Black men have a history of putting on a dress and mocking Black women. This is supposedly all in good fun. Chris Rock recently had an interview with Vibe magazine, and decided to share his thoughts on this trend.
“I mean, hey, lots of comedians dress up like women, not just Black. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. Men in drag…There was Mrs. Doubtfire. [Adam] Sandler’s next movies is Jack and Jill. He plays his brother and sister. [The Black community] doesn’t have that many movies, so if there’s only four Black movies in a year and two of them star Black men in dresses, I could see how that would upset some people. But that’s a job for some people. Tyler Perry is great in a dress, but I don’t want to see Denzel or Will Smith in a dress. And I don’t think we’re in any danger of seeing that.”
So he can see how this could upset some people, but because he finds Tyler Perry funny, all is forgiven. There are many in the Black community who love to hate on Tyler Perry, and I certainly am no different. Perry has said on many occasions that Madea is his version of a tribute to Black women, and I for one would much prefer he erase us.
Madea is loud, decidedly unfeminine, quick to be violent, uneducated, and in constant trouble with the law. Every negative stereotype attached to Black women, is encompassed in Madea’s character, and yet this is somehow funny and a tribute to Black women.
In the above clip, Madea appeared on The Maury Pauvich show. Maury routinely has women on his show to have DNA tests to discover who the father of their child is. What is this but a continuous suggestion that Black women are licentious. There have been several women who have dragged men on the show only to have it announced publicly that they are not the father of their children. The time that a woman is fertile each month is exceedingly small, and to not be able to tell between sometimes 5-20 men who the father is, suggests that Black women routinely sleep with anyone with a penis. Of course, Madea ran off the stage and collapsed when it was revealed that Brown was not the father.
Considering his own history of misogyny, I am far from surprised that Rock has no problem with the character of Madea; however, it saddens me because this man is raising two little Black girls. Who the hell does he think this genderized minstrel show is aimed at? Rock will never have to pay for the anti-woman, internalized racist portrayal of Black women, but his daughters most certainly will.
I also think that part of the reason that people continue to defend Tyler Perry, is because his work has been constructed as comedy. We have seen time and time again, bigoted behaviour and or language excused, because the comedian was only joking, and as listeners we are taken to task for being too sensitive, or unable to take a joke. The problem is that these jokes do not exist in a vacuum, nor does Perry attempt to interrogate these stereotypes in a way that suggests that they are truly harmful.
In short, Madea is a buffoon reminiscent of Amos ‘n’ Andy. Perry’s movies are nothing more than a modern day incarnation of minstrel shows.
Black men and women are both targeted with racism but when it comes to sexism, Black women are often left to fend on our own. It has been continually suggested that because we share an oppression, that racism should be our primary focus. This is further emboldened by the racism that is often prevalent in women’s organizing attempts. When Black women and White women interact to discuss or fight gender based issues, invariably racism becomes an issue that must be actively dealt with and this leaves no happy medium for Black women. We know that Black male privilege exists, because we are often the targets, and we know that racism greatly impacts our lives, and yet we are silenced or ignored when we attempt to discuss this in women centered activities.
Perry’s Madea comes out of a tradition of attacking and shaming Black women. This character reminds us that though Black men are our allies when it comes to race, they are far from natural allies when it comes to sexism. Though Perry directly profits financially from his denigration of Black women, in truth, all Black men gain because it affirms and supports their privilege. A privilege by they way that they often obscure by tackling the racism that they have to negotiate. The idea that an identity can be both marginalized and privileged is often too nuanced for most to consider; however, if we examine Tyler Perry’s movies, it is quite evident. Perry is not just guilty of perpetuating coonery and buffonery, he is guilty of sexism.