For example, say you're talking to a white person about the old television show "Mr. Ed." Y'all get off on a tangent about Dave Chappelle's hilarious skit speculating whether former Hollywood animals were racist, and then the white person says something like this:
"And what's the big deal with the ban on black lawn jockeys? If I want a tiny black person to hold a lantern in front of my house, that should be cool right? Hell, black people were the first successful jockeys, why the big fuss?"
What the hell just happened there?
It can be very unnerving when something like that happens. Whether it's a race issue, a political issue or just random life stuff, when somebody takes an unexpected turn in the conversation, it's like getting lost on a dark country road. Things look dangerous, but familiar, and while you're confident you can find your way home, you know it might be more difficult than you'd like.
I thought about random conversation shifts when a friend of mine sent me an excerpt from a conversation John Mayer had with Playboy magazine. First, to be clear, I know nothing about John Mayer except that he used to smash "Rachel" and he is a bit of a wild man. Thus, his comments in the interview seemed to come completely out of left field to me. Maybe if I knew more about his back story I wouldn't have been shocked, but I don't know. Anyway, here is what Mayer said:
PLAYBOY: If you didn’t know you, would you think you’re a douche bag?
MAYER: It depends on what I picked up. My two biggest hits are “Your Body Is a Wonderland” and “Daughters.” If you think those songs are pandering, then you’ll think I’m a douche bag. It’s like I come on very strong. I am a very…I’m just very. V-E-R-Y. And if you can’t handle very, then I’m a douche bag. But I think the world needs a little very. That’s why black people love me.
PLAYBOY: Because you’re very?
MAYER: Someone asked me the other day, “What does it feel like now to have a hood pass?” And by the way, it’s sort of a contradiction in terms, because if you really had a hood pass, you could call it a nigger pass. Why are you pulling a punch and calling it a hood pass if you really have a hood pass? But I said, “I can’t really have a hood pass. I’ve never walked into a restaurant, asked for a table and been told, ‘We’re full.’"
PLAYBOY: It is true; a lot of rappers love you. You recorded with Common and Kanye West, played live with Jay-Z.
MAYER: What is being black? It’s making the most of your life, not taking a single moment for granted. Taking something that’s seen as a struggle and making it work for you, or you’ll die inside. Not to say that my struggle is like the collective struggle of black America. But maybe my struggle is similar to one black dude’s.
Now, wasn't that strange? Honestly, if you read the entire interview, which you can access here, Mayer's comments seem even more strange. It's like he's having a normal, interview and then "BAM", we're in crazyland.
I mean, there are so many questions to be asked about that exchange. In addition to the cryptic comments above, Mayer also casually insinuated that Kerry Washington is indiscriminate about revealing her past blow jobs because she's "white-girl crazy." (Also, I found it strange that Huffington Post wrote a story about Mayer's interview, and instead of leading with his casual use of the word nigger, and his other crazy comments about black folks, they decided to go with his comments about screwing Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Aniston's abhorrence of Twitter. Good to see our liberal friends have their priorities in order, right? Yeah, right.)
Anyway, what jumps out at me immediately is how Mayer drops an N-bomb with no prior warning or provocation. The interviewer asks him about his popularity with rappers, and within two sentences, the word "nigger" comes flying out of his mouth. Granted, I'm sure he'd argue that he was speaking about some deeper issues regarding the use of the phrase "hood pass," but I have no idea what those deeper issues would be. Unfortunately, any deeper meaning was lost by his casual use of "nigger." That's like telling me you love me, just as you slap me in the face. I'm not thinking about love, I'm thinking about strangling you.
Honestly, I'm suspicious of most white people who casually use the word nigger, even if they don't use it as a slur around me. Sometimes, if they grew up with black folks and are completely assimilated, it makes sense, but even then I get a sinking feeling. I've got to think that people who are casual with the use of "nigger" in everyday conversation, are probably casual with it when they get angry. Which means it's quite likely you might use the word as a slur for black people, even if you don't do it around me. So, I'm suspicious.
Also, I was lost by Mayer's attempts to distill being "black" to overcoming obstacles and enduring pain. Black people do not have a monopoly on those two things. Hell, we never have. Sure, we've dealt with a lot of hardships over our collective history in this country, but that's not unique in human history, it really isn't.
I thought it was strange that his idea of being black was completely tied to suffering and perseverance. That's a pretty shallow understanding of the black experience. And it's great that he thinks black people are particularly strong, but the truth is we're not. And as long as people think we are, they will be less likely to deal with the larger issues that force us to struggle so much.
As for the Kerry Washington thing, I'm not going to deny that she exudes a little craziness, kind of like Angelina Jolie. But, it strikes me as more than a tad disrespectful to go around branding her as the kind of chick who sucks dicks and doesn't mind telling. It might be true, but is it really something you just throw out into the public sphere.
The whole interview just leaves me unsettled. I didn't have any real thoughts on Mayer before this, but now any future thoughts I have about him will be colored by this interview. And I', pretty that won't be a good thing.
But maybe that can change if someone can explain to me what just happened here.