy group complicates the comparison of their work to memes, which are more organically generated and tend to provide little, if any, social commentary. There certainly has been – and will continue to be – a desire to lampoon those that are different from ourselves; good, socially-conscious comedians can actually be very enlightening when using this trope. However, most (popular) memes seem to revel in disparaging their subject through ignorance or straight out malice, fostering racist, sexist, and homophobic attitudes all the while.

  • http://twitter.com/enoughsnark Rivqa Rafael

    The autotuning thing just… baffles me. The ‘pretty little white girl’ comment made me sad, but if nothing else is a fantastic example of some HUGE issues packed into a simple sentence — that so many people are too busy laughing at to truly comprehend. A lot to unpack, indeed.

  • Conner

    I wonder if the meme of the interview of white hitchhiker with the hatchet differs signifcantly from what is happening to Ramsey? Of course, race and class intersect in hugely complicated ways, but other than a the trickle of racist drivel typically found in the comments sections of any video of a person of color, I’m not sure he is being portrayed much differently. I haven’t spent much time examining the issue though so if I’m missing anything feel free to correct me.

    • Miles_Ellison

      The difference between the two is that the white hatchet hitchhiker doesn’t define white people.

  • Greg_G

    I wouldn’t deny that Ramsey was indeed quite funny during his interview (he certainly made me smile with amusement), however I am uncomfortable with the race to turn him into the next Sweet Brown. I’ve seen many comments on this interview – and other interviews with black witnesses – where posters will exclaim “I love black people” and “ghetto black people are the funniest.” This is all just code for “I love making fun of black people.” There is no shortage of white witnesses being interviewed by reporters – and making similarly “entertaining” comments – yet we seem to be locked into this meme of the “funny ghetto black person.”

    Meanwhile, Redneck Culture is being lauded and commercialized all across cable television and the Duck Dynasty guys are getting invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner. What in the world is going on…

  • Keisha

    First, I loved Aisha Harris’s take on the public’s delight in the “performances” of these individuals. But while I cringe every time see this video or others (Sweet Brown, Dodson), it is also interesting to note that some are gaining financially from this. Sweet Brown was in a slew of commercials while Dodson made an appearance in YouTube’s April Fools prank. Even though this can be seen as a way for them to get out of what might be considered a dire situation, it is unfortunate that the only reason they are gaining the popularity and financial success is due to America’s fascination with seeing lower middle class, or low class, people “perform”. It might be heroic or a tragic situation but this is a way for the public to laugh off a bad problem. In a way, it’s a new form of the minstrel shows.

  • http://twitter.com/EricAtienza EricAtienza

    I think it’s also useful to know that Charles Ramsey wasn’t the only person there. Angel Cordero was also at the house knocking in the door, but he’s a native Spanish speaker and gives a less Internet-ready interview. http://youtu.be/AKH0vXYvkBo

  • Anita

    Let’s take this back and create a critical race meme focusing on what was actually great about that interview and what I found myself laughing to (without realizing that others may be laughing at him), the part about the little white girl running into his arms. Anyone up for the challenge?

    • Miles_Ellison

      That was certainly the most telling and resonant statement that Ramsey made. Unfortunately, it was lost in a tidal wave of desire for You Tube-ready auto tune blackface entertainment.