Now Run Tell Dat ….Home Boy: Antoine Dodson and the Ghettoization of Black Online Identity

Antoine Dodson is a digital Ghetto Superstar. For those living under a rock, video of a news broadcast featuring an interview with the Alabama native went viral over the last week and is now the most downloaded video on YouTube.  In the instantly infamous footage, Dodson gives a rather colorful interview on the attempted assault of his sister.  In recounting the confrontation with the intruder, he does not emote an ounce of fear or intimidation standard for such evening broadcast news fare.  In contrast, Dodson is confrontational.

Donning a red bandanna, he threatens to go after his sister’s attacker and subsequently dares the intruder to ” now run and tell dat… homeboy”, in the video’s most quotable line.  The video and that particular gem of black vernacular has been remixed, mashed-up, auto-tuned, chopped and screwed and composed into song.   However, as a cultural phenomenon, there is something much more signficant about this video than its platform for comedic improvisation.  It reveals some particular conflicts about how Black people negotiate identity in the broadcast media, online, and within larger society.

The Dodson video is culturally relevant because it adds to a larger narrative about Black identity that is being negotiated right now, particularly in the digital sphere.  Just the previous week, we saw former Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod being taken to tasks for being a racist, after doctored video of a speech she gave to the NAACP was posted to the Internet.  The power of this story was the speed in which it took hold in the public consciousness and the equal speed in which the story shifted course.  Similar to the Sherrod video, the Dodson video has taken on a life of its own, but to what consequence?

I could not help but find the video comedic but at the same time I wondered, who in the news room edited this segment and was there at least one Black person involved in its production?  Many Black people will argue that the portrayals of Dodson’s family and there  living conditions was unflattering and not reflective of   the overall experience of the Black family in America.  The accuracy or honesty of the narrative that this video puts forth is arguable because it is a mediated cultural artifact.  Moreover, your sphere of experience in the world is going influence how you view and understand this video. So for instance, while I can see the humor in this video, I can also understand the real frustration Dodson and his sister have with their living conditions and really the overall social stratification in American society.    Denoting the suspect as “some idiot from out here in the projects”, Dodson’s sister hints at the liabilities that come with inner city living, public housing, and general urban blight.

The problems extend beyond simply lacking that invaluable feeling of being safe in one’s own home, though the importance of this cannot be underestimated.  The  problems run the gambit and extend to any number of socio-economic limitations: from access to healthy foods, good education, safe housing, medical resources, and employment to access to high-speed digital Internet.  The irony of the digital divide is particularly felt when viewed in the context of the Dodson story. While he is an internet superstar, I cannot help but wonder if him and his neighbors have access to the Web.  While fiber may be  laid in many urban areas, unlike many rural environments, inner city Blacks still lack access to high-speed web connectivity, outside of their mobile devices, due to cost and other barriers to entry.

And yet we are still left with Antoine Dodson and what has become a national lampoon of a certain representation of Black identity.  His construction of the English language, his use of Black vernacular, body language, and cultural references are something that a Black person is going to view differently than an outsider.  To be the number one downloaded video on YouTube, it is clear that this video is being viewed, interpreted, and reinterpreted now by persons outside of the Black experience.  This can be dangerous ground because while many of us may be able to laugh at this video, we can still commiserate with Dodson and his sister’s experience.  Because race remains such shaky ground in this nation, it often feels that in these kinds of situation the outsider is not laughing with us but as us. Leading me to wonder to what extent a video like this confirms widely held stereotypes about the entirety of Black identity, and furthermore affirms the exceptionalism that many outside our race assign to President Obama and other articulate, intelligent, and successful Black people.  We cannot simply reduce Black identity to the haves and have nots among us, and we should not let this happen in the larger culture. Moreover, the importance of the attempted rape of a Black woman is seemingly marginalized in this narrative.  It’s almost as if we forgot that a crime against a woman happened.  Where are the feminist on this one or are they laughing, as well?

