Pop Culture, Race & Politics

Seven Things I Think I Think About Quvenzhané Wallis, The Onion, Outrage, Comedy Writing, C*nt, And Being A Robot

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1. I think I first heard the word “cunt” when I was 12 years old. (Actually, this is a lie. I know without a doubt that was my first time hearing it. But, in keeping with today’s theme, I’m staying with “I think.”) It was halftime of an AAU tournament game. We were up a couple points against a team we should have been beating by 50, and our coach was livid. I wasn’t having a particularly good game, and the coach, um, let me know about it, calling me a “scared shitless cunt.”

Although I didn’t know what a cunt was, the spit congregating in the corners of his month gave me the idea that it wasn’t a good thing to be. After learning what it meant, I eventually categorized it with “cock,” “prick,” and “jizz” on my list of “Weird colloquialisms White people—and Black people who’ve spent too much time around White people and/or watching White porn—use to describe sexual things” and I probably didn’t hear it aloud for (at least) another decade.

It wasn’t until later (and by “later” I mean “like three years ago”) that I realized cunt is considered by many to be the single most offensive word in the English language, and I’m not sure about why this is. I mean, for other words that have been deemed unspeakable—nigger and bitch, specifically—there are clear historical, political, and sociological reasons for it. And, while cunt is a vulgar way of describing a vagina, it doesn’t seem any more vulgar than pussy or twat or cooze or any of the dozens of other slang terms for female body parts that have been used as slurs against women and 12 year old basketball players committing too many turnovers.

I guess what I’m asking is if there was a particular tipping point for cunt that I’m not aware of? What is it about this particular word that makes it dirtier and nastier than the rest?

(Personally, I think it may be due to the fact that the word just sounds nastier than most other words. It’s pronounced in a way that makes it seem like an ominous whisper. It also has a hard T ending, which can make a word sound like it has a perpetual sneer.)

2.  I think I totally get what whoever is in charge of The Onion’s Twitter account was attempting to do Sunday night. The preternaturally cute, talented, and charming Quvenzhané Wallis is the last person anyone would think to call a cunt, so the tweet was very obvious satire. In this sense, it was no different than saying “Those Phoenix winters sure are cold.”

But, just because something “structurally” works doesn’t mean it’s appropriate, or funny, and if a piece of satire is inappropriate, offensive, and lacking humor, it doesn’t work. This isn’t to say that Quvenzhane Wallis is impervious to satire or that you can never use that word in a joke. But, anyone who attempts to create that type of humor should also have enough wherewithal to know that certain things are just flat out wrong, and using a sexual reference—the most vulgar sexual reference at that—to joke about a nine year old actress is exactly that.

Whoever wrote that tweet didn’t just shoot and miss. They shot, missed, and put a hole through the f*cking backboard.

3. I think many people who regularly write jokes and other forms of potentially provocative/offensive material for a living have cold sweats about what happened last night. I know I do.

When your popularity/readership/relevance is predicated on being funny, or entertaining, or irreverent or whatever, you’re encouraged to push the envelope on what’s acceptable to say. Usually, it works. But, when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work, and the push back received from the one time it doesn’t work exponentially exceeds the praise received all the other times it did. This does not feel good.

Writers have to be especially careful with Twitter, as a potentially offensive standalone tweet just isn’t able to have the same context that same statement might have in a middle of a book or 30 minute comedy routine.

I’m not complaining, mind you. People who produce this type of content are aware of this dichotomy, and it’s just something you learn to deal with. It’s an inevitable occupational hazard that leaves you with two choices: Find something else to do, or get better and grow thicker skin.

4. I think I loved how quickly social media descended on the Onion’s tweet. Thousands of people—Black, White, and other—immediately called them out, eventually leading to the tweet being taken down and the Onion issuing a formal apology. Basically, the Onion stepped out of line, and a hundred thousand people responded, ultimately saying “Don’t worry, Quvenzhané. We got your back.”

