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?


Relunctantly Tweeting @thekabosh

Hello sports fans!!!  Okay so I’ve succumb to the social pressures of the web universe and I am going to try (gasps) Tweeting.  Tweeting to me is like everything that what was wrong with my high school experience made virtual and I am desperately self-conscience about the whole thing.  While I have my witty and insightful moments, I am not convinced my life is interesting enough to be announced like NFL play-by-play. Also, the whole following me has a sort of fish and loaves disciple connotation to me, and while I won’t make you fishers of men; I hope to provide you with some delicious food for thought.

I am told that Tweeting has numerous benefits, as one seeks to expand their social networks, body of knowledge, and real world connections.  So okay Twitter Nation here it goes….as I am forced to lay all my dignity on the line and resort to begging…..

I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.

Oh actually that was Julia Roberts in  Notting Hill, however….

If you like what you read on The Kabosh and you find it insightful, informative, and interesting; I mean hell even if you think what most of what I spew is inane dribble ….pretty puullleaaaase follow me on Twitter.  I am tweeting @thekabosh.  I hope to get some dialogues going with our readership to gather content ideas, hear different perspectives on blog topics, and form connections in cultural and literary universe.  Thanks for all the kind words, support, and insightful comments. I look forward to meeting you all soon.

The Kabosh is a place where we address the politics of culture and the culture of politics. Exploring the spectacle of celebrity in both arenas, it seeks to confront and critique dominant narratives and explore intersections of politics, race, gender, identity formation, and consumerism.

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