We All Know One: Charles Ramsey, Antoine Dodson, Sweet Brown And The Long Tradition Of Black Storytelling
In my role as an amateur anthropologist, I have identified three key phrases, which are dead giveaways that you are about to be in for one heck of a story:
1. “Well, it’s like this….”
2. “Girl, you will not believe what just happened….”
3. “See, what happened was…”
Of course, there are variations, but generally speaking, whenever a person begins a story like that, be sure to pop some popcorn and pull up a seat because you, my friend, are in the midst of a storyteller. And there are so many among us. Take that one uncle you have who commands attention at family gatherings with his elaborate tales of family past drama and misadventures. Or The loud lady on the bus talking to a girlfriend, who you try to ignore but amusingly find yourself swept up in her whimsical narration of her current relationship. Or your little niece, who doesn’t just tell you of her trip to the zoo, but does this little cute thing where she imitates animal sounds and gestures too. Some folks really do know how to tell a good story.
This is what I thought of when I first watched Charles Ramsey give his now famous interview with a local television news station in Cleveland. Outside of being an everyday man turned hero, his retelling of his larger-than-life deed was sharp, witty, and concise. A colorful and animated wordsmith, who managed to slip speculation over the size of a man’s testicles on television without drawing the ire of the FCC. Most eyewitness accounts feature people, looking shell-shocked and giving the same caged cliché about how they, ‘lived next to him/her for years and never thought that he/she could do that. It’s awful.” Whereas Ramsey, who while very much still in disbelief, was able to not only share with us how long he had lived near this monstrous neighbor, but the extent of their relationship, which according to him, had progressed to gatherings of ribs and salsa music.
There is no other older form of communication on this planet than the tradition of oral storytelling. This is also hold true for the black Diaspora in America, whose oral heritage can be traced back to the creation of civilization itself in Africa and through slavery here in America. And according to How the African American Storyteller Impacts the Black Family and Society by Barbara Moss:
Slave versions of history, like all slave tales, were enhanced by the manner of their delivery. The oral inventiveness of good storytellers, who appear to have been relatively uncommon in black culture, was a source of delight and stimulation to their audiences. Their narratives were interlarded with chants, mimicry, rhymes, and songs. They talked animatedly, especially in the dialogues and changed the voice to represent the different animals. Nothing was too difficult for a storyteller to represent: the chanting sermon of a black preacher and the responses of his entire congregation, the sounds of a railway engine, the cries of barnyard animals, the eerie moans of spectral beings, all formed an integral part of black tales.