Harris is mostly talking about Internet mockery, but the snarky tone has filtered into the mainstream press as well. An example of what she’s talking about is this demeaning piece in the New York Daily News about a t-shirt featuring Ramsey, which begins, “Now you, too, can look good while eating your Big Mac.”

Harris traces this trend of laughing at working-class African Americans from the TV news videos that circulated of Antoine Dodson, who saved his sister from an intruder, to Sweet Brown, who escaped from a fire. She writes, “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.” And something more to do with “the most basic stereotyping of blacks as simple-minded ramblers living in the ‘ghetto.’” Harris shows us what great analysis can do—she takes apart a cultural trend and explains why it’s harmful to a minority community. She points out that we shouldn’t make Ramsey into a joke or an oddity because of his class and color, good advice for all of us who are working as journalists.

 

Jennifer Vanasco is a is a news editor at WNYC and the former editor in chief of MTV Network's LGBT news site 365gay.com. She writes about social minorities, national politics, and culture. Her award-winning newspaper column on gay and women's issues ran for 15 years.