WTF Wednesday: Leslie Jones gets slammed on social media for slavery joke

Hello and welcome to your WTF Wednesday with me, Cara B. This is where I talk about the stories that made me say WTF this week.

Let’s talk about Leslie Jones’ slavery joke on SNL and the social media s–t storm that followed. The joke, essentially, was that with her looks, Jones would be more desirable as a slave than as a romantic partner. Whereas Lupita Nyong’o was named most beautiful, Jones says that she should be named “most useful”. Here’s a quote:

“Back in slave days…massa woulda hooked me up with the best brother on the plantation… now I can’t even get a brother to take me out for a cheap dinner.”

It actually wasn’t the joke that made me say WTF, but rather, the response. At the head of the criticism was Jamilah Lemieux (editor over at Ebony) who tweeted:

“This Leslie Jones person is an embarrassment … I’m so appalled right now.” and “So the Lupita moment had to be counteracted by a Black woman acting like a big loud monkey? Just … wow.”

I noticed that a number of people seem to have a problem with her delivery, some going as far as accusing her of coonery. Here’s what Kendra James over at Racialicious had to say:

While I am typically disinterested by the concept of putting on a “good” face for White folks, it was appalling to see this sister gleefully acting like she was auditioning for Birth of a Nation 2: We’s Really Like Dis!

Critics also pointed out that slaves didn’t have “love lives.” They were victims of rape and forced breeding. I don’t think this fact was lost on Jones. For me, this joke was a satirical take on what it means to be a desirable black woman in America. At the heart of this joke was self-deprecation. She is acknowledging over and over again that she is not the type of black woman that is considered beautiful and desirable. She is tall and strong. She doesn’t have a dainty or svelte figure.  She doesn’t look like a model or big Hollywood star.

Jones’ joke may not have been the most tactful or even the funniest skit I’ve ever seen, but the attacks she received were far from warranted. It was hard to watch, but this was in part because it brought up a lot of shared pain that we as black women in America feel. The pain that is associated with a history of oppression, and the pain that is associated with living outside of traditional beauty standards. Instead of using this skit at a jump-off point for a discussion about what black beauty is and how we are valued or devalued in society, Lemiuex decided to call Jones a monkey, a racial slur that has been hurled at black people for hundreds of years.

So, Lemieux, this WTF is for you.

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