The Accidental Racist?
Earlier this evening, I posted the video of an interview with Charles Ramsey, the man who helped rescue Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus from the home they have apparently been held captive in for 10 years. The story is amazing and Charles’ interview is not only riveting but entertaining- he speaks with emotion and style! I thought it was wonderful and posted it to Facebook with a comment to the effect of “Best Interview Ever.”
Shortly after my post, two friends commented with clips that they felt were equally entertaining. And suddenly, I felt very uncomfortable with my own post and motivation. The two clips that my friends posted were strikingly similar in some ways- African American individuals, being interviewed shortly after they were involved in traumatic events in their neighborhoods (the first an attempted assault and the second a fire), and in both cases the people interviewed are certainly memorable, but I wouldn’t say in a good way. I have seen both videos before and had been uncomfortable with them then. The two women and one man being interviewed come across in a way that could be (and was) easily mocked and to me- the clips feel exploitative, at least in hindsight. To say that these earlier interviews were newsworthy strains the definition. And to be clear- I am confident that my friends, in no way, meant to be disparaging. Charles’ interview reminded them of these other two- and I have no doubt that his interview will far eclipse these previous ones, in terms of fame and viewership. I can guarantee Mr. Ramsey will be on a morning talk show within the week and his heroism rightfully celebrated. It is the videos viewed together that brings up some uncomfortable but worthy questions for us all to ask ourselves.
To begin- I feel like I need to take a look at my own assumptions and attitudes, and examine exactly what within this interview connected with me. Did I REALLY think he was articulate and heroic or was I responding to something less “noble” within myself? Should I, as an individual, or us as a society be concerned that Charles’ thoughtful and compelling interview is viewed in the same light as the Antione Dodson or Sweet Brown interviews (you can look them up- I don’t want to repost) just because there were similarities- significantly they are all lower income, African American speakers?
Should we be looking at the media and asking how it is that these very different events end up looking so similar through the interviewers lens? When I really boil it down- was I being racist in my perception or sharing of this video? I don’t like the answer because I don’t know. I think this is not a question of “truth” but depends on your individual perspective. I certainly wasn’t trying to be racist or judgmental , in fact my perception of the video and Charles is extremely positive. Even re-watching the video- I see a hero, a well spoken man, who under such intense circumstances tells a wonderful story. But, I do also see someone very different from me- someone that I would be unlikely to cross paths with in the course of my daily life- even if these events were playing out in Seattle and not across the country.
I don’t know what the next step is in this inquiry is but I’d love some suggestions. I know I have looked in the mirror tonight and am left wondering if I am as open and fair in my views as I like to think I am. It is a humbling question that has no easy answer.
Your thoughts and feedback are welcome and appreciated.