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Social Issues
Charles Ramsey & Race In America
May 8, 2013
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Over the past day or so, one story has dominated the news - the three women who were rescued from that house in Cleveland, after allegedly being held there for 10 years.

Today, two of the three women - Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus (top photo) - returned to their families' homes, while the other - Michelle Knight - was still in hospital in good condition.

Their survival and courage is extraordinary enough, but the story has become even more captivating because of Charles Ramsey - the man who found Berry and helped her escape.

His account of what happened has become an internet sensation and turned Ramsey into a viral superstar.

Not so much, it seems, because he called the police and helped them save three women, but because he's a "black dude" who gave an "entertaining" description of how
it all unfolded.

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Today, we found some great pieces that look at whether Ramsey is being portrayed as a "hero" for the wrong reasons, and whether his instant fame actually reinforces and celebrates old racial stereotypes.

For The Atlantic Wire, Connor Simpson writes...

"The name Charles Ramsey has been trending on Twitter all day. There are Vines of his expressive face being passed around. There are thumbs-up GIFs. And, of course, there are so many awful autotune mixes of the first interview already, because some people still find that funny."

"The Internet seems to lose sight of two very important distinctions sometimes. Charles Ramsey is a hero because he called the police and helped them save three women from reportedly being raped and impregnated in a basement for a decade. But he's a meme because he's black and poor, and because so many choose to ignore the horrible realities of the crime."

For Slate, Aisha Harris writes...

"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."

Harris also points out Ramsey's quote when he said "I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway!"

With respect to that, she writes, "Those who are simply having fun with the footage of Ramsey might pause for a second to actually listen to the man. He clearly knows a thing or two about the way racism prevents us from seeing each other as people."

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For Global Grind, Brittany Lewis has a different take, writing...

"The juxtaposition of Charles Ramsey's colorful vocabulary not only exhibits that he's not this "uneducated" black man my sometimes overly sensitive people - black people - and cultural critics are painting him to be, but he instead is a charismatic black man who we all can relate to in one way or another."

"I would even make the argument that if Charles Ramsey was a white man sporting a mullet and recounting an unbelievable story with such vibrancy and conviction, that he would also find himself at the forefront of internet stardom - my prime example being Honey Boo Boo, Mama June, and their colorful family. But then again, that may highlight America's issues of classism."

She concludes by saying, "To my opposition that suggests I am perpetuating the exploitation of an "uneducated" black man, who is a victim of the "white liberal media" marginalizing his black narrative by depicting his "perceived" ignorance, get off your high horse and your self-righteous bandwagon and realize that even in the depths of darkness, there too, can be light."

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For Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams also refers to Ramsey's quote about "a little pretty white girl" running into a "black man's arms." She writes...

"It was a flat-out brilliant observation, one that seemed to have occurred to him on the spot but likely was a lifetime in the making. It had echoes of Chris Rock's famous comment that "I was born a suspect. I can walk down any street in America and women will clutch their purses tighter, hold onto their mace, lock their car doors." And while it carries the hard sting of truth that the mainstream media will fall all over itself when "a pretty little white girl" disappears, it was said with a wry lack of bitterness. It was instead hilarious and sad and painfully accurate, a sharp reality check in a tabloid perfect true crime tale. Somebody, please give that man a Gatorade."

On Cleveland.com, Mark Naymik talks about that same "white girl/black man" quote, saying...

"The line reflects so many negative perceptions about race. The biggest is that black men should be feared. Ramsey, who is black, smashed that perception. He proved race has nothing to do with trust or doing the right thing. But such meaning is lost on the Internet crowd, which is more interested in being entertained."

"(Ramsey) is not a hero in the world of social media. He's a viral sensation to either be mocked or viewed with amazement and detachment, his actions stripped of their meaning to the community."

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And for The Guardian, Nanjala Nyabola says Ramsey's "heroic actions cannot be overstated" and she too points out the "white girl/black man" quote writing...

"I admit when I heard him say this, I laughed out loud, and I assumed that when people began talking about this video clip, they were laughing at the same thing. But it's come to my attention that were not.

Turns out that many people are laughing at Ramsey, rather than with him, and I think this is in part this is because they haven't experienced race in America the same way that black people have experienced race."

"To my mind, Charles Ramsey is the Chris Rock or Eddie Murphy of his moment - using comedy to make a keen and perfectly accurate observation of the nature of racial inequality in America. Just because he's making it in an unfamiliar language and with an emphatic tone doesn't make it any less poignant or valid."

"I'm not laughing at Charles Ramsey because I think his accent is funny, or because he's some kind of minstrel that has managed to entertain. I'm laughing because his acerbic wit has summarised one of the most complex sociological phenomena in the U.S., and it's funny because it's true."

You might also want to check out theroot.com's piece entitled 'Is Charles Ramsey Being Exploited?'

And another one from theweek.com entitled 'The Internet's Instant Meme-ification of Charles Ramsey: The Backlash.'

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