But, as much as the emotive/visceral part of me loved to see that happen, I did feel some ambivalence. The outrage was supposed to protect Quvenzhane, but without it, I doubt she even finds out the tweet exists. Like millions of other controversial tweets, it would have been forgotten about in 10 minutes. Now, the reaction to the tweet is a bigger story than the tweet itself. And, while she might have come across this tweet before it became a story, there’s no doubt she will—and will probably be interviewed about it—now. Basically, while this was supposed to protect her, it places her in the line of fire.

Ultimately, the outrage was a positive. The tweet got deleted, and the Onion issued an apology. This would not have happened without that. It also served as a reminder that “free speech” doesn’t equal “accountability-less speech.”

Most importantly—well, most importantly to many—it was a very swift and public pushback to Black women and girls being disrespected in some form in the mass media, a too rare sign that people are in fact there to protect them.

All that considered, it still doesn’t sit completely right with me. It just seems like while the attention brought to the tweet about Quvenzhane helps Black women and girls in general, it didn’t help Quvenzhane specifically. I’m not sure what else could or should have been done to protect her though.

I expressed these views on Twitter yesterday, and—among other things—I was accused of being myopic. I actually don’t disagree with this. I realize my tendency to see certain things in very black/white absolutist terms leaves some blind spots. (While discussing this yesterday, Panama called me a robot. I am a human being, so naturally I disagreed.) It’s not that I ignore nuance and context. But, I do think that too much of it has a tendency to cloud the truth.

(For instance, in the Dorner case, I just can’t get past the fact that he likely killed that couple. There are no “Yeah, but’s” for me, no sympathy, no nothing. If he did that, nothing else he did as far as exposing corruption or fighting the power matters to me.)

Anyway, I’m bringing this up because although I feel how I feel about the effect of the outrage not sitting right with me, I also realize that I could very well be wrong. There may be something here I’m just not seeing, and perhaps what happened was both the best way to approach this issue and the best way to defend Quvenzhane.

5. I think the Onion’s tweet wasn’t even the most disturbing Quvenzhane-related thing I saw yesterday. Apparently, quite a few people feel she is quite full of herself, and the flexing she did whenever the camera was on her confirmed (to them) that she was a little asshole-in-training.

There are a thousand different things you can say about all of this—how confident Black people are still thought by many to be uppity/cocky, how she’s a freaking 9 YEAR OLD GIRL having the time of her life, etc—but three questions have to be asked:

Did these people not see the f*cking movie??? Don’t they realize she was just mimicking what her character (“Hushpuppy”) does in the movie’s most memorable scene??? Do they even know what “Beast it!!!” means???

6. I think our resident Obsidian brought up a good point yesterday. Everyone was rightly and justifiably angry about the Onion’s tweet. Yet, many of us—myself included—are very selective about who deserves our outrage. Often, this selection is determined by likability. Basically, wrong is wrong, even if you don’t agree with the politics held by a person a wrong is committed against.

7. I think Beasts is a spellbinding, captivating, enchanting, engaging, and completely unique movie. I’m not sure if it was good, though. While I was fascinated with it—and even may have even accidentally rubbed some salt in my eye that forced them to water a little—once I got out of my post-movie haze a couple hours later, I couldn’t help but think that I just watched a 100 minute long ode to child abuse.

Maybe P was right. I just might be a robot.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Filed Under:
Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

  • iamnotakata

    I just want to say, I was too busy trying to figure out what a Quvenzhané Wallis was to be outraged…. that’s all.

    • Royale W. Cheese

      I looked up a phonetic spelling of her name. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quvenzhané_Wallis

      • iamnotakata

        That is quite a name…why couldn’t they just name her Ashley though…I get the tribal meaning and so forth but that name is just a bit much for me.

        • Texas-Kenyan

          nope that name is not African, I think the mother was attempting to mix or create a Swahili name and made it up

        • Wild Cougar

          It’s not about you

          • The Guy Formerly Know As Hmmmm

            seriously….

          • mochazina

            +99999

          • AfroPetite

            *puts a Franklin in the plate*

          • Ms. Bridget

            Thank you!

          • Kema

            Yes!!!

    • She Who Reads

      Her name is her name. Her parents have the right to give her whatever name they see fit. My name comes from my father’s name. There’s no other meaning to it. And that’s okay. Because it’s mine.

