You’ve probably seen those in-memoriam pictures of (supposedly) recently deceased black celebrities, which stemmed from the once popular Good Night Sweet Prince meme. The format starts with a photo of a famous black person, say Eddie Murphy, with a caption that misidentifies the person, like “R.I.P. Dave Chapelle,” and a short bio that further misidentifies the whole situation, like “Star of ‘Hitch’ and both ‘Men in Black’ movies.” Here, just see for yourself:
And these are just the “R.I.P. Eddie Murphy” ones. Other prominent black celebrities that have been featured include Morgan Freeman, Michael Clarke Duncan and even Nelson Mandela (the latter two are actually deceased, so maybe stop using them in a silly meme for the sake of making some white teenager in Duluth, Mich. laugh between bench presses).
The reason I’m bringing these to your attention is because a recent interview with Samuel L. Jackson, yet another black actor, has revealed a real-life human embodiment of this meme. He’s the exact type of person the meme is commenting on, and he’s the reason the meme exists.
During a KTLA interview with Jackson, “entertainment reporter” Sam Rubin asked the actor, “Did you get a lot of reaction to that Super Bowl commercial?” (He was referring to the Kia commercial starring Laurence Fishburne, another male actor of the black variety — it’s all so confusing, how does one keep track?!) Jackson looks at him dumbfounded but quickly realizes the mistake. Rubin tries to deflect and move on to “Robocop” questions, but Jackson refuses to let him off the hook, making classic Samuel L. Jackson-type quips like “We don’t all look alike!” and “There’s more than one black guy doing a commercial,” and then he lists all the black actors in commercials that he’s also not, in case Rubin thinks they’re also him.
Watch the embarrassment here:
So going back to the meme, it may be making light of a very real thing, but at the root of it, it isn’t at all trying to mock its subjects. Unfortunately, the significance of the meme probably goes over the heads of the people who laugh at it, the majority of which are probably college-age bros who spend way too much time in the basement — anyone’s basement. Given that Rubin is a living, breathing example of someone who would actually say the absurd captions on the pictures out loud with his mouth, the meme is actually a pretty astute comment on how certain people in this country (still) see minorities as an “other.” An other that the majority needn’t bother even getting to know (or even getting straight).