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Leslie Jones

Screenshot/Hulu   

Earlier this year, Saturday Night Live made a huge step toward diversifying its cast by hiring Sasheer Zamata, the show’s first black woman in six years. Zamata was hired after SNL was publicly criticized for not having a black female regular who could portray black women in skits. People were pretty much fed up with seeing Keenan Thompson in drag. But SNL didn’t stop there. On top of hiring Zamata, LeKendra Tookes and Leslie Jones, both black, were hired as writers.   If you’re going to have a black actress, it only made sense to have black writers who knew how to relate, right?

Unfortunately, Jones, a stand-up comedienne and actress, caught a lot of flak during Saturday night’s episode. Jones joined Colin Jost for Saturday’s “Weekend Update” but her monologue touched a few nerves. Jones spoke about People magazine naming Lupita Nyong’o as its most beautiful person, but veered into slavery joke territory quickly.

Here’s the video (Jones appears at 6:58):

Jones joked how the standards of beauty have changed since the days of slavery. Although now she’s not considered a “hot commodity” because of her height and weight, back then she would be.

 “The way we value black beauty has changed. I’m single now, but back in the slave days, I would have never been single. I’m 6 feet tall and I’m strong. Look at me, I’m a Mandingo,” she said.

Jones was then asked by Jost if she wanted to be a slave:

“I do not want to be a slave. I don’t like working for all you white people now and you pay me. But back in the slave days, my love life would have been better. Master would have hooked me up with the best brotha on the plantation and every nine months I’d be in the corner popping out super babies. I’d just keep popping them out. Shaq. Kobe, LeBron, Kimbo Slice, Sinbad. I would be the number one slave draft pick. All of the plantations would want me,” she said. “Now, I can’t get a brotha to take me out for a cheap dinner. Can a b--ch get a beef bowl?!!”

Needless to say Twitter wasn't feeling her repertoire.

Should Jones have been more sensitive to the subject of slavery? Or not even touched upon it at all?  It seems as though Jones knew that she would have her share of critics, but as she said, her material came from a place of pain and something that was personal to her. Slavery was and will always be a subject of not only pain, but also a piece of history that still has effects on people. Although Jones used slavery and the concept of beauty as an analogy and satirical look at issues that still present in society, is there ever any appropriate way to laugh at pain?

 As a fan of comedians like Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, Moms Mabley and Robin Harris, I grew up watching them tackling subjects from slavery to racism, and it wasn’t always pretty. But what was consistent is that their audience was mainly made up of their own “people.” Now when you have a show like SNL, where the audience is predominately white, you have to wonder, if they’re actually laughing at you or with you. This same issue is what ran Dave Chappelle from television years ago. He constantly pushed the envelope when it came to addressing issues of race, but it got to the point where he had to question where the laughter was coming from.

Maybe Jones shouldn’t have addressed her critics, or maybe she should have apologized. Either way, she’s now gotten people’s attention.

Yesha Callahan is editor of The Grapevine and a staff writer at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.
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Yesha Callahan is editor of The Grapevine and a staff writer at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.