The Joke Is on Us

Single-Minded: What are we really trying to say with all these "S--t People Say" videos?


In what looks like a tribute to former Saturday Night Live star Ellen Cleghorne, Ramsey, in a long, blond wig, plays the same ditzy “any white girl” that Sheppard first poked fun at in his video, but with a twist. The white girl Ramsey plays spouts nothing but ignorant talking points like, “Not to be racist, but … ” and “Is it, like, bad to do blackface? Is that still, like, a thing?” and “You can say the n-word but I can’t? How is that OK?” All funny. All true. So far,”S–t White Girls Say to Black Girls” has gotten more than 5 million views and counting.

Appearing on Anderson Cooper’s daytime talk show, Anderson, Ramsey responded to critics who say her video is just as offensive as Sheppard’s, which some women have deemed misogynistic. “I don’t think that talking about ignorance is racist,” explained Ramsey in response to a white woman’s claim that the comedian’s video is, in fact, as racist as the “white girl” she skewers.

That’s the tricky thing about pointing out racist speech or digging up buried micro aggression in everyday conversation. Does repeating ignorance, even for the purpose of overcoming it through laughter, bloody both sides of the punch line? Thing is, comedy and drama have always been flip sides of the same psychological coin. Laughing at one’s pain — the slip of a banana peel or the racist slip of the tongue — has long been recognized as a means to an end.

“We’re not saying the tweets and videos are not offensive, necessarily. We’re just saying that the ways in which they may cause offense are part of what makes them interesting and socially pertinent. Because yeah, good comedy will irk some people,” wrote the Onion about Sheppard’s videos.

In the other videos that have sprung from the “___ says” genre, I, too — a woman, an African American —  have been forced to confront some of my own offensive mouth farts. In “S–t Girls Say to Gay Guys,” the girl says insanely ignorant things like, “I know this guy, right; he’s gay, too. You guys would be perfect together!” Who says stuff like that? Oh, right, a lot of us do.

“Sometimes we miss the point trying to point the finger,” said Sorrells.

In the end, black girls can be just as offensive as the white girls mocked in Ramsey’s video. Racism, sexism, any ism, can be perpetrated by anyone at any given time. Sure, we can laugh at the offensive “funny because it’s true” moments that Ramsey and other conscious comics have underlined for us, but what happens after we close our collective laptops and the laugher stops?

Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter. 

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