      Quvenzhané is hers.

      Methuselah was named Methusaleh. That’s biblical. It’s long and complicated and his.

      Ashley? What meaning does Ashley have?

      Go get your life.

      • iamnotakata

        I take it you are one of those that took the Onions comment all the way personal….calm down it wasn’t you I was discussing….at the end of the day her name is unusual…

        • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

          lol. i find your comment both humourous and to be kind of exactly what this post is about. good job.

        • http://fourpageletter.wordpress.com keisha brown

          lol. not the point. your comment about giving her an anglo name was ignorant. a parent can name a kid whatever they want. rightfully or otherwise.

          • iamnotakata

            “a parent can name a kid whatever they want. rightfully or otherwise” This is obvious considering the childs name… You people on here today are sensitive good Lord… oh and the Ashley thing was all in humor perhaps I should have used quotations….

            • http://fourpageletter.wordpress.com keisha brown

              you people?
              lol. that’s funny to me.
              im home chillin, watching my son nap, googling volunteer opportunities.
              have a good day.

        • She Who Reads

          Her name is unusual. Yes. But it’s hers. And she has the right to have it. And not have it questioned. It has meaning for her and her family. It’s a symbol of their connection to her. Qu= her mom, Ven= her dad, Zhane=Swahili for fairy.

          And, yes, I was also offended by the sexualization of a Black nine-year-old’s body.

      • S Emm

        People get confused when there’s too many letters. They get nervous.

      • KENYADIGIT

        also she isnt Akata so iamnotakata’s name is probably something like kelechiafemi lol

  • http://stemartaen.com pear

    well said old friend

  • http://www.simplybeez.com Beez

    “The outrage was supposed to protect Quvenzhane, but without it, I doubt she even finds out the tweet exists. Like millions of other controversial tweets, it would have been forgotten about in 10 minutes.”

    I don’t think this was the kind of tweet that people would forget in 10 minutes. I feel like this is the type of tweet Quvenzhane’s friends would find on the internet, and no matter how well strangers on the internet or even her parents try to protect her, she will know about. And someone will have to explain. I didn’t know what that word meant until I was well in my teens. I have a problem saying it nearly a decade later. Satirical or not, it should have never been placed in the same SENTENCE featuring the name of a nine year old girl.

    You wanna go for satire, Onion? You could have easily made a quick joke about how the puppy purses she’s known for wearing are made of REAL puppies, and how she chooses them Hunger-Games style for coordination. There, I gave you one. Otherwise, I’m more for just celebrating the awesomeness known as Quvenzhane Wallis, whose comfort in her own skin even made Chrissy Teigen call her cocky. Teigen, of course, being a prime expert on the subject.

    • LuckBALady

      That last paragraph: EVERYMUTHAF#CKINGTHING.

  • Royals W. Cheese

    I share your ambivalence towards the outrage. I agree that the satire was clumsy and heavy-handed. I love the post, even though I warned you not to write it…probably not gonna love the threads that follow.

    • Royale W. Cheese

      I reposted because my iPhone misspelled my handle again. I think my iPhone is racist.

  • Royale W. Cheese

    I share your ambivalence towards Twitter/blog outrage. I agree that the Onion’s satire was clumsy and heavy-handed. Also, you have to go a little lighter on the satire when a black person is the subject (Obama New Yorker cover art, for instance). I love the post, even though I warned you not to write it…probably not gonna love the threads that follow.

  • Yoles

    first, i must say:
    °•.¸☆ ★ ☆¸.•°*”˜˜”*°•.¸☆
    ╔╗╔╦══╦═╦═╦╗╔╗ ★ ★ ★
    ║╚╝║══║═║═║╚╝║ ☆¸.•°*”˜˜”*°•.¸☆
    ║╔╗║╔╗║╔╣╔╩╗╔╝ ★ BIRTHDAY ☆
    ╚╝╚╩╝╚╩╝╚╝═╚╝ ♥¥☆★☆★☆¥♥ ★☆•°*”˜˜”*°•.¸☆
    •°*”˜˜”*°•.¸☆ ★ ☆¸.•°*”˜˜”*°•.¸☆ to me, Yoles and my bday twin the funky fresh and oh so fly Kid Video we can’t forget, a special shout out to our bday twin Erykah Badu… it’s our special day peoples!! act like you know :D

    • http://www.simplybeez.com Beez

      Happy Birthday!

