A Brand of Exploitation: ‘Sweet Browns’ of the World, Please Have Several Seats

Shucking and jiving for checks is just not my cup of tea

Sweet Brown, enough is enough. (Image: File)

Sweet Brown, I’ve had enough.

Some of us chuckled and laughed out loud when we first saw the viral video of Sweet Brown, recounting for a local news station how she escaped a fire at her apartment complex. Some grimaced at yet another stereotypical newscast featuring a minority in an urban community making a fool of themselves.

I can’t lie. I initially cracked up at the autotune remixes and other workplace chatter surrounding the gold-toothed, country-twanged woman’s very interesting details of getting bronchitis after inhaling smoke from the fire, ending her recollection of events with “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”

Sweet Brown has gone on to appear on various talk and news shows and even got a local commercial deal.

Recently, I saw a video clip of Sweet Brown, featured on Comedy Central’s Tosh.0 in October, and I could no longer laugh. My usual side eye replaced any possible chuckles. The clip includes Sweet Brown participating in comedic skits and she even sits down for a one-on-one interview, where the host says, “We need a mascot for the urban community… Teach everyone in the city about the dangers of fire, and I think that person should be you.”

Mascot? Major … Side … Eye…

Maybe I’m being a little too sensitive, but Sweet Brown is among a string of so-called microwave celebrities who gain popularity and build pseudo-brands from stereotypes and ignorant imagery. She joins the ranks of Antwan Dotson, Honey Boo Boo, and Jimmy “The Rent is Too Damn High” McMillan, where serious situations and life issues turn into an opportunity for viral media exposure and 15 minutes of superficial fame.

The message this sends, especially to youth: Forget strengthening marketable skills and using intellect. I can act ridiculous, perpetuate it by milking opportunities, play into a public fascination with subculture stereotypes, and get paid.

Why build a brand foundation on being the butt of jokes or the torch bearer for offensive racial and socioeconomic depictions? Why not build a brand on real talent or something of substance? The Beyonces, Oprahs, Diddys, Jay-Zs, and Obamas of the world didn’t have to act a fool on a cell phone video, Youtube channel or newscast to get to where they are. Even successful comedians make strategic branding moves that will ensure people still respect them at the end of the day.

Some may read this and say, “Have a sense of humor Janell. It’s not that serious. At least she’s getting money.” But at what cost? I’d like to believe that Sweet Brown has other skills than being a walking, talking, exploited stereotype. Yet, she serves as yet another detrimental, get-fame-quick case study for youth who should be empowered to overcome negativity and ignorance, and encouraged to excel in tangible, competitive talents that will instill pride and ensure long-term wealth.

When it comes to building a brand legacy, it’s important to ask yourself:

  • Am I in full control of what people think of me and my brand, or am I letting others hold the puppet strings?
  • What will people say about me when I’m long gone?
  • How valuable is my integrity, self-dignity and self-respect?
  • Can I stand firmly on the foundation I’m building now for the rest of my life?

If shucking and jiving is something you’re comfortable doing to get money, then by all means, be my guest. I’d rather have the freedom and priceless value of integrity, intelligence and purpose to build a brand I and all those after me can be proud of. Tap-dancing for short-term checks and fame? Sorry boo, but ain’t no real bosses got time for that.

What do you think of the popularity of Sweet Brown and her brand? #Soundoff and follow me on Twitter @JPHazelwood.

  • i totally agree!

    • Thanks so much for reading. I’m glad you enjoy. Enough is enough with these bad examples of how to get ahead in life.

      • kb

        I’m sorry Janell you are the problem, not Sweet Brown. If you are embarrassed then the issue is yours . Sweet Brown was just being herself, and I found her to be charming. Just because she isn’t polished as you would like doesn’t mean she is a bad example.

  • dsweetone

    Pretty much…

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  • I’m confused. Because the MEDIA chooses to focus in on the weaker aspects of our community, WE chastise ourselves? We are a people of high nobility, grace, beauty and intelligence. Always have been. How Sweet Brown or Evelyn Lozada, etc., choose to act is their business, not my reflection. I doubt folk like Sweet Brown or Dodson are thinking of brand building. Let them live. That short term thinking/behavior exists in all cultures. However, we have a tendency to blame ourselves when we see a negative behavior; that’s what I’d like to put a stop to. If a reporter|network chooses to run with footage of a stereotype when there are a myriad of choices available, why is that our fault & responsibility? Do you think anyone reading this magazine, or the majority of people you know, will go on TV and cut a fool? I don’t. The media will walk by 50 “upstanding” folk to find the clown. Get to the root–racism. Simple.

