For Maaso Kalema, the viral YouTube video of 27-year-old Franchesca Ramsey âÄî an African-American woman in a blonde wig âÄî poking fun at âÄúSh*t White Girls Say to Black GirlsâÄù was more than a good laugh âÄî it was a reminder of her life growing up in predominately white suburban Blaine, Minn .
âÄúThatâÄôs why these videos are funny,âÄù the sophomore biology student said. âÄúPeople can really relate to them.âÄù
But across campus, Sarah Philippe didnâÄôt see much to laugh about.
âÄúIt perpetuates the idea that white girls are dumb, ditsy and ignorant when it comes to race,âÄù she said. âÄúThatâÄôs a stereotype I always face.âÄù
With millions of views and comments, the latest wave of YouTube videos using humor to tackle social stereotypes have sparked discussions about race relations around the University of Minnesota community.
Some say the videos are exposing stereotypes in a new and powerful way. Others say they are merely perpetuating them.
But Kalema and Philippe join sociology of race relations professor Enid Logan in saying they are not surprised the videos have gained so much popularity.
âÄúThey show most people are ready to talk about race,âÄù Philippe said. âÄúThey just donâÄôt know how to go about it.âÄù
In the videos, people from all demographics flip the script by using satire to highlight offensive comments or scenarios they face in day-to-day life.
Everybody from âÄúLatina girlsâÄù to âÄúsouthern gay guysâÄù haves gotten in on the joke.
Even Minnesotans got in on the action when local KDWB anchor Dave Ryan released âÄúS*** People from Minnesota SayâÄù on Tuesday.
KalemaâÄôs first exposure to the videos came when her sister sent her a Facebook link to a video in which an African-American man in drag parodies phrases and mannerisms that are supposed to characterize black women.
She said at first she thought it was funny âÄî really funny. She shared it with friends who had similar life experiences. They quickly developed inside jokes based on the scenes from the video.
But it didnâÄôt take long for her to realize the joke could potentially be on them once the videos gained national popularity.
âÄúOnce the video became so public, it lost its intimacy,âÄù she said. âÄúIt wasnâÄôt just a joke between you and your girlfriend who happens to be a black woman. Now itâÄôs a national joke, and everybodyâÄôs laughing at you.âÄù
Philippe said the videos were detrimental, but for a different reason.
She said they discourage the types of conversations they are supposed to encourage because they make people outside of the populations highlighted feel further alienated from them.
âÄúI really want to talk about this stuff,âÄù she said. âÄúI really want to know more about other people. But IâÄôm afraid IâÄôll end up looking like one of the girls in the videos if I ask.âÄù
âÄòIn on the jokeâÄô
Professor Logan doesnâÄôt think the videos pose the risk of perpetuating stereotypes, and said the potency of the videos most likely stems from their cultural relevance and truth.
Though the use of humor can be an effective way to expose social and racial inequalities, she said satirists always run the risk of their material being used to support the behaviors they are trying to change.
ThatâÄôs why Dave Chapelle put an end to his Comedy Central show, she said.
Humor has historically been a tool to enter discussions about taboo or uncomfortable issues, she said.
âÄúI think it feels like youâÄôre in on the joke,âÄù she said.
Kalema said itâÄôs easy for people to enter these discussions through social media where they can âÄúhide behind a screen.âÄù
Kalema said RamseyâÄôs video about the relationship between white and black women would be offensive if the roles were reversed. But Philippe said it would only be fair to see a video about things black women say to white women to explore the unspoken issue of reverse-racism.
Both Philippe and Kalema said they agree they could use the videos to better understand how they are perceived in society and begin to tackle the issue of race by analyzing their own actions.
âÄúI donâÄôt think a video about cultural mannerisms is going to open a truly productive discussion about race,âÄù Kalema said. âÄúBut it can be a useful mirror for us.âÄù