Conservative talk radio loves to talk about black people, especially as the butt of a joke, or as a blanket insult to the African-American community. And some of them appear to make a good living out of it.
For proof, just take a look at remarks by two prominent radio shock jocks. For instance, Glenn Beck this week reflected on the term “colored,” which he believes is not such a bad word after all. ”’African-American’ was not made to do anything except try to create a super man. ‘Oh don’t you dare feel bad about yourself! You’re African American!’ No. You’re an American,” Beck said on his radio show.
He added, “And you weren’t over in Africa! Your great-great-great grandfather was, your great-great-great-great grandfather may have been, but you weren’t! And sure this country sucked for blacks. Sucked. Beyond sucked, for a long time. But it doesn’t now. It doesn’t now. Be proud to be an American.”
In addition, Rush Limbaugh, who offends and offends often, recently made a racist comment about General Colin Powell, arguing that Powell will support Obama in 2012 because “melanin is thicker than water.”
In other words, according to Limbaugh, black people can’t think for themselves or vote in their own interests. And Limbaugh also dared to accuse the president of wanting Hurricane Irene to happen, and of being disappointed that the storm, which claimed 40 lives, was not more devastating.
“I’ll guarantee you Obama was hoping this was going to be a disaster as another excuse for his failing economy,” the talk show host said, adding, “If he’s out there blaming tsunamis, blaming earthquakes, this one [was] made to order, but it just didn’t measure up.”
Those who know Limbaugh are accustomed to his irreverent, outrageous and offensive style. “Barack the Magic Negro,” a mainstay of Limbaugh show, is just about all you need to know. We expect it, and I’d imagine that his overwhelmingly conservative, angry, white male audience appreciates what he says and agree wholeheartedly. After all, he effectively articulates the lowly aspirations, racial fears and jingoistic paranoia of a disgruntled demographic.
However, what would certainly surprise people who are justifiably loath to listen to Rush — including, but not limited to the black community — is that his sidekick is black. That’s not to say it is surprising that Limbaugh has any black friends. Justice Clarence Thomas, an anathema to some in the black community and elsewhere, due in no small part to his sullying of the Supreme Court with Tea Party money, officiated at Rush’s third wedding in 1994.
But Limbaugh’s right-hand man is himself a black guy named James Golden, known as Bo Snerdley. Bo Snerdley is the guy who screens the calls, impersonates black leaders and Ebonics speakers from the hood on air, and acts as the show’s one-man peanut gallery and amen corner. Some would even suggest he plays the role of court jester or minstrel.
Self-described as the “official Obama criticizer,” Snerdley says he is “certified black enough to criticize, with a heavy dose of pure, unadulterated organic slave blood.” Part of his shtick is providing a commentary, usually a criticism of Obama or some other black leader, in perfect English.
“America is great, it was great before you stepped on the scene. The thing that frightens us sir is you are Hell-bent on destroying what is great in the name of liberalism,” Snerdley offered in one commentary. Then, he translates his statement into Ebonics, so that black folks in the so-called “hood” would understand.
The language is laden with choice slang words and expressions as “what up, yo,” “homie,” “break it off,” “check that out,” “y’all got played,” and other stereotyped black language. “Ain’t nobody got no spending money out here yo, okay?” Snerdley said, addressing Obama in what is supposedly black slang or vernacular. Yet, I can’t recall anyone black ever speaking like that. In another skit, Rush Limbaugh sets the stage for his sidekick in what is billed as “comic relief,” but becomes an insensitive impersonation of civil rights veteran, Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia).
On the floor of Congress, Lewis made an impassioned plea to restore unemployment insurance to millions of needy American workers. “Snerdley don’t do this, because you’re going to cause me to start doing it, and if I do it we’re in deep doo doo,” Limbaugh asserts while introducing his sidekick. “I can also impersonate John Lewis, effectively so. But if I do it, I’m in deep…” Limbaugh adds.
Using poetic license, Snerdley then proceeds to give his own rendition of what Limbaugh calls Lewis’s “one-minute rant”: “Where is your heart? Where is your compassion? We want everybody on unemployment from now until forever and ever. Where are your feelings? Where, where, where is your money? That money is ours, and we want to give that money, from Obama’s stash, from my stash, from your stash, to my unemployed peoples. Where is your feelings?”
He then mocks the congressman for the statement he made in opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas: “I have been beaten upside the head, but it doesn’t mean I am qualified to be on the Supreme Court.”
In 1961, a young Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders, was beaten in a civil rights protest in Rock Hill, South Carolina. “There is no excuse for the beating he took at the Rock Hill bus station. But it happened, and I wanted him to know our city has changed,” said Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols in 2008.
He suffered a fractured skull and was hospitalized. Further, the man was beaten nearly to death by a white mob at the Montgomery bus station. “Stand together. Don’t run. Just stand together!” Lewis told his soldiers, expecting to die with them that day. And Bo Snerdley thinks that is funny. Maybe I just don’t have a sense of humor.
Although normally, I am not one to speak much about the concept of Hell, I’d say that if it did exist, it would be reserved for those who speak ill of John Lewis, and make fun of civil rights workers who are beaten by the Klan within an inch of their lives. And those who would make that journey should do so wearing gasoline drawers. I do not know how James Golden can justify what he does, but in any case, he did not respond to my request for a comment.
Don’t get me wrong, I have as much of a sense of humor as anyone. Comedy is an important part of our lives, and can enhance a political discussion. Black folks are no stranger to humor, to be sure, including self-deprecating humor that laughs at the things black people do, the way they live, their tastes and their foibles. You can listen to Tom Joyner or Steve Harvey on the radio and laugh about the predicaments in which black people find themselves.
Sometimes we must laugh to keep from crying, given the challenges we have faced, the pain we have endured, and the victories we have managed to snatch despite our difficulties. But that humor comes from our experience, and serves to uplift and reaffirm us.
Meanwhile, the racist humor expressed on the Rush Limbaugh show is done at the expense of black people, to denigrate and insult the community. These worn out negative black stereotypes, complete with street slang, represent the racist conception of how blacks should speak.
To that extent, the Bo Snerdley character is useful to modern-day conservatives, as years ago the listlessness of a Stepin Fetchit, and the buffoonery of an Amos and Andy were useful to racist whites who desperately clung onto notions of black inferiority. Then and now, some people need a rationale for policies that keep oppressed minorities down. Media stereotypes serve that purpose, and they provide the justification.
Moreover, Bo Snerdley, like Herman Cain, Rep. Allen West and other black Tea Party lawmakers and figures, serve as the attack dogs for atrocious hard-right interests. They speak the things whites dare not utter for fear of being called a racist, though it never stopped Limbaugh. And if a black face says it, then it must be alright, right?
All of this would be funny, except that Rush Limbaugh is an influential leader in the Republican Party, if not the most influential conservative around. And if you do not believe his show impacts policy, you’ve got to be joking me.