In The House

By Darryl James

After watching a recent Black comedy show (without finding a damn thing funny), I thought it appropriate for Blacks to get another history lesson.

Once upon a time in slavery days, Blacks were separated into two main groups-those who worked in the Field and those who worked in the House. Typically, the slaves in the big house drew the favor of the slavemaster and some would go out of their way to gain that favor, even if it meant demeaning themselves and/or their family.

When uprisings were organized (yes, some slaves actually got together and kicked Massah's ass, even though many were summarily attacked and killed), or escapes planned (contrary to historical reports, we didn't just sit around and wait for good ol' Abe), the House Niggers would often gather information and report to Massah, in order to capture the favor of the slavemaster.

House Niggers would even take up the beating of other slaves to show Massah that they were indeed "good Niggers."

Typically, House Niggers would do anything and everything to gain the favor of the slavemaster, while Field Niggers did all of the hard work and were generally the only ones to stand against slavery.

Malcolm X often spoke about House Niggers and their self-effacement, explaining that if Massah would talk about his sickness, the House Nigger would ask: "We sick, boss?"

But somewhere along the way, people stopped talking about House Niggers and Field Niggers as though they ceased to exist.

Now, we hear elitist Blacks talk about poor Blacks, as if they are the problem. But poor Blacks are not the race's problem. Our problem is our image and our image is in the hands of politicians, criminals (who are not all poor), athletes and entertainers, including comedians who are live on stage, making people laugh AT us.

My contention is that there has been a diminishing of pride in our race, because even we are sucking up the mostly horrid images of us in the media. This is the precise reason why we are in such poor shape.

If there were more pride left in our race, House Nigger comedians would not be laughed at by us, they would be chastised. We would not pile into Def Comedy Jam, or any other modern Minstrel show to laugh at ourselves and/or our culture, and half of the House Nigger comedic actors with ample work would be working in enmity of their own people.

If there were more pride left in our people, no one would hate me for writing these words.

Here are some examples of House Nigger comedy and why it is dangerous:

DL Hugely tells a joke about the difference between whites and Blacks on break at work. His joke has a typical punchline for Black comedy. He says that whites do what they are supposed to do, but when Niggers go on break-they break.

Chris Rock jokes about how there is a difference between Blacks and Niggers and proceeds to tell the world that he hates Niggers. The audience cracks up laughing, but the problem is that the white man in the back of the audience is vice president of the company you work for and he won't promote you because HE ALSO believes there's a difference between Blacks and Niggers and he thinks YOU may be just like that Nigger Chris Rock.

Still funny?

The argument that House Niggers, their advocates and apologists use when defending their self-effacing comedy is that whites also clown themselves and their culture. That argument fails because whites don't have an image problem. Blacks do. Moreover, no one has the ugly history with film and television that Black people have.

Our relationship with film and television has always been a dicey proposition at best and derogatory at worst. It began with historically revisionist stories rife with negative images of Blacks found in the "classic" Birth Of A Nation.

The relationship deepened with comedy relief icons like Stepinfetchit, Buckwheat and Rochester, all of whom used to make "Massah" laugh and feel safe by bucking their eyes when scared, talking in slow, silly monotones and otherwise showing that they were completely without intelligence and no danger to the white man. The image of Black women were hardly safe with visions of the "mammy" (the obese, motherly, often overly strong darkie who would attack her man and neglect her own children, but lay down her life to protect little white kids) being perpetuated by Butterfly McQueen, Aunt Jemima and Sapphire.

Harmless, silly Blacks from Jimmie Walker and right on into Martin Lawrence, The Wayans brothers and nearly every popular black comedian today are bringing negative images from the early days of entertainment into the new millennium, while pretending that they are doing something new and revolutionary.

There is very little difference between the eye-popping buffoonery of Stepinfetchit and the bulging white-eyes of Chris Tucker, Martin Lawrence and Bernie Mac. There is very little difference between the horrible image of Butterfly McQueen or Aunt Jemima and those fat loud women on "The Parkers."

Once upon a time, most of our people would frown upon negative images like these. Today, most of us think they are funny.

These comedians are demeaning the image of Black people, but ignorant people will attack me for speaking about it. I will take the heat, because I know that Black people have an image problem.

If there were no image problem, then some of the most prominent African Americans would not be so anxious to distance themselves from the experience.

The point here is that not everyone is all that happy with being Black. The reason why is that being Black in America has been marketed as the worst thing to be. Period. That marketing has been so effective, that even some of us accept it, which is why we changed our label to African American.

The conundrum is that being Black and the Black experience have been diminished because of the antics of House Niggers, yet House Niggers are the first ones to rail against Black people.

In fact, some of the worst crimes perpetrated against Black people are perpetrated by other Blacks. The charge against Affirmative Action was lead by a House Nigger (Ward Connerly), sorry poets passing for rappers push fake gangsterism and abject materialism to our youth, and do I even have to evoke the racial crimes of Clarence Thomas?

It's late in the day for any Black person to be acting like a coon to entertain white people and get a paycheck. Let's not be fooled. House Niggers are alive and well and causing our people a great deal of misery.

Are you in the house?

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Darryl James launched the only Black owned rap music publication, Rap Sheet in 1992. He is the author of "Bridging The Black Gender Gap," which is also the basis of a national seminar series. James was awarded the 2004 Non-fiction Award for his book on the Los Angeles Riots at the Seventh Annual Black History Month Book Fair and Conference in Chicago. He can be reached at