Thursday, May 11, 2006

"THE BOONDOCKS" - Race and Masculinity

During a recent visit to Brooklyn I realized how much marketing for "The Boondocks" is done to communities of color - there were posters all over the place. This coupled with so many of our Men Of Strength Club guys bringing the show up makes me second guess my earlier assumption that most of the show's viewers would be college-aged white guys. That's just been my viewing community with Adult Swim (and generally speaking my own community). This slightly changes my previous thoughts about the show being dangerous because it could reinforce white folks' racist stereotypes by joking on the black community in the United States rather than the white supremacist system that exploits it. Oh well, here are a few of my notes on the last episode that I watched.

I saw the episode where Gangstalicious is beefing with some other rapper whose name I can't remember. This continues McGruder's attack on hip-hop. I think it's coming from a place of love for the hip-hop movement, but in portraying the rappers as stupid, consumerist, and violent he portrays the hip-hop community in the same way Bill O'Reilly would. This ignores the white supremacist system that drives mainstream hip-hop production. You know as well as I do who drives up the sales of “gangsta” rap, who benefited from and facilitated the distribution of crack and violence in communities of color - which of course is destroying the very communities that hip-hop was built to serve. Couldn't McGruder also have included some fat old white guys smoking cigars and laughing up to their necks in $100 bills to counter the images of black people being stupid and beating one another up? Also, on this point, McGruder and other people who poke fun at mainstream hip-hop have a pretty narrow vision. I mean, some pretty conscious and real artists are still out there, and even popular – real popular. Kanye, Mos Def (who I noticed does some voices for the show), Mary J. Blige, Common, OutKast, the list goes on. And “gangsta” isn't limited to hip-hop; two words – “Toby Keith”.

Next – the portrayal of women in the show. I do think that “The Boondocks” has many valuable things to tell us about race in the United States (maybe this should be kept for another email), but it consistently strikes me as pretty damned sexist. There are very few women ever in the episodes, and when they are presented, they are shown as stereotypical "gold-digging hookers.”

And then what about the primary adult male character - what is it with Grandpa? How is his character ignoring the fact that when a single grandparent raises young men of color, it's more often than not a grandmother, not a grandfather? It seems like the show is subtly taking shots at thousands of grandmothers raising children by ignoring them. And is Grandpa's whole tough-love approach just reinforcing the conservative idea that what blacks in the United States need are more strong, emotionless fathers ready to take up their abusive authority in the family? This is definitely safer to take on for a TV show beholden to conservative/corporate interests (owned by Time Warner) than talking about white supremacy; this I understand.

All right, I'm almost done, but I do have one thing to end with. At the end of the “Gangstalicious” episode, Gangstalicious turns out to be gay, and gives a speech to Riley about never having wanted to act so tough. This is a great twist and has some good, complicated things to say about masculinities and the counterstory. I'm still thinking about what this ending means for the rest of my thoughts in this email, but it made me think of a point Amiri Baraka was making in the book “Blues People: Negro Music in White America.” In writing about black minstrel shows after the Civil War, he writes that many times the black performers were actually making fun of white performers making fun of black folks. Is this what McGruder was doing with this episode? Does that make sense? Complicated.

Patrick Lincoln



  1. Okay, I'll jump in here. A few minor observations.

    A) Huey narrates the show, not Riley.
    B) It was "Thuggin' Love" (I know, I know, trivial)

    Moving on, I can only assume you will eventually watch more episodes and find the "fat old white guys smoking cigars".
    Specifically look for two episodes which showcase Ed Wuncler at his worst - One about Jazmine's lemonade stand, "The Block is Hot", and one about Grandpa's restaurant "The Itis".
    He is a capitalist pig who only loves money.

    Ed III and Rummy - two white men who try to act gangsta' - are completely ridiculous and really (in my opinion) showcase some of the stupidity of 'young, white American males.' See "Let's Nab Oprah" for further elucidation.

    As a white female married to a black/white male, my viewing experience is very interesting. He picks up on things that I don't see, I notice things he doesn't. This is McGruder's genius. We all get bitch slapped at some point.

    I will agree with you about the lack of female roles in the show and point out just for posterity's sake that both Huey & Riley are voiced by Regina King.

  2. Okay, upon re-reading your post I just realized that you were specifically looking for the rich old men getting richer off hip-hop in the Gangstalicious episode. Please excuse my poor reading comprehension.

    However, I still believe Ed Wuncler's presence in many of the other episodes is a direct reference to white supremacy. After all, the first time Grandpa meets Mr. Wuncler is when Mr. Wuncler knocks on Grandpa's door. Grandpa ushers Mr. Wuncler in to the house saying "Well, come in, sir. Welcome to *your* house."

  3. I will continue to watch the show, I respect McGruder and thought his comic strips were pretty good - I just feel like the folks at Time Warner have to have some input over how political vs. how purely humurous it all is.