Hero worship and the question of race

Charles Ramsey, the Clevelander who dropped his Big Mac and rescued the three kidnapped girls from a house in his neighborhood, was appropriately treated with worship for not looking the other way.

For example:

Charles Ramsey goes from nobody to America’s hero neighbor when he rescues three trapped Cleveland women (Daily News)

Charles Ramsey: Ohio “hero” and Internet sensation (CBS News)

McDonald’s tells Cleveland hero ‘they’ll be in touch’ as he gives another unforgettable interview about the abduction rescue (Daily Mail)

Charles Ramsey hailed as hero for role in helping Amanda Berry escape (Guardian)

Is this truly an admiration for a hero? Let the debate begin!

Slate says today that the viral nature of Ramsey’s interviews reflects “a persistent, if unconscious, desire to see black people perform.”


Even before the genuinely heroic Ramsey came along, some viewers had expressed concern that the laughter directed at people like Sweet Brown plays into the most basic stereotyping of blacks as simple-minded ramblers living in the “ghetto,” socially out of step with the rest of educated America. Black or white, seeing Clark and Dodson merely as funny instances of random poor people talking nonsense is disrespectful at best. And shushing away the question of race seems like wishful thinking.

  • Dave

    Another way to look at it is that these “heroes” are people that we can connect with more than your stereotypical hero figures. He wasn’t in a role that lends itself to that type of action (police, fire, medical, rescue), and he was speaking in a way that was reflective of how most people would probably feel and think in that situation. Truly an “everyday hero”.

    It’s fair to be cynical, and, I’m sure for some it’s laughing at a racial stereotype. But I know that when I heard Charles Ramsey talking about what happened and how he was processing the situation mentally, it wasn’t much different than what I would have expected had I been in the same situation. It made it easier to connect with what happened than if it had been a police spokesperson spelling out what officers did, or an officer expressing it in the context of his/her normal workday (which most of us don’t and won’t experience).

  • Robert Moffitt

    I think that we can agree that Mr. Ramsey has a colorful (no pun intended) way of expressing himself without playing the race card.

    Still, I get what Slate is saying. Before the last election, a video of an excited Obama supporter talking about “free Obama phones” was popular in conservative circles. The mean-spirited comments many viewers would make (they are on YouTube, I won’t bother linking) showed a really ugly side to our politics still exist.

    Yes, the are people who talk like Charles Ramsey. There are also people who talk like Neil deGrasse Tyson. And Honey Boo Boo.

  • Scott Danger

    The sentiment that our fascination with Charles is racially-based is hard for me to buy when just three months ago we did this same song-and-dance with a hatchet-wielding hitchhiking hero named Kai (“SMASH SMASH SMAAAASH!”). Kai is white, Charles is black. The common denominator is that neither of them fit the platonic ideal of the “Good Samaritan.” Kai and Charles look like vagrants, speak in slang during interviews and 911 calls and generally don’t demonstrate the somberness we expect of our Good Samaritans. I believe the disparity between our expectations for how a hero should look/act and the reality of Kai and Charles is more responsible for our fascination with these types of stories than any mean-spirited urge to laugh at black people.