Antoine Dodson: Internet Star or Homophobic Joke?

I kinda love Antoine Dodson. The Huntsville, Alabama black gay (I mean he hasn’t said that, but can we just go with it?) man who has become an internet sensation because of a widely circulated local news story about an attempted rape made upon his sister with whom he lives in a housing project. The attempted rapist apparently climbed through the sister’s window and Antoine awakened to the sound of the ensuing scuffle, and helped chase the assailant out of their home.

So far there have been two news stories, and several remixes done by internet geeks of Antoine. I love that he’s so queer, clearly from a poor and /or working class community, and so visible–as someone who’s clearly somewhat femme in presentation if not identity, and not a victim. I have been, for the last several days, watched a lot of these videos and remixes with varying levels of pride, dismay, amusement, etc.

But some things are being lost here.  In my first viewing of this news story, I was less amused as the rest of America seems to be. A Black woman was nearly raped. And what disturbed me about the original video was that while Antoine and Kelly were angry, there was a way that it also seemed so normalized.  Maybe it was Kelly’s stoic way of dealing with it–I don’t want to tell anyone they need to perform their trauma  for the American media or public to feel they’re “properly hysterical”–but I hope that she has access to some support to deal with this. Is anyone helping her there or offering support? I totally commend her for being willing to come forward, which must not be easy, and could open her, and Antoine, up for retaliation. Maybe it was the way the story was produced that gave it a “this is what happens in the projects everyday” kind of tone.

Also, the news station intentionally included more footage of Antoine than Kelly, who was the actual survivor–were they going for ratings here? Did they stick this on Youtube? This just feels like exploitation of her situation by the press. You can tell the news station is responding to critism they received about the original story in the follow-up piece (no doubt some of the critique from bourgie black people who don’t think poor black people should ever be in public view at all, but that’s another blog post).

Secondly, like reality television, I am afraid that the joke is really on Antoine. Who, despite doing the right thing in this situation, is being made a mockery of, I think. If you really look at this phenomenon, this is really America making fun of this poor, black, and presumably gay man in a moment where he was clearly pissed off and angry about his home being invaded and his sister being subjected to violence. When I look at most reality TV shows like I Love New York/Flavor of Love, Jersey Shore, Real Housewives of ATL/NJ, etc, I really see how much the reality TV culture exploits poor and working class people, our struggles, and or culture, especially people of color. The (often black) gay sidekicks on these shows adds to the circus-like atmosphere of it all, but at after 20 years of being invisible in American visiual culture (including black visual culture), one can’t help but be glad we’re even visible.

So while we applaud Antoine, let’s not make a mockery of him, nor lose Kelly Dodson, and the horrific event that made us know who they were in the first place.