Saturday Night Live writer and stand up comedian Leslie Jones made her Weekend Update debut this week, and she did not waste time getting straight to the jokes about slave sex. Unsurprisingly, this was met with a mixed (but mostly negative) reception.
Jones, who was hired to write for SNL in January, appeared on Weekend Update to deliver remarks on Lupita Nyong'o's appearance on the cover of People's "50 Most Beautiful" issue. Here's the clip:
And here are the quotes from said clip that ruffled some feathers:
The way we view black beauty has changed. I'm single right now. But back in the slave days, I would have never been single. I'm six feet tall and I'm strong, Colin, STRONG! I mean look at me! I'm a mandingo! [...]
Back in the slave days, my love life would have been way better. Master would have hooked me up with the best brother on the plantation and every nine months I'd be in the corner having a super baby. Every nine months I'd be in the corner just popping them out. Shaq! Kobe! Lebron! [...]
I would be the number one slave draft pick. All of the plantations would want me.
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Critics of the bit were upset that it implied that black female slaves forced to breed with black male slaves somehow enjoyed it, that slave breeding was consensual when in fact it was institutionally sanctioned rape. Some also read into the bit an implication that female slaves prized for being strong and good for bearing strong children would somehow take pride in their physical stature, which actually would have invited more sexual abuse from their captors. Other critics were quick to point out that airing jokes about the rape of black women during the era of American slavery was especially ill-timed considering the recent kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls to be sold as "wives." Also, the word "mandingo" is not one that would be okay for a person to casually drop in most polite conversations.
Yesterday, Jones defended herself on Twitter, as transcribed here by the Washington Post,
"If anybody should be offended is white folks cause it's what they did. Y'all so busy trying to be self righteous you miss what the joke really is. Very sad I have to defend myself to black people. Now I'm betting if Chris Rock or Dave did that joke or jay z or Kanye put in a rap they would be called brilliant. Cause they all do this type of material. Just cause it came from a strong black woman who ain't afraid to be real y'all mad. So here is my announcement black folks, you won't stop me and Im gonna go even harder and deeper now. Cause it's a shame that we kill each other instead of support each other. This exactly why black people are where we are now cause we too f—— sensitive and instead of make lemonade out of lemons we just suck the sour juice from the lemons. Wake up.
Jones is partially right; black male comedians have tackled the topic of slavery and slave breeding before without causing as much fracas. Chris Rock has an old bit wherein he claims that slave breeding has led to black domination of professional sports in America. Stand up comic Byron Bowers tells a joke about how he wishes slavery would come back because he's tired of looking for work. A Key & Peele sketch from two years ago centered around two slaves who gradually become more irritated that no one is bidding on them at the slave auction.
And in Jones' defense, the material she used on SNL could easily, easily have been right at home in a comedy club (and might have fit in with her standup set, which is probably not the sort of thing that'd be a huge hit among college Social Justice clubs), when Jones would have had time to weave those jokes into a larger point about racism in America. Comedy is comedy because comedians are free to joke about whatever topics they choose, but it takes an incredible amount of skill and precision to successfully execute a joke about the systematic rape of millions of women. It's the shuttle launch of comedy; if any of the conditions aren't perfectly right, things could go disastrously wrong. Thus, the way Jones' material was presented — a black woman waxing nostalgic about how back in the day, she'd be breeding "super babies" with the hottest guy on the plantation for her white slave owner, as tie-wearing white guy Colin Jost laughed next to her — didn't present the very best of optics, and the whole bit came across as poorly-timed and jarring.
But fans of Jones shouldn't worry that this misstep would lead to the end of her career. People fuck up during their SNL debuts all the time, and they turn out just fine.