      • Yoles

        much appreciated Beez :D

    • Malik

      saved the fanciest happy birthday for yourself it seems :P

      • Yoles

        & kid video!!!!
        sharing is caring :D

    • naturalista88

      Happy birthday.

      • Yoles

        merci beaucoup mademoiselle :D

    • H.H.H.

      happy birthday from another member of Pisces Nation.

      *salute*

      • Yoles

        many thx… YAY :D when is your born day my brother?

        • H.H.H.

          march somethingoranother lol

    • nillalatte

      Happy birthday Yoles! Didn’t we do this last year? I’m just saying. You stay having a birthday — every year. LOL Have a wonderful and blessed one!

      • Yoles

        i must be crazy cuz i just keep doing it… maybe i’ll skip it next year… lol

    • Royale W. Cheese

      Happy birthday! Sweet ASCII art.

      • Yoles

        thank you… i try to keep things looking nice around these parts… doing what i can ;)

    • Juiciest Mango

      Happy Birthday Yoles!! :)

      Also Happy Birthday to the other VSB member, can’t remember his name. :)

      • Yoles

        thank you… its kid video and i put him in my post as well… take a looksie!

        • Juiciest Mango

          my bad. I honestly didn’t know what you meant by kid video.

      • kid video

        can’t remember his name

        If only i was darker…and had dreads…lol

        • Juiciest Mango

          if only…..loool!! Happpy Birthday, once again!!! :)

    • That Ugly Kid

      HAPPY BIRTHDAAAYYY!!! OMG YES! YEESS! YEEESSSS! MAY YOU HAVE A LOVELY DAY, YOLES!!!!

      • Yoles

        ohhhh you know exactly how i like it TUK… yes, just.like.that ;)

    • http://fourpageletter.wordpress.com keisha brown

      i really only came here to acknowledge your bday yolie. LOL.

      • Yoles

        awww KB aka TH you make me feel so special.. thank you

    • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com Val

      :-) * Happy Birthday!* :-)

      • Yoles

        gracias Valentina!

    • http://www.becauseimwrite.com Muze

      happy birthday Yoles!!! *hugs and glitter*

      • Yoles

        many thanks my fellow february baby :D

    • mena

      Have fun on your birthday :-)

      • Yoles

        will do Mena… ty

    • kid video

      Bow on my (and Yoles) arrival…It’s our Born Day…

      We’re a couple of Fly As* Pisces…

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djBLv4vcBkk

      • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com Val

        Happy birthday, Kid!

    • Tx10inch

      How do you do this? I still don’t know how to strikethrough but you got 4th of July goin off in here! lol. Happy B-day Yollie!

      • http://fourpageletter.wordpress.com keisha brown

        LOL. i know.
        but it’s also what makes yolie special. ;)

      • Yoles

        my flirty reply got got…. SECURITY!!!!!!!
        anyway thx Tx

    • Breezy

      *hangs streamers, blows up balloons and lights fifty eleven candles on very adult shaped cake*

      Happy Birthday Yolie and Kid!!!!!!!!!!!

      *twerking and doin the dougie*

      • kid video

        *stuffs a 20 in Breezy’s G string*

        • Breezy

          OH MY!!

          • http://opinionatedmale.com Medium Meech

            I was wondering how that 20 got behind my ear.

      • Yoles

        YAY :D thx Breezy!!!!! we gonna keep the party going til your bday as well, cuz that is just how we get down ;)

        *pop, lock and dropping it to the beat*

        PICSES FOR LIFE :D

    • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

      Happy birthday!

      • Yoles

        THX T

    • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com Tristan

      Happy Birthday sugar mama-elect lol

      • Yoles

        i thought we officially agreed on you being cougar chow ;)

    • http://missrosen.wordpress.com esa

      happy birthday beautiful ~*~

      • Yoles

        thank you so much Esa, my internet/real life crush

    • Wild Cougar

      Happy Birthday to the coolest chick on VSB

      • Yoles

        how nice of you to say WC.. tyvm

    • camilleblue

      Happy Birthday Yoles!