The Dodson narrative is still unfolding.  Apparently, a T-shirt line and any number of other commercial opportunities are emerging from this cultural moment, leaving me to wonder how Dodson may capitalize on his instant fame.  It would be a shame for his likeness and what amounts to his intellectual capital be appropriated and him not benefit.   This moment remains complex and difficult to negotiate in my mind.  What about you? Is Dodson’s interview simply a humorous cultural moment or does it say something larger about Black identity in the United States?  If so, does what it say reflect positively or negatively on the wider Black community? In an online sphere that has largely been the bastion of the elite and intellectual among Black thought leaders is there any benefit to the ghettoization of Black online identity?


  1. […] own ways, problems of poverty and inequality in the ostensibly affluent city of Huntsville, AL. The Kabosh has written here about the “ghettoization” (our new favorite word) of black o… Huntsville is a community driven since the 1950s by the aerospace and defense industries; […]

  2. This commentary is just funny. People taking themselves way too seriously. You “cannot help but wonder” if he has internet access blah blah blah. You wonder if there was a black person involved in the production of the news clip etc. I find this hilarious, especially the questioning about internet access while later in your blog you even mention the “commercial opportunities” he has. Had you done your research you would see that not only does he have his own youtube channel, twitter account and facebook page but he is doing radio interviews, a second news interview with WAFF and any other media attention he can find. He certainly does have internet access and if anyone is taking advantage of him, it is with his full consent and seems to be the attention he desires. Had this been an equally poor white family in a trailer park on the other side of town making equally ridiculous statement there would not have been questions about if there was a white person on the screen, undertones of racial accusations etc. Nope, instead the country would have made fun of the clip just the same, perhaps even having a comedy tour reflecting the “blue collar” lifestyle of poor white America as well. There are countless examples of this sort of story featuring a toothless overweight poor white guy in overalls in a trailer park doing the same thing. It isn’t a stereotype, this is reality and the reality is that this is a subculture within the country, and that there are similar subcultures within just about every culture we have.
    It sounds to me like you are actually ashamed of this being a representation of “black culture” in general. Well I can certainly see where your concerns would be with similar stereotypes reinforced in “black comedies,” rap music, urban clothing lines, BET etc. Is this a “ghettoization” as you call it, or really documentation of everyday vernacular within that community?
    What do you mean by “ghettoization” anyhow? Are you saying the Dodson is the posterchild for ghettoization? Are you attempting to say that exposing people like him to the rest of the world is somehow “ghettoizing” black culture? Should we hide people like this? Are you embarrassed by him? Clearly something about him makes you uncomfortable, or you would not have written this blog.

  3. Justin wrote:

    ‘Had this been an equally poor white family in a trailer park on the other side of town making equally ridiculous statement there would not have been questions about if there was a white person on the screen, undertones of racial accusations etc. Nope, instead the country would have made fun of the clip just the same, perhaps even having a comedy tour reflecting the “blue collar” lifestyle of poor white America as well.’

    The reason there wouldn’t be undertones of ‘racial accusations’ is because white people have racial privilege in society–otherwise known as white privilege.

    Any time a white person does anything he/she can rest assured knowing that what he/she does will in no way be representative of an entire group of people. Black people do not have this privilege–we live in an incredibly racist society where persons of color are constantly characterized and, as individuals, are judged based upon stereotypes.

    Full disclosure–I’m white. I know I have privilege in society…even though I know that I’m not always aware of the ways in which I’m privileged.

    You only see it as funny because it’s easier to laugh than to face the major ongoing tragedy of racism in our society.

  4. Thank you Justin for your comment. I definitely take your point and perhaps I am being to analytical about this. It remains a funny video, and yet at the same when cultural phenomena like the Dodson video emerge, I find it useful to interrogate it in a larger cultural context. Your comment about me being uncomfortable with Dodson reminds me of Wanda Sykes stand-up special. She did a whole bit about “white people are looking at us” in which she discussed how Black actually embody or work to subvert stereotypes. It’s a funny piece and I encourage you to check it out.

  5. Seriously? Who the hell behaves that way? Of course people were laughing. It’s hilarious. You can’t act like that, dress like that, use impossibly bad English and honestly expect for people to take you as anything other than a punchline. Run tell *that*.

  6. […] and the culture of politics.   I’ve written about everything from Nicki Minaj to Antoine Dodson and let me tell you it has been fun, challenging, and inspirational.  Your comments and […]

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