Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Issue of the Author, or How to Rent a Negro


In the novel GirlBoyGirl, Savannah Knoop recalls the days she “hoaxed” the public, under the tutelage of her sister in law, into thinking that she was J.T. Leroy, the Author of such novels as Sarah and Harold’s End, and a man who did not exist, at least not in body.

Instead, J.T. was the pen name of her sister in law, Laura Albert. As soon as this came out, Albert was called a fake, a liar, a crook, and many other colorful combinations of derogatory terms and phrases. 

This is one among many other hoaxes that have been pulled, and it seems that the hoaxer’s intent, something that people are often told to ignore when interpreting things, became so very important in this. They felt tricked, and fooled, and shamed Albert for it all. But where was the trouble in it? J.T. had done nothing but exist for a while, give them a face to a name, offer them a spectacle to which they could apply their assumptions about the author, etc…

This makes me wonder if a creator’s intentions can ever really be removed from the situations they have created. Can their intentions, and who they are in the flesh, change the entire tone of a hoax or a prank?

Why not try on something with far more incendiary potential than than J.T. Leroy? Something that falls into a realm related to hoaxing and pranking. It was rent-a-negro.com.

This website had offered a plethora of services. They offered to rent out a Negro who would talk to your racist grandparents, or if you needed to seem more cultured and wanted a token black friend at a party, you could even rent a Negro for that. This website was revealed to be satirical, and obviously it's creator, Damali Ayo, had received a lot of hate filled e-mails, threatening requests, and more.

While this had been presented as satire, it almost seems to have fallen into this same, blurry realm that hoaxes reside in. There were people who thought that this website was real at one point, and really, really racist. But what to think of it now, knowing that its creator had created it as satire? What to think of I knowing that the author is, in fact, someone who looks black herself? Can this web-art performance be labelled as an “okay” thing to do once we know about the color of the creator’s skin, much like one will determine whether or not it is okay to say “nigger” based on the very same thing. Would J.T. Leroy's creator have been so scorned if she had been a "He" instead?


While I am aware that, technically, hoaxes and pranks and satire are different, they do reside in the same realm, and it seems that, at times, the lines become more blurred than people intend for them to be. Even more blurry is the intention behind these things, and whether or not that matters, and whether or not it can ever not matter.

1 comment:

  1. Rent-a-Negro is the brainchild of my friend from college, Damali Ayo! I like this one, too: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m0oHYOYXIkk&list=PL619AA212FFCDF0BB

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