I think the word "ratchet" might be on my top five lists of most hated words (the N-word and "YOLO" are among my highest).
I was at a bar one night in Philadelphia when I constantly heard a girl across from me mimicking a colloquial country accent. Every time she found it relevant to use, she kept saying "ain't nobody got time for that," and each time her group of friends laughed in volumes.
It happened again later that week at Penn. This time with a group of my fellow black peers. They too laughed when someone put on the same dialogue. When our teacher's assistant asked what was going on, one of them said boldly: "we're being ratchet."
Neither the girl from the bar or the black peers from my college are illiterate. Neither of them appeared to have come from a background that would suggest that they are not capable of speaking correct grammar. They were acting as if they were the now exploited web star Sweet Brown, who became a viral social media sensation after surviving a fire in her lower-income apartment complex in Oklahoma City.
This is nothing new. Over the past few days, I continue to see my Facebook and Twitter pages gust with many of my Caucasian peers sharing YouTube links of Charles Ramsey. The black Cleveland dishwasher, who helped rescue Amanda Berry, has made headlines for his outspoken and frank account of that fateful day. His infamous quote, "Bro, I knew that something was wrong when a pretty little white girl ran into a black man's arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway," is mocked and laughed at by some of my snobbier black peers.
And while I see the viral boom of Sweet Brown and Charles Ramsey take place in recent memory, I am also reminded of Antoine Dodson. Yes, the man known for his "Hide your kids, hide your wife," rant initiated his unexpected claim to fame by reporting the attempted house intrusion and rape of his sister in his Lincoln Park housing project in Huntsville, Alabama. And while the incident eventually led to a high selling iTunes single, the rest of the public laughed at this man rather than emphasize with the unfortunate circumstances.
There tends to be a disgusting trend starting in our society, across all races, of teasing and exploiting the disadvantages and misfortunes of the black lower class. Even beyond blacks, one can see such nastiness take place with the increasing celebrity of Honey Boo-Boo. However, one may also suggest that the attention is warranted given that they signed on to a reality show on TLC.
The experiences of Charles Ramsey, Sweet Brown and Antoine Dodson are unique in a sense that the public is making fun of their sincere demeanor. None of them ever imagined that they would be in the spotlight for their responses on local television news stations. None of them ever thought that they would profit from what many would deem as societal flaws and mishaps. And none of them also expected that they would be under the same scrutiny of a public figure who actually asks for it.
These "social media sensations" represent many of the black lower class. They are oftentimes the non-college educated, minimum wage, government-assisted people who live just to survive another day on their limited resources.
And while many of us think that it is hilarious to hear them speak broken English, or share candidly their experiences in poverty, this is a harsh reality for them. And why do we find this funny?
The unfortunate conclusion that can be drawn from all of this is that many of the spectators in the higher bracket of society are looking for a remedy for their own personal insecurities with privilege. The grand old fashion "kick a person when they are already down" mentality is revived when we see Ivy League students mock the consequences of economic hardships: poverty and illiteracy. It's an even larger telling of our society's ill intentions when we find it more interesting to commentate on the mannerisms of a victim rather than be disappointed in the crime itself.
An attempted rape/burglary, an apartment complex fire, and a kidnap rescue are not a laughing matter. A showing of black poverty is nothing to joke about. Hardships and broken English due to the disparities of social inequality are not as well. Do we even know what we are laughing at?
Oh, it's ratchet right? Anytime we see a black person in the street poorly clothed and communicating in a dialect we know all too well to avoid is ratchet. What does that even say about us to create such a word to classify them?
When I heard Charles Ramsey speak on CNN, I did not see a new man... I saw the face of thousands. Growing up in Chicago and moving to Houston, I have seen men like him work at my school as janitors. I have seen men like him have a rap sheet but strive to overcome it. Men like Charles Ramsey exist and while much of the media rather exploit his shortcomings and laugh at his imperfections, this does nothing to solve the problem at hand.
So, coming from a background that has seen economic inequality and disadvantage, I will explain people like Ramsey, Brown, and Dodson. First, they do not choose to talk in "that accent." It is a result of a failed education system somewhere in a below poverty environment or lower class community. Second, that "ratchet" you speak of is a product of their experience. As a result of poverty-stricken areas, crime is a negative response to the lack of jobs and resources flowing in the community. Consequently, such misfortunes as you saw with Brown and Dodson do happen frequently. And third, making them "heroes" because of the manner that they speak on their misfortune is as backhanded and slighted as the crime itself. Yes, it takes a lot of humility to share such horrific tales. But perhaps much of their intent was initially intended to bring awareness to the issue than just mere humor. Did anyone ever go back to those communities and see what can be done to stop these issues? Even though Dodson, Brown and possibly Ramsey will make it out, what about the rest?
As social media unites various levels of class, the racial exploitation that occurs needs to be re-evaluated. What makes everyone across different privileged settings find it funny to mock the dialogue of a poor, middle-aged black woman surviving a fire? Why does it make any sense to trivialize and now demoralize a man who saved a young woman who has been missing for many years?
If you have the answer, then stop it. If you are still pondering, perhaps you should visit the various neighborhoods these people come from instead.