*checks watch to see she’s at 14:55* Yeah, I have enough time to chime in on this. Sooooooo about this whole SNL “slave joke gone wrong” debacle. I will admit, it took me longer than it probably should have to formulate in my mind about how I really feel about the now-infamous joke made by newly hired Black female SNL writer, Leslie Jones. But the reason is pretty solid (in my opinion). For one, I actually didn’t watch the show. The only reason that I even knew about this mess was because of the fuss my Facebook newsfeed and Instagram timeline was making about a “highly disrespectful” joke that was made on SNL. Of course that sparked my interest and I clicked on the link to see what was all the noise about. For starters, I was surprised to see the person that was making the joke was a familiar face. I knew of Leslie Jones back in the days of sneaking late on a school night to watch Comicview as a kid (Still remember how she said a White girl knew how to suck the paint off of a Cadillac. Had no idea what she was talking about as a middle schooler, but hell it was funny to me). So in already being familiar with Ms. Jones and her kind of comedy, I really wasn’t all that shocked.
I think what got people more was the venue in which she said it. Instead of saying it on the Chapelle Show, In Living Color, or on Comicview back in the 90s within the comfort of an audience of Black people, she said this on Saturday Night Live in front of White people. And said White people laughed about it. The reaction kind of reminded me of a joke that another one of my favorite female comics, Wanda Sykes, said on her HBO Special Imma Be Me. In one segment, she talked about how her mother would scold her if she did or said something “Black” in front of White people. Be it singing in public or getting watermelon for a snack, she remembered when her mother would hit her and say, “Stop, White people are looking at you.” The Black outrage and backlash against Jones could be perceived in the same way. The joke itself may have not been the issue, but the fact that it was another opportunity for White people to laugh at the expense of Black people was the problem. And let’s not abandoned the fact that Lorne and the folks at 30 Rock (mostly White people) gave the okay for this. Nobody said, “Hey, Les. I know your brand of comedy is a little out there and edgy hence why we brought you here. But er um, nobody has really made any slave jokes since this movie. Be that as it may, we may not want to rock with this at 30 Rock.” Yeah, it seems like this joke was out of place and didn’t have any business being told on SNL. Or did it?
Let’s look at the anatomy of this “joke” and decipher the messages it was conveying that evening. To me, it was a raw, hard-hitting, “Don’t Get This Fucked Up (DGTFU)” moment. Leslie’s commentary begins with the praises of the sudden mainstream embracing of Lupita N’Yongo (Sidebar: Please note that the following analysis show no shade towards our new, fearless, Blerd girl leader, Miss Lupita. It’s shade against the structure and standard which her beauty is being recognized). That was the peak of her position. And then it took a dive into DGTFU. When Jones jokes how back in slavery she would be the prime choice for forced breeding and her offspring would have been the likes of LeBron and Blake, she essentially was reminding America, specifically Black America, how we shouldn’t be too jaded by the mainstream attention being given to Miss N’Yongo right now. An outpouring of love for Lupita does not constitute as an outpouring of love for all Black women. Aside from the continuing of the bad habit of the Academy only seeming to recognize Black Americans in stereotypical roles, we must also consider the look of Lupita seeming “safe” to mainstream as well. As seen in pictures, Lupita’s shape and frame falls in line towards the White, Eurocentric standard of beauty (being tall and slim). While this is cool for her (I, too, share in the skinny Black girl struggle), I’m willing to bet that had she been any taller, any wider, and/or any thicker, mainstream society would not be checking for her. We sure as hell didn’t do it for Gabourey Sidibe when the Academy nominated her for Precious. Hence why Leslie had to remind us, DGTFU. Basing our Black beauty standard according to the mainstream standard of beauty still doesn’t work. And when it does, we fall into the issue of being a commodity of the standard instead of comparable within it. Long story short, they ain’t totally checking for sistas.
While I cringe at how this conversation happened, I can’t totally argue that it needed to happen. It was a much needed reality check that the more things change, the more they stay the same. So the real joke was that none of this was a joke at all, I guess. Ain’t that funny?