Roundup of all the vaguely racist Charles Ramsey coverage
Yesterday Charles Ramsey of Cleveland, Ohio did an incredibly brave thing, running to rescue a screaming Amanda Berry from the house where she’d been kidnapped for ten years. For his efforts he was made instantly world famous—but in a vaguely racist, entirely uncomfortable kind of famous that fetishized how “hilarious” it is that Ramsey eats McDonald’s and ribs. He was turned into a meme, because there’s nothing funnier than a poor black man unwittingly saying funny things on national news, amirite?
Immediately after his first interview with Fox News Guyism reductively called it “perhaps the greatest interview since Antoine Dodson.” And posted this:
Charles Ramsey = SO. MUCH. SWAG. twitter.com/guyism/status/…
— Official Guyism.com (@guyism) May 7, 2013
Hilarious, right? BuzzFeed noticed that Guyism wasn’t alone, though they didn’t seem weirded out by it, running a snapshot of the Twitterverse “honoring” Ramsey. Most compared Ramsey to other black caricatures like Eddie Muprhy’s barber “Coming to America” and Sho Nuff from “The Last Dragon”—again, hilarious.
What’s complicated is that in his interview Ramsey did say some things that he clearly intended to be funny. When he delivered the line that a white woman running to a black man was a “dead giveaway” that something was wrong, he knew he was going for laughs. Even that joke was kind of depressing, though it was Ramsey’s to make. But when he started his story mentioning that he was eating McDonald’s—to indicate that it was just a normal day like any other—it wasn’t supposed to be a hilarious cliche that poor black people eat a lot of McDonald’s. The internet memefying Ramsey’s McDonald’s and ribs was clearly us laughing at him, not with him.
And then McDonald’s of course had to latch onto the opportunity for exposure, tweeting this:
We salute the courage of Ohio kidnap victims & respect their privacy. Way to go Charles Ramsey- we’ll be in touch.
— McDonald’s Corp. (@McDonaldsCorp) May 7, 2013
And then someone had to go and make this:
And of course it took about 5 minutes for Ramsey to get an autotune treatment by the Gregory Brothers:
The problem with the jokes that obsess on the caricature facade of the poor black man and his McDonald’s is that they obscure the fact that Ramsey did a very scary, very brave thing that almost none of us have the balls to do when push comes to shove in the real world. Like the Boston bombing hero Carlos Arredondo, Ramsey ran toward trouble instead of away from it.
And there are shades of grey—granted, it was a little unusual that Ramsey brought up the name brand of his lunch not only in interviews but on the actual 911 call.
But to latch on to that and ignore what he told the 911 dispatcher seconds later is just depressing. “Put yourself in her shoes,” he told the dispatcher when asked if Amanda Berry needed an ambulance. Putting ourselves in Ramsey’s shoes is exactly what we’re not doing when all we’re doing is laughing at his Mickey D’s and salsa music.
To reduce Ramsey to “the greatest thing since Antoine Dodson” is to miss the import of what he did: He saved three people’s lives and altered the course of their families’ lives forever. And after doing so refused the FBI’s reward money, asking that it instead be given to “that little girl.”
Now that’s a reason to celebrate him.