Honey Boo Boo? Honey, Please

In TLC's show, a white kid makes black stereotypical slang her own. That may not be a bad thing.

Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

(The Root) — If a minstrel show airs on prime time, will anyone notice? That’s the existential question I asked myself before sitting down to watch TLC’s new show, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a reality show about a white 6-year-old from Georgia named Alana Thompson. She is nicknamed Honey Boo Boo Child because of her oh-so-cute “angry black woman” routine at the kiddie beauty pageants documented on the network’s hit Toddlers and Tiaras.

“Ain’t no one bringing home the crown but me, Honey Boo Boo Child,” declares Alana, as if possessed by Sheneneh Jenkins, played by Martin Lawrence, or Cita, BET’s long-defunct digital veejay. 

Sort of like how you get a 2-year-old to say a curse word and then laugh hysterically afterward, Alana’s “no she di’n’t” finger-waving, eye-rolling and neck-twisting isn’t hers by rights. All of that belongs to a caricature on a ’90s sketch-comedy show.

“Honey Boo Boo Child is completely dead in the eyes when she tosses out the finger-snapping, ‘angry black woman’ lines branded into her, like ‘A dolla makes me hollllaaa!’ ” wrote Julia Bricklin in a review for Forbes magazine.

Alana’s occasional bursts of “ghetto” are a weird appropriation of stale, decades-old stereotypes and Southern redneck colloquialisms, like when she drops her squeaky girl’s voice a few octaves down to happily announce, “I like to get in the mud because I like to get dirty like a pig” — a childlike proclamation that’s nonsensically wrapped in racial subterfuge too utterly ridiculous to be authentic.

No big surprise that I wanted to hate this show. The entire premise is based on the conventional wisdom that a little white girl acting like a “black woman” is funny. Of course, “black woman” is subjective here, seeing as how they haven’t been depicted as so infuriatingly absurd in a long while. Violent and baller-crazed, yes, but all the racial steam went out of “Oh, no she di’n’t” as soon as someone put it on a T-shirt.

With that in mind, Alana and the rest of her “crazy” family’s redneck Ebonics takes on a different tone. If phrases like “booty call” and “deuces” have made their way around the world and landed in East Dublin, Ga., then can black people still claim them? Do they even want to?