      • IcePrincess3

        HAPPY BIRFDAY YOLIE & KID VIDEO!! WOOHOOOOOO!!!!

        • Yoles

          YEAAAAAA its our bday bytches!!!!!!!!! :D

      • Yoles

        thx hon

    • A Woman’s Eyes

      *~*~*~*~*~*~~ HAPPY ~*~*~*~*~*~~*BIRTHDAY ~*~*~*~*~YOLIE~*~*~*~*~*~& ~*~*~*~*~~* KID VIDEO~*~*~*~*~*~*~ & FATBELLYBELLA~~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

      • Yoles

        its purdy… thank you

    • http://twitter.com/inomallday Shamira

      happy birthday yoles!!!! *twerks*

      • Yoles

        *twerks right with ya*
        thank you

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      Happy b-day Yoles.

      • Yoles

        thank u kindly sir Panama

    • AfroPetite

      Yay for Pisces SEASON!!!

      Enjoy your day!

      • Yoles

        ♬♫ Pisces for LIFE♬♫

    • http://www.styleillusions.com WIP

      happy birthday!!

      • Yoles

        thx Whitney ;)

        *private joke*

    • http://pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

      HAPPY BIRFDAY TO YOLIE WHO IS TRES JOLIE MY NINJAS!!!!!

      swerve.

      • Yoles

        you think i’m pretty… thats the best internet bday gift!! thx Cheekie-My-Baby

    • http://opinionatedmale.com Medium Meech

      Happy bron day!

      • Yoles

        my bron day couldn’t be better thanks :D

    • LMNOP

      Happy Birthday Yoles!

      • Yoles

        thx babe

    • Witty Pseudonym

      Happy Birthday!!!!

      • Yoles

        succeeding.. tyvm

    • Kema

      *sings* Happy Birthday Yoles… Yoles its your Birthday

      • Yoles

        *joins in*
        ♬♫ that’s right, its my bday ♬♫

  • Yoles

    i don’t have twitter nor did i watch the award show, so as usual i was late to the party and the fall out…

    i can say that i was disappointed and disgusted. i get humor, i get satire, i even get irony… it didn’t feel like any of those things…

    i am not a long talker or drawn out eloquent point maker so all i can say is i really thought that in this chaos that we call life, children were supposed to be exempt from the bullshyt. i would have never in a million years thought that a child would be fodder for a joke that was so base and inappropriate… i don’t care about the racial implications or the public figure must take all crap thrown at them or even, war on women and girls cry that i am hearing… all i care about it protecting the children, male, female, it doesn’t matter to me, life is hard enough as is, they shouldn’t have to deal with adult crap, until they are adults. that is all.

    • http://fourpageletter.wordpress.com keisha brown

      EXACTLY.

    • http://stanoffewwords.wordpress.com Tristan

      Apparently any sort of success, turns children into adults…bar mitzvah #punchlines

      • IcePrincess3

        Was it racial though? I would hope that if they had called 9 yr old Dakota Fanning the C-word, the reaction would be the same, & I think it would.

        • mochazina

          the racial point is that no one would dare think it appropriate to call a little white star such things. it would NEVER and has NEVER happened.

          • AfroPetite

            Yup, the porcelain angels must remain untouched.

    • A Woman’s Eyes

      My sentiments, exactly!

    • http://www.styleillusions.com WIP

      That’s really what it comes down to. Can we just pick an age under which celebrity kids are off limits from “adult” humor? 16? 17?

  • Juiciest Mango

    I do NOT care how much people intellectualize this idiocy by the Onion. They were DEAD [like six feet under] wrong. I don’t buy their [PR]ology, they can shove it. Try calling any woman on the street a cant, whether jokingly or otherwise and have them not rearrange your face. Mschew.

    Miss me with the you guys are just overreacting and don’t get the humor/satire.There is a time and place for everything. She is a baby, for heaven’s sakes! Oh yeah, so what if she is full of herself? LAWD. Thank God she ain’t my baby, I’d be out hurr organizing an Occupy Onion movement. Urrgh.

