James and Tracy- “The Good” and “The Bad”
James Spurlock, whom everyone calls “Toofer […] because with him you get two-for-one—he’s a Black guy and a Harvard guy” (“The Aftermath”) and Tracy Jordan are the only two African American members of the staff on TGS but they do not get along well and cannot find a common ground and are not even “speaking the same language.” James does not think very highly of Tracy and calls him an “imbecile.” Tracy, too, does not show much respect for James and voices his doubts about whether James is aware of his heritage when he asks James whether he actually is an African American (“The Aftermath”).
Although James clearly is an African American man by his physical appearance, he attempts to conform to the dominant society and presents himself more as the “Harvard guy” (“The Aftermath”). Tracy points out that James is ashamed of being African American and James in return tells Tracy that he embarrasses him “Because there are racist people in this world, and when they see [Tracy] act like a fool, they assume […] all [African Americans are] fools” (“The Break-Up”). James is aware of the fact that Tracy’s behavior is very stereotypical in many ways and given to the fact that Tracy is a celebrity and therefore is being constantly watched and judged by the society, Tracy does not bring a good light on African American people. When Tracy acts foolishly, he creates an uneasy position for other African Americans because people can then assume that all African Americans are the same. Entman and Rojecki explain that “People tend to see members of other groups as pretty much the same” (55). Entman and Rojecki point to the prototype theory, which was developed by Eleanor Rosch, to support their ideas. Although prototypes are “often formed swiftly and inaccurately” they “encode habitual ways of thinking that help people make sense of a complicated and uncertain world” (60). Entman and Rojecki further explain that “people think in categories” and the “most representative members [of a group] are called prototypical” (61). Therefore, James’ concerns about Tracy’s behavior are legitimate. Although James is an African American man who has “achieved a status” and who “attempts[s] by dress, grooming, and other communication behavior to signal [his] acceptance of mainstream norms and strive[s] towards similar cultural ideals as Whites” (62), he may still be viewed by the members of the society differently because some African American men, such as Tracy, are viewed as the prototypical African Americans.
Cooper asserts that “popular representations of heterosexual black men are bipolar. Those images alternate between a Bad Black Man [...] and a Good Black Man” (853). “The Bad Black Man” is the one who is portrayed as “animalistic, sexually depraved, and crime-prone” whereas the “The Good Black Man” may be characterized as the one who “distances himself from black people and emulates white view” (857). Cooper states that these “myths about heterosexual black men […] structure the very way that whites think about [African Americans]” (875). Based on Cooper’s classification, Tracy Jordan represents “The Bad Black Man” and Toofer is a representative of “The Good Black Man”.
The image of the “Good Black Man has a long history,” and it can be traced back to the “figure of the Uncle Tom” (Cooper 880). Tracy Jordan calls James “Uncle Tom” because of James’ conformity to the dominant society. James’ attempts to assimilate to the mainstream society have led to losing his “blackness” and James is said to be “just afraid of black people” (“The Aftermath”). James associates himself with Caucasian friends exclusively and is not even willing to go out on a date with an African American woman his cousin set him up with on Valentine’s Day. James states: “My cousin set me up on a blind date for Valentine’s and I just found out that the girl is, well, urban.” This statement is followed by a question from the head writer of the show who asks: “Are you saying she’s black?” to which James responds that “[He doesn’t] know how to get out of this” (“Anna Howard Shaw Day”). James fits the description of the Good Black Man because he “distances himself from blackness and associates with white norms” (Cooper 853).
Not much is known about James’ background, his family, or his personal life, his character misses the connection to his origins and culture. James seems to have lost his “double consciousness” W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about in his essay Of Our Spiritual Strivings. This “double consciousness” is described as “twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (45). What Du Bois highlighted was that African Americans have to aim at preserving both sides of their personalities, they have to be African as well as American: “He [an African American] would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American” (45). And James in Tracy’s eyes failed to attain both the African as well as the American side when he accuses James of wishing he was Caucasian (“Fireworks”).
Nevertheless, although James is trying to fit into the dominant society, his attempts are usually laughed at and he is made fun of most of the time. 30 Rock challenges the view of “Good Black Man” and as opposed to The Tom, Toofer is not viewed as a hero of a sort nor is his obedience applauded. James’ pride over being a Harvard graduate is a target of jokes quite often and James is laughed at for bringing up the fact that he went to Harvard extensively: “Oh, really? Did you go to Harvard? Cause you haven’t mentioned it in like three hours” (“The Baby Show”). Harvard graduates are also viewed as not “cool” by the cast on TGS (“Lee Marvis vs. Derek Jeter”). Also, James’ conformist style of dressing is frequently commented on: “Hey, look, Sherlock Homo is here to solve the case of the gay sweater” (“The C Word”). James’ attempts to assimilate are seen as a joke in the eyes of the staff on the show.
