The Racialicious Links Roundup 10.17.13: Kenan Thompson, Mapping Race In America, Kanye West & ‘Negro Bed Wenches’

“Saturday Night Live” cast member Kenan Thompson. Image via BET.

Thompson’s decade-long run on SNL is really some kind of miracle. He should be extremely grateful, and say 10 prayers of thanks every single day for lasting so long as an SNL cast member. He’s a very lucky man.

Thompson is lucky because despite the fact that he hasn’t done anything remotely funny on SNL in 10 years, he’s still cashing their checks.

In reality, whenever most people hear the name Kenan Thompson, the very next thing that pops into their minds is, “Hey, whatever happened to Kel Mitchell?”

Thompson’s true claim to fame is his body of work for kid’s network Nickelodeon. I’m talking “All That,” “Kenan & Kel,” and the “Good Burger” movie.

Yes, Kenan Thompson paired with Kel Mitchell was, at times, comedic genius. Mitchell, however, was the bigger talent of the two child-stars, and few will argue that point.

According to Nasheed, the “Negro bed wench” was formerly an enslaved Black woman on one of the plantations of old whose specific function was to have sex with the plantation’s White owner, her master. Now, though history has taught us that most enslaved African women were appropriately horrified at the idea of sexual contact with their enslavers (and presumably all White men), but some, Nasheed asserts, embraced this role and all the comparative privileges it brought. Worse, some “Negro bed wenches” even imagined that they were better than the rest their enslaved brothers and sisters, and used their (once again, COMPARATIVELY) privileged positions to thoroughly ingratiate themselves to their owners.

The contemporary “Negro bed wench mentality,” therefore, is displayed when a Black woman—suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome”, according to Nasheed— accepts and even acts to further White supremacy. The “Negro bed wench mentality,” while still implicitly sexual in name, no longer requires a Black woman to have sexual contact with a White person to manifest. According to Nasheed, she’s the Black female counterpart to the “Uncle Tom.” (For the record: the “Uncle Tom” and “Mammy” concepts, as I find myself so often pointing out during these discussions, are actually post-slavery creations. Read about that here.)

Mr. Nasheed and I have different world views and politics, but to each their own. Having satisfied my curiosity (and cracked wise about it in some tweets), I concluded that these terms were hugely problematic, but definitely on the fringe, and went on with my life.
That was until a few weeks ago, when a tweet in my feed linked to a Facebook page where someone had accused world-renowned tennis champion Serena Williams of “Negro bed wench” aspirations.

But West’s interviews with both Lowe and Kimmel, like much of West’s past controversies, are much more complicated than most acknowledge, reflecting how West constantly looks at the world through the lens of race.
In both interviews, West discusses how hard Michael Jackson had to fight to get his videos on MTV in the 1980s because he was labeled “urban.” Drawing parallels to his own challenges in breaking through barriers in the fashion industry, West voiced anger about not being able to “break that [racial] wall down” despite all of his experience, starpower and proven commitment to fashion.
His frustration is one of validation and legitimacy, as he speaks of not being able to break the industry’s glass ceiling as a person of color and as a rapper. He doesn’t fit the “old money” mold and is therefore constantly confronted with classism. It’s a racialized classism that West knows is hurting his creativity and capacity for greater profit. He has every right to be angry about that.

The map, created by Dustin Cable at University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, is stunningly comprehensive. Drawing on data from the 2010 U.S. Census, it shows one dot per person, color-coded by race. That’s 308,745,538 dots in all–around 7 GB of visual data. It isn’t the first map to show the country’s ethnic distribution, nor is it the first to show every single citizen, but it is the first to do both, making it the most comprehensive map of race in America ever created.

White people are shown with blue dots; African-Americans with green; Asians with red; and Latinos with orange, with all other race categories from the Census represented by brown. Since the dots are smaller than pixels at most zoom levels, Cable assigned shades of color based on the multiple dots therein. From a distance, for example, certain neighborhoods will look purple, but zooming-in reveals a finer-grained breakdown of red and blue–or, really, black and white.

“There are a lot of moving parts in this process, so this can cause different shades of color to appear at different zoom levels in really dense areas, like you see in NYC,” Cable explains. “I played around with dot size and transparency for a while and settled on the current scheme as being adequate.” You can read more about Cable’s methodology here, but it comes down to this: When you’re dealing with 300 million dots at varying levels of zoom, getting the presentation just right is as much an art as a science.