A Character Case Study of “The Boondocks”: Uncle Ruckus

I saved this character for last for a certain reason, but for a very important one.  That reason is that Uncle Ruckus is the most one-dimensional character that exists on The Boondocks.

To true Boondocks enthusiasts the addition of Uncle Ruckus was certainly a shock.  Uncle Ruckus was a character that was not in the comic strip, but made a major showing in the cartoon.  Uncle Ruckus shows up in every episode and has three major episodes with him as the central focus: “The Passion of Uncle Ruckus,” “The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show” (that was banned in the US) and “The Story of Jimmy Rebel.”  Uncle Ruckus is the epitome of the self-hating, self-deprecating black man.  Seriously, words do not explain this character and the one liners that come out of his mouth.  The following quote gives a mere glimpse into his psyche.

No I don’t think we should use the word, and I’ll tell ya why. Because niggas have gotten used to it. That’s why. Hell, they like it now. It’s like when you growin’ crops and you strip the soil of its nutrients and goodness and then you can’t grow nothin’. You gotta rotate your racist slurs. Now I know it’s hard ’cause ‘nigga’ just rolls off the tongue the way sweat rolls off a nigga’s forehead. But we can not let that be a crutch. Especially when there are so many fine substitutes: spade, porch monkey, jiggaboo. I say the next time you gonna call a darkie a nigga you call that coon a jungle bunny instead.”

Uncle Ruckus has been given no background story.  No one really knows how he arrived at such a nadir with regards to his own black skin and outlook on black culture.  Frankly, the picture painted of Uncle Ruckus is so flatly portrayed as self-hating that I don’t know of any person, living or dead, who fits the picture.  Even Justice Clarence Thomas’ disavowing of his own degree from Yale law school and his often times conservative opinion on the bench still does not provide enough to understand Uncle Ruckus’ motivation.  While Justice Thomas still sits on the bench, the character of Uncle Ruckus wouldn’t even accept a position even if he was warranted it by merit.

Uncle Ruckus’ ultimate disavowal of blackness from both an existential and ontological point of view always startles me once I push past the caustic one-liners.  Why?  Because Uncle Ruckus’ character is the most unbelievable for me.  While yes I have issues with most of the other characters because I don’t “know” any of the characters in their 100% form, there are all familiar portions of each character that make sense to me.  Uncle Ruckus on the other hand takes the believability to the next level.

But, at the same time Uncle Ruckus’ character existence is the supreme genius of Aaron McGruder.

Go with me here, I’m going somewhere.

I view Uncle Ruckus’ existence in The Boondocks as the specter of self-hate that has creeped into our lives that we learn to live with and rarely challenge on the basis that it is fundamentally something that we will always have to live with.

Despite Uncle Ruckus always trashing the mere existence of everything that is blackness or even related to it–and simultaneously exalting EVERYTHING that white people stand for, believe in, speak and do–his closest friend is Robert Freeman.  Robert rarely does anything to correct the actions of Uncle Ruckus, and in fact assumes a level of comfortability with Ruckus when he launches into one of his tirades–which are often and long.  Ruckus’ comes off not just as a mean person, but generally unhappy–all based on the fact that he’s black.

What a statement it is to be depressed simply because you’re black.

Somehow Ruckus’ character allows this apparent depression to present itself in the most severe form of self-hate.  But, clearly his character in the show is used in an archetypical manner to embellish the stereotypical ways in which blacks in our culture manifest certain forms of self-hate.  For example the whole light-skinned dark-skinned issue and the natural hair versus the processed hair act as two of the hot-button topics that exist in our society today.  Ruckus’ character allows the pathology that has been passed down through the years.

While we may laugh at Uncle Ruckus’ character, particularly because the musical scoring always announces his entrance by the comedic solo of a tuba (an instrument often associated with something big, and buffoonish entering the scene) many of us have a mini-Uncle Ruckus deep down on the inside that is constantly warring within us.  Psychologist Na’im Akbar from Florida State refers to these wars, based on his entitled book as “chains of psychological slavery.”