    • nillalatte

      You and me Mami… we’d be living it up in the camps. I’m with ya.
      *starts the march beating a trash can top wit a stick*

    • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com Val

      I totally agree, AM.

    • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

      Yeah, I’m with you 100 percent.

  • nillalatte

    I don’t do Twitter. I saw half of the award show. I saw the post about the incident here on VSB or I probably wouldn’t have known about it. I think the CHILD was beautiful and she was doing what a 9yo does… elegantly. Shame on anyone that thinks calling a child that is okay and humor. It just isn’t. Yes to accountability.

  • Malik

    Offensive humor is fine. Just don’t hide under the table when people push back against you and be willing to be wrong. Those are the only two things. Only thing worse than the comedians that tell those type of jokes are the worthless cowards who whine endlessly how no one can take a joke.

    The most distressing thing to me though wasn’t the apathetic people. It was the Black people who were loudly, proudly, boisterously apathetic. Just the all out sneering about why people should be offended or have any desire to defend a 9 year old that was called a **** in the name satire. Funny thing is though, I know if it was a little Jewish, Chinese, or Indian girl for example and people saw those respective groups rallying to her defense there would of been far more head nods and approvals for showing solidarity and defend her. :/

    • Juiciest Mango

      I can assure these onion fools would NEVER talk sideways, especially about a Jewish girl. They know not to disrespect/bite the hand that feeds them. I’m with you Malik. I’m with you!

    • http://fourpageletter.wordpress.com keisha brown

      YES.

    • http://commentarybyvalentina.wordpress.com Val

      +1

    • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

      Who are you to tell people what to think? So people aren’t sufficiently outraged, and you’re calling them out? Maybe I should send my posts to you for review. Who knows? Maybe you could find a way to stick a typical pander to women in this one. Miss me with that dude.

      • http://lovehealthandadvocacy.com Tonya

        I don’t think he’s mad about their ambivalence, but mad at those who were sneering at those who were outraged.

        I think..similar to you, he was criticizing the judgement of folks feelings.

        What bothers me is when folks act like the judge in what is appropriate to be outraged about..

        I saw a lot of tweets saying “You’re mad about this? What about the kids being killed by drones?”

        What about the violence in Chicago? Kittens being abandoned by families who prefer dogs? Cookie Monster eating veggies?

        There are just SO many things to be upset about! It’s like you ain’t right unless you are right about MY issue. #smh

        • Malik

          I can understand people’s ambivalence. People have different tolerance levels or specifically with this different relationships with The Onion. They apologized promptly and pledged to do better in the future. I have no outrage/anger towards them. I have PLENTY though at Black people who feel like Black people defending a Black child is outrageous though.

          • http://obsidianraw.bravejournal.com Obsidian

            @Malik:
            I have no problem with Black folk defending Black kids; the problem is that I have problem with Black folks taking feeble swipes at the low-hanging fruit.

            And that’s exactly what this kerfuffle is. If we’re really serious about defending Black kids, we can start by actually getting involved in how Black kids are abused, by Black folks themselves I might add, every single day. Let’s start with what happens to millions of Black boys – we know that they are the last to be adopted. We know that Black boys die at much higher rates than Black girls. We know that Black boys drop out of school at a higher rate than Black girls. And while it’s fashionable to be outraged by girls of whatever color being sexually molested and assaulted, the truth of the matter is that when it comes to Black boys, they are abused at alarming rates, more often than not at the hands of their own Black mothers. To date, and I’ve been interacting on this blog for at least two years straight, I have yet to hear a mumbling word out of you on any of these easily documented issues.

            What Todd said was correct…

            O.

      • http://verysmartbrothas.com Panama Jackson

        took that a bit personal didn’t you pookie?

        • http://www.twitter.com/IluminatiNYC Todd

          ROTFLMAO But what else is new. A Black woman could be beaten her son half to death in front of him, and his first instinct would be to give the woman a hug and tell her that he understands how hard it is.

          • Malik

            You need a hug.