Charles Ramsey: star, hero…or racial stereotype?

May 11, 2013 at 11:02 am (celebrity, class, crime, culture, funny, Guardian, Jim D, language, media, Racism, strange situations)

Aisha Harris, writing at Slate, is worried by the media coverage of Charles Ramsey:

“Charles Ramsey, the man who helped rescue three Cleveland women presumed dead after going missing a decade ago, has become an instant Internet meme. It’s hardly surprising—the interviews he gave yesterday provide plenty of fodder for a viral video, including memorable soundbites (“I was eatin’ my McDonald’s”) and lots of enthusiastic gestures. But as Miles Klee and Connor Simpson have noted, Ramsey’s heroism is quickly being overshadowed by the public’s desire to laugh at and autotune his story, and that’s a shame. Ramsey has become the latest in a fairly recent trend of “hilarious” black neighbors, unwitting Internet celebrities whose appeal seems rooted in a ‘colorful’ style that is always immediately recognizable as poor or working-class…

“…It’s difficult to watch these videos and not sense that their popularity has something to do with a persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform. Even before the genuinely heroic Ramsey came along, some viewers had expressed concern that the laughter directed at people like Sweet Brown plays into the most basic stereotyping of blacks as simple-minded ramblers living in the ‘ghetto, socially out of step with the rest of educated America. Black or white, seeing Clark and Dodson merely as funny instances of random poor people talking nonsense is disrespectful at best. And shushing away the question of race seems like wishful thinking.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Gary Younge at the Guardian takes the opposite view:

Millions in America talk like him. But rarely do we hear them unless they are on Maury, Jerry Springer or America’s Most Wanted, the butt of some internet joke or testifying to a shooting in their neighbourhoods. Working-class African Americans are generally wheeled on as exemplars of collective dysfunction. So when Ramsey emerges as heroic, humane, empathetic, funny, compelling, generous and smart, there is a moment of cognitive dissonance on a grand scale. Here is a man with a criminal past and a crime-fighting present…

“…Unvarnished and un-selfconscious, charming and compelling, he reminds me of none so much as Muhammad Ali in his prime, who said: I am America. I am the part you won’t recognise. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky.

“I’m looking forward to getting used to Charles Ramsey.”

If you’re one of the few people who hasn’t yet seen the film of Mr Ramsey in full flow, you can judge for yourself:

P.S: now there’s a song as well.


  1. Rosie said,

    This is very much like John Smeaton, the baggage handler in Glasgow Airport, who helped rescue people after some fairly inept terrorists drove flaming jeep into the terminal. Smeaton seemed to embody a Glasgow attitude – if you come here like that we’ll set aboot you. He had a bit of a media career afterwards and stood as an independent MP in a by-election.

    Anyway, he was a guy who acted as we’d all like to act in an emergency – bravely and decently, and he also had a likeable personality.

    (Just looked him up and he’s a fish farmer now).

    Some people have said that the fact that Ramsey was okay about interfering in what he thought was a domestic dispute shows we’ve come a long way. Once blokes would have been very reluctant to interfere with other blokes’ treatment of their womenfolk.

    Also, this was a black guy interfering in the affairs of a white guy – which I imagine even 40 years ago black guys would be wary about doing.

  2. Rosie said,

    Good piece by Bonnie Greer

    The first reports of the site of their miraculous discovery use the phrase “a house in the suburbs”. But when I heard the accent and mannerisms of the heroic Charles Ramsey, the man who finally answered Amanda Berry’s cries for help, whose courage – and I use that word deliberately – led to the end of a decade of captivity and sexual abuse for three young women, I understood everything. I understood how what had allegedly gone on in the house of Ariel Castro could have been practically ignored.

    Here in Britain, when we hear the word “suburb”, we think of leafy, quiet streets, green and manicured lawns. But in America now, for almost two decades, the word “suburb” more often means what it means in South America, or what it means in France, in the banlieues of Paris. Many American suburbs are indeed “banned places”, where those who do not fit into the American Dream live and invariably die.


    In these suburbs, the police will come to your door, but the follow-up is close to nonexistent. The missing person quickly becomes a file, a number, lost in the system. The lack of resources is always given as the reason. But it is also lack of will. To put it bluntly, the police don’t look for poor folks.

    Add to this reality the fundamental belief in the sanctity of the home, the very house itself, and you have a recipe for the most dangerous form of isolation. Home invasion is the chief fear of most Americans, the fount of practically every defence. It is the chief raison d’être for being “locked and loaded”; “strapped up”; ready at all times for violence, upfront and personal violence.

    To go next door uninvited almost anywhere, but particularly in a neighbourhood like this one outside Cleveland, is to risk, quite simply, getting your head blown open. Most American juries understand the homeowner who “got one off” with an assault rifle in self-defence. This is why Charles Ramsey deserves the highest praise. Answering the desperate cries of Amanda Berry could have easily put him in what the police call: “box city” – the graveyard.

  3. Mick O said,

    Interesting post and comments. I hope Mr Ramsey gains financially from his 15 minutes of fame.

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