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Cleveland's Charles Ramsey: hero, or black stereotype?

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Ramsey’s original interview has been viewed collectively more than 3 million times on YouTube, and played throughout the day yesterday on local and national media stations. Mentions of him on the most popular social media sites paired heroism with hilarity.

Declarations of his valor were accompanied by rote recitations of phrases from his interview, such as “I’m just eatin’ my McDonald’s,” “I barbecue wit’ this dude….We eat ribs and whatnot,” and perhaps most famously (and tellingly), “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms – something is wrong here.”

The audio of the interview has already been auto-tuned and set to music – the Internet equivalent of a seal of approval for its viral status. Reading of the transcript alone would probably not elicit much of a chuckle. The fascination is with the visual of the stereotypically animated, wide-eyed, dark-skinned black man with straightened hair and disheveled clothes. Ramsey’s valiant act played second fiddle to the image of a superficially indigent, uneducated black man eating ribs and listening to salsa.

In his book “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” James Loewen writes that heroification “is a degenerative process that makes people over into heroes” to such a degree that our perception of the individuals are forever altered.

Likewise, de-heroification (the de-emphasis or demotion of heroism) is also a degenerative process. It consists of subjugating heroic deeds to trivial characteristics, whether intentionally or unintentionally. In the case of Ramsey, stereotypes are overshadowing his alleged accomplishments. The knight in shining armor is demoted to court jester.

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