Even though Toofer himself firmly believes in his own goodness and thinks that he is a descendant of an African American soldier “who had achieved an officer’s rank during the Civil War,” it is revealed that his ancestor was in fact a Confederate officer (“Fireworks”). By making Toofer a descendant of a Confederate officer, 30 Rock challenges the view of Toofer’s goodness once again.
Tracy Jordan, as opposed to Toofer, does not distance himself from the African American community and he embraces his heritage. Tracy’s style of clothing, his way of speaking and his behavior bear sings of “blackness”. Tracy identifies himself with what can be called “hip-hop black masculinity” which places Tracy “in conflict with the dominant culture” because “hip-hop black masculinity is counter-cultural and resists conforming to dominant culture” (Brown 69). Although Tracy gained economic success and is a member of the middle class and has some privileges due to his status, he still presents “an image that retains lower-class signifiers and the mentality of the hood” (69). Tracy works hard at preserving his image of a dangerous and unpredictable celebrity. He is outraged when a magazine calls him “normal” which is, according to him, a “character assassination” and therefore he decides to have his face tattooed to maintain his “bad boy” image. Tracy needs to maintain this image to earn “street cred” (“Jack Meets Dennis”). As quoted in Brown, “For most young black men, power is acquired by stylizing their bodies to provoke fear in others,” this stylization “is a form of self-identification and resistance to the dominant culture” and it is this “unique stylizing, posing, clothing, and dialect that signify a hip-hop black masculinity” and the “hip-hop black masculinity is a way for young people to exercise power” (76-8).
Tracy grew up in a poor neighborhood in Bronx, he dropped out of school, married young and had children. After he was discovered at the Apollo theatre, Tracy rose from rags to riches. He claims his childhood was filled with painful memories as he “watched prostitute stab a clown,” his “basketball hoop was a rib cage,” or how he “slept on an old dog bed stuffed with wigs” (“Emanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land”). In such a rough neighborhood, respect means everything and it is earned by being tough. But Tracy’s toughness and his attitude is being “viewed with suspicion from both the dominant culture and older African Americans” because it is “an oppositional identity that is reified as a sign of a strong black man” (Brown 77-8).
However, Tracy’s image of a tough “gangsta” is not entirely true. Instead of being a violent man, Tracy actually is a “sensitive artist” (“Kidney Now!”). Tracy never was as tough as he presents himself to be, during Tracy’s high school years, Tracy was asked to dissect a frog but was not able to do it because he felt sorry for the animal and he started crying in front of his whole class. After this incident, he decided to leave school because nobody respected him there anymore, even one of Tracy’s closest friends, Grizz, admits that he “had to deny being friends with him” (“Kidney Now!”).
Also, Tracy’s reputation of a promiscuous man is revealed to be fictitious in the nineteenth episode of the third season. Tracy confesses to be a faithful husband to his wife when he speaks to Jack Donaghy, Tracy states that in “twenty years [he has] known her, [he] never cheated on [his] wife” and that “the partying is just for show” (“The Ones”). Tracy is only pretending to be unfaithful so that his public image is not harmed. Tracy is afraid that the public would get to know the truth about him, when one of his voicemails which Tracy recorded for his wife and in which he asks her about the type of curtains he should buy and in which he is presented as the loving husband he actually is when he says: “Oh, you’re calling me on the other line. I can’t wait to talk to you. I love you” leaks, Tracy is seriously considering having an affair so that his reputation would not go away because it is his image which earns him great amounts of money. Tracy is also willing to go into extreme lengths in order not to lose his public face when some women he claimed to be intimate with “came forward to say [Tracy] didn’t have sex with them” (“Don Geiss, America, and Hope”).
According to Brown, African American “men in general live in a cultural site of struggle between the dominant culture and African American culture” (68). This struggle is clearly visible in Tracy Jordan’s character. The society views him as the “bad guy” because of his identification with the “hip-hop black masculinity” but Tracy is not a bad person, he is only maintaining a certain image to be respected in his community; the image also ensures him great amounts of money since the way he behaves and his connection to the hip-hop culture are profitable.