“To be Young, Gifted and Black.” I personify that phrase. Many of my friends and family do as well. How many White people in their 20s, 30s, or 40s know that expression? To whom is this expression attributed? This blog entry is to briefly test how far we have come as a society…in the 21st Century…in these United States.
I did a show this weekend at New York Comedy Club. As I was waiting in the front of the bar to be called by the host to perform, one of my comic friends who was running the box office and I started a conversation. Here’s how it went (note: “WG” is for “White Guy”):
Reg: “Hey man, how many people are here tonight?”
WG: “Not that many, the crowd is kind of light.”
Reg: “Yeah, I thought so. Usually when I don’t see a crowd out front I get a little concerned.”
WG: “Yeah, there’s really no rhyme or reason. I don’t even think the season has anything to do with it.”
Reg: “Hey, do you know who came from my people?”
WG: “Well, your Dad is here.”
Reg: “My Dad? (My Dad has never seen me perform)
WG: “Reg, stop playing.”
Reg: “You stop playing.”
WG: “So who is the guy who always comes to your shows? The guy with the glasses?”
Reg: “Tony?! He looks nothing like me.”
WG: “Yes he does. You both wear glasses. And he’s always so supportive and encouraging about your performances like a Dad.”
Reg: “He’s supportive because he’s my friend! That’s what friend’s do. You should have one some time.”
At that moment the staff, and the other comics, busted out laughing. Here is a tale of the tape of myself and Tony.
Height: Tony Harris: 5’5” The Reg: 6’2”
Weight: Tony Harris: 125lbs (soaking wet) The Reg: 185lbs
Complexion: Tony Harris: Dark The Reg: Light
We share no physical characteristics with the exception that we are both African-American. In fact, Tony had a better shot at being the father of the assistant manager due to the fact that they shared all three features I mentioned earlier and they don’t look alike.
As the night went on, any Black person that came into the club immediately became a family member. My white friend laughed, but there’s always truth in jest.
Was it the fact my White friend needed glasses or he just simply thinks most Blacks look alike?
This weekend a good friend of mine invited me to take a stroll with her 18 month old daughter to the kiddie park. For a single guy like myself that is like an invitation to a nudie beach, I don’t think I have any business being here but I sure like to go and watch the scene. So many interesting things happened there that for the interest of time (and potential material) they won’t be discussed. But one story needs to be told. While sitting on the park bench with all of my friend’s baby stuff to the side of me (baby backpack, picnic food) I proceeded to infiltrate this clique as if I was a sworn in member. I was the cool Black husband with the Hawaiian shirt, denim shorts and black Nikes with black Nike ankle socks watching my White wife walk and run around with our interracial baby who was born under the moon, stars and the hope of Obama (Coincidentally my friend’s husband is Black but he’s so fair that the kid has virtually no melanin. I guess she can pass). One child seemed to be walking around somewhat aimlessly but serenely, a tot with no mortgage bill to pay in the New Economy. However, an older woman (in her 50s) seemed to take notice that the child actually appeared to be alone. In taking matters into her seemingly strong hands she looked around the sea of White families and made a beeline straight to me; the one thing that did not look like the “others.”
“Are you the babysitter?”
“Nope, I’m the son of Obama.”
Why, do I look like a caretaker? Could I have been singled out because I was the only Black there? How many six-two, 30 something Black men are babysitting nowadays?
This week I attended an open mic. The format of this one specific room that I patronize works like this: the comics do a five minute riff or rant, no material. This young comic came up, fumbled around and then asked the audience to pretend we were heckling him. It wasn’t my interest to be involved in such an activity. I would never heckle a comic. My belief is that comics are a guild, a fraternity and a sorority. As a result, there must be some standards of respectful behavior. During the riff/rant sessions my impulse is to respond like the A train running from 59th to 125th: fast, strong, and unimpeded. The young comic was wearing a fitted Cleveland Indians cap. It’s the one with the logo of the “Indian.” I made mention that the logo was racist. The comic seemed confused by my use of the word. Let me explain to everyone who is reading this:
“Chief Wahoo” has jet black hair with a part down the middle of his scalp, a tail feather tied behind his head and an ear to ear toothy grin. Certainly there’s no racist buffoonery going on with that depiction of a Native American. The young cat (who was White) seemed to not have a clue. As an African-American I didn’t need one; the case was solved. Products from the antebellum South had the very similar racist looks and guises and White people didn’t see any harm in either of these racist depictions of “non-Whites.” Throughout the R&R session some of my fellow comics asked my opinions on race which I eagerly answered. A White female comic felt that it was patronizing to have her brother comics (i.e. White) ask me questions as if I’m the chief spokesperson for everything Black. I’m certainly not but I clearly have an eagerness to entertain any of their queries. Why not? I am a “Race” man and have always had a willingness to put the culture on my back. Any dialogue between the races needs to be open and honest. People of color view race with their eyes wide open. White people in this country generally view race with their eyes shut and their hands covering their ears just in case. Why? Because they generally don’t perceive themselves as victims of prejudice (I’m sure the Armenians, the Serbs, and the Kurds would disagree). They are anesthetized to the vestiges of a time gone by that still can seep through the resilient fabric of the Red, White and Blue.
A White comic decided that he felt comfortable enough in our forum to tell a joke, that, using his words: “My Black friends laugh at all the time.” The “joke” incorporated the frequent use of the “N” word. I voiced my displeasure eagerly and strongly. He showed his disappointment clearly and timidly (“I meant Niggah with an H”). Newsflash White people: we don’t all use that word in public or in private. Sucker.
When the time came to work on my set, I realized that a White comic, an acquaintance of mine, was making snickering commentary on my commentary. I ignored him, I’m working on my material. When he came on stage he made a point to state that my words made him so angry he didn’t know what to do. He was flustered. He made a point to accuse me of heckling the young comic and talking against racism yet making racist references about White and Asians in my material as if I was a hypocrite. Hold up.
Here is my rebuttal:
“Dear Lost and Uninformed Comic: unfortunately (though unsurprisingly to me) you lack the nuance, sophistication, and education to realize that talking about race doesn’t make one a racist: racist beliefs makