Thursday, March 24, 2011
Armchair Sociology: The Burger King Bikini Brawl, Black Feminity, and the Social Determinism of Ghetto Names
I am fascinated by the ways of the urban troglodyte (or as I more affectionately call them the "ign't" classes). Given that the emphasis on exploring the notion of black respectability was the founding impetus behind starting WARN, my curiosity regarding these matters should be taken as a given. But, I am always surprised when these explorations of race and class often bump up against the expectations held by some black folk that we ought not to air our dirty laundry. Moreover, that any critique of the ghetto underclass (a term I still use and embrace) and a support for the notion that economic disadvantage ought not to equal a poverty of the mind, soul, or spirit, is somehow unfair or mean spirited. In short, to borrow a phrase from Michael Gerson, my rebuttal has, and will always be, that we must never embrace the soft-bigotry of low expectations.
Those qualifiers having been noted, we holders of the flame of black respectability still need to be able to laugh without shame or embarrassment at both our own foibles, as well as at the stupidity of our social lessers. To point: The Burger King Bikini Brawl is my happy pill of the day. It is a given that fast food restaurants are notorious for bringing out the worst in folks (and please, don't get me started on the mayhem which inevitably ensues every Popeye's Eight Piece Chicken Holiday). But this episode is doubly fascinating because of how dense it is with opportunities for sociological analysis.
1. The mayor of Blacktown has commented on this crudely. Brother Malcolm has done so eloquently. But, what is the state of black womanhood and femininity today? And is it even fair to talk in such broad terms? Would Weber and Durkheim want us to be narrow and more specific, and to explore how local constructs of masculinity and femininity are in conflict with broader social norms?
2. Sociolinguistics. What is our young heroine saying in the first portions of the clip? I know I am not alone in noticing that what was once called "African American Vernacular English" has become something else. What it is, I do not know. After trying my hand at translating the first portions of this clip, I now understand why the DEA is seeking experts in "ebonics."
3. The life chances and economics of names. Our champion caliber bikini brawler's name is "Kimesia." The wisdom of Freakonomics and applied economics in regards to "ghetto names" would seem to apply here. As noted in the article, "First Names and Crime: Does Unpopularity Spell Trouble?" :
Gyimah-Brempongand Price (2006), for example, use the Scrabble score of a person’s ﬁrst name as a tangential explanatory variable (their key independent variables measure skin hue) in regressions trying to explain age at incarceration and length of sentence. In the majority of their speciﬁcations, a higher Scrabble score is associated with either an increased hazard of criminal activity or a longer sentence."
Ultimately, names may not be destiny in all things, but names certainly do reveal something about social capital and life chances.
What other bits of data were you able to tease out of the Burger King Bikini Brawl video? Is there something to be said about intersectionality? Group behavior? The parenting styles of various ethnic/racial/economic cohorts? Or is this just another example of the alternative cultural norms and conflict resolution styles of the urban poor, where any criticism of Miss Kimesia's behavior is really a function of high minded bourgeois norms of class and respectability that are outmoded and unfair?