  • Lucille

    The difference for me is Ms. Brown didn’t go looking for “fame.” She was a survivor of a personal tragedy, and we all know that there are times when laughter can make a bad situation tolerable. Why castigate Ms. Brown for being herself? Not everyone in the Black community or any other, is of the “intellectual” class, and to pretend otherwise is also doing us a disservice.Why not chide those who purposefully and with cold and callous disregard mangle our community with images that are impossible to divorce ourselves from because they are so wealthy- the Diddys and French Montanas and Funk Master Flexes who for money distort extort and mock us at every turn? Focus your anger at the elites who CAN exploit the Mrs. Browns of the world for giggles.

  • I fully expected to see Sweet Brown behaving in a deplorable fashion, exhibiting stupidity, murdering the English language. and acting the fool. I didn’t see that at all. I saw a woman who answered the questions that she was asked in an expressive manner. I don’t presume her to be ignorant and she certainly is not an embarrassment to anyone. She was a bit excited in her initial interview but who wouldn’t be after fleeing from a burning building?!!!

    I really don’t get your point, Jannell. It’s as if you’re the one with the problem . Why do you find this woman’s behavior to be something that should be hidden? She has a way with telling a story and came up with a resilient catch-phrase: “ain’t nobody got time for that.” If she worked on Wall Street in advertising, she would earn big money for being able to generate lasting and immediately memorable catch-phrases for a variety of products.

    With minimal effort, Ms. Brown has acheved what many spend an entire lifetime chasing, a moment of fame.

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  • Janell, plenty goes on in the world, it’s just a matter of what you want to focus on. You have to have control of your own life and not let the media drive you.

  • I think you should have several seats , and make room for your snobbery to sit next to you . Black people come in all shapes and sizes and you are embarrassed by a woman who was just minding her own business and was interviewed. She didn’t
    ask to be a brand ambassador for Black people so calm down. If she called you to help her to make some money after the incident would you have helped her?

    This world takes all types some people are well educated and refined and some were not so “lucky”. Judge the person not the catchphrase.

  • What’s so bad with this lady? She was being herself, not trying to be a celebrity. I understand your argument, but I don’t think it should be directed at Sweet Brown who didn’t ask for celebrity status.

  • michael in LA

    I think appearing with her son in interviews- being a mother, is an equally (if not more important) brand that she represents as well. Just because she can have fun on Tosh or laugh about a difficult situation in interviews does not equal “shucking and jiving”. I’ve never heard her say “Everything’s all right now that I’m on TV!” She seems genuine to me. Let her have her fun without judging her too harshly.

  • What’s going on here and with other black blogs is want to be high class uppity bourgeois black are ashamed that their white friends will see Ms Sweet Brown so they themselves mock people like Ms Brown but they overlook when poor white people act the same way.

  • Ms Sweet Brown is no worst than all those well spoken, mis educated, bourgeois, want to be high class and uppity blacks who over the last three years was shucking and jiving sucking up championing other people cause that is detrimental to the black community just to keep their progressive and liberal card, get a small donation to their 501C, and be invited to the next far left wing lunatic cocktail party.

  • Courtanie Sanders

    I whole heartedly support Janell’s opinion and views on the subject matter. It’s time for us to educate “our people” on personal branding and self reflection in the media. The stereotype perpetuated by characters such as Sweet Brown, Honey Boo Boo and The Real Housewives of “Everywhere”, will continue only if we allow it to. Either you are apart of the problem or the solution. You choose!

  • Michelle

    Please don’t forget that Sweet Brown, in an interview, said SHE sought out the camera. The media didn’t seek her out. Her son (the man in the background of the video) was embarrased. He told that in an interview, too. That tells me that it’s her own personality. Yes, people laughed. They weren’t laughing at all “poor black people and look there goes another one.” They laughed because it was funny. Please stop making everything racist. It’s old.

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