When we don’t want to talk about some of the deep-seated proclivities that we have assimilated into here in American society, then we’ve yet to free ourselves from the mental-brainwashing.  The moment we begin to find ways to philosophize our way out of dealing with slavery and its long term effects, the ideals put forth in the Willie Lynch letter have indeed succeeded.  No one ever engages Uncle Ruckus; they merely deal with him or ignore him.  No one on the show has gone through the process of trying to show him the error of his thinking and how he treats others.  Astonishingly, Robert Freeman lets Ruckus’ talk any old kind of way to both Riley and Huey–why would any self-respecting black man let Uncle Ruckus around his kids or grandchildren?!

Frankly, as I see it, there is no redeeming values in Uncle Ruckus.  Nothing that has ever come out of his mouth has been used to uplift anybody but the white race.  And even in the context of Woodcrest, many whites still look at him as weird, much like Dave Chappelle’s character of Clayton Bigsby, the blind black man who is a member of the KKK.  (Seriously, the irony of him being blind, unable to see his own skin color, making him colorblind, but yet engaging in the white supremacy rhetoric is genius.)

Perhaps Uncle Ruckus’ one dimensional personality and out look on life can be seen in his near grotesque imagery and evidenced by his eyes: one glass, and one real providing half the vision of most others in the world.  His glass eye bulging so grossly from the socket that Ruckus’ can’t even avoid the appearance of having lopsided vision.  One thing that vision from only one eye cause is a lack of depth perception.  Everything is one-dimensional.  Simply picking up a pebble on the ground becomes a difficult task because of the inability to have perspective on the object at hand.  Ruckus can only see objects based on how he sees it resulting in a surface perspective; unable to discuss all dimensions of them, merely what is presented in flat one dimensional form.

The walk away for me with Uncle Ruckus’ character is that to be so obtuse toward the lived reality of so many persons in the United States results in an individual being one-dimensional and living on the fringes of society.  But let’s be clear, Uncle Ruckus dose not live and iconoclastic lifestyle, but rather uplifts and supports many of the retrospective beliefs on which this country was founded upon.  Particularly in light of the Tea Party movement, it would have been grand to see an episode that would have had Ruckus’ marching with with them.

I always felt the knee-jerk reaction of “self-hate” always required more unpacking than what we normally give it.  For example, if someone always makes a comment about straightening their hair, or that they like “light-skinned” people only, or for those that still wear colored contacts that they were automatically suffering from self-hate.  I really don’t think that’s the case.  I’m much more of the belief that such mindsets are a result of conditioning (read: brainwashing) that has come through assimilation of being a part of western culture that does promote a particular standard of beauty and what a physical self-image looks like (and those two are mutually exclusive for me in this context).  However, Uncle Ruckus going so far as to claim his revitaligo status (the opposite of what Michael Jackson has) to attempt to disavow anything about black culture, including his skin does result in a particular kind of self-hatred–he indeed hates who he is.

I pray that of all the characters on “The Boondocks” this is the one whom you least identify with.

*************************************

On a slight tangent, I always think episodes dealing with religion in a black cultural context always intrigue me.  Not just on “The Boondocks” but any media portrayal.  Honestly, its plagued me for a while just how much of a caricature the black preacher is made out to be and that essentially every black church service looks like the church scene out of “The Blues Brothers.”  So, to watch Uncle Ruckus weave his racial inferiority complex coupled with his “Praise White Jesus” theology together in the “The Passion of Uncle Ruckus” episode was interesting to say the least.

Ronald Reagan as the keeper of white heaven notwithstanding.

What boggled my mind was the commentary about the supreme hegemony that we practice here in the United States.  While we can clearly lambaste liberation theology and all of its umbrellaed branches, we essentially have no problem with buying lock, stock and barrel into a religion and a theology that essentially does what Uncle Ruckus’ theology purports.  The hyperbolic satire of the nature of the show merely allowed what is said by tacit reference in many churches and pulpits, both black and white, to be said in plain English in the character form of Uncle Ruckus.

But then, when one thinks of Pat Robertson’s remarks concerning the Haitian earthquake this past January and the comments made by pastors about Barack Obama, you can’t help but wonder was this based in true reality.

I think Uncle Ruckus, well, Rev. Ruckus has a real life counterpart: remember James David Manning?

I’m done. **logs off**

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL


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15 responses to “A Character Case Study of “The Boondocks”: Uncle Ruckus

  1. Makes me wanna holler and throw up both of my hands. But. we. won’t. We will continue to move on toward the mark of a healing higher calling.

    Perhaps it time to stop using the term ‘Uncle Tom’ and replace it with ‘Uncle Ruckus’ for the Adult Swim crew, and ‘Uncle James David Manning’ for the FoxNews teapeople viewers with the codicil that neither of these uncles are ever worthy of being an Uppity Negro in this life or the next.

    Aaron McGruder addresses America’s ‘birth defect’ (thanks, Condoleeza Rice) in his characters with redemption as the goal for Huey, Riley, and Jasmine.

    Great post, Uppity. Write on. The validation comes with experience (good, bad, and indifferent) and the process is definitely character building.

  2. Willie Lynch letter is a hoax. Read Professor Manu Ampin’s essay. He is a primary sources researcher on African and African American history.

  3. you people and i dont people in an offensive way neeed to change the name of this website. ITS OFFENSIVE.

  4. i will. if you like i can share my first essay i’ve done in the class that i got a perfect mark on. i’m working on a group presentation and my second pair, both of which i am also willing to share.

  5. Uppity, Just read your Uncle Ruckus (UR) blog from ’10. I loved the indepth review you gave of UR and felt compelled to share as much. The complexity/irony of the character brings me a great deal of joy. I often use the Boondocks as a measuring stick for others (right of wrong). I’ve found that blacks who watch “Family Guy” don’t care for “Boondocks” and vice versa. Often times I also see that the Family Guy crowd also suffers from the “Bluest Eye” phenomena and identify more with UR than I care to endure, yet, I do. I’m far behind on your site, but i will catch up on all of the articles (eventually). I just wanted to give you the ubiquitous “head nod.”

  6. >Frankly, as I see it, there is no redeeming values in Uncle Ruckus.

    Are.

    Having difficulty pulling grammar out of a thesaurus, hmm?

    • @Rachael

      And you serve what function being a grammar Nazi on a post how many months old? The sarcasm and the snark isn’t helpful on this blogsite.

  7. Am I the only one who sees a problem with the fact that Uncle Ruckus is the only recurring black character who is actually drawn with clearly African features? Huey, Riley and Grandad are lighter skinned and have a classic deracinated (or caucausian, let’s be honest) Manga look. Along with Jazmine’s dad you could turn them into white characters simply by changing the colour of their skins. Uncle Ruckus is darker, has a broad nose and big lips – the article actually calls him ‘grotesque’ – can you really not see what the problem with that might be???

    Forget about his one dimensionality and what he is *supposed* to represent… what he actually represents is a black character it’s okay to dislike and just to make it easy for you, he’s ugly too and just to make easier for you, he is recognisably negro. I’m sure MacGruder thinks he was making a nicely ironic point about Ruckus being the most obviously black character and at the same time the most self-hating (there might even be a plausible connection between the two things) but on a basic level it was a cowardly move and ultimately I think it confuses the point. You may think that Uncle Ruckus is perceived as having no redeeming qualities because people are paying attention to his words and actions but I have some sad news for you – his irrideemability as a character is signaled by the fact that he is dark and ‘ugly’. Your gut will tell you that this character is bad without you having to listen to a word he says – this is the simplest of all character constructions. He is unrealistic and he is one-dimensional – instead of saying “supreme genius of Aaron Macgruder” and waxing theoretical about how he personified black people’s inner self-hate or whatever how about the most obvious explanation is the right one here (Occam’s Razor) – this character is just a lazy and awful concept that a 5 year old could have come up with? How much braver would it have been if the character designs for Grandad and Ruckus had been swapped around… shame…

  8. I’m listening to Jesse Lee Patterson right now, and I am in awe at how identical his accent mirrors that of Uncle Ruckus. Even down to the inflections in his voice.

    It’s really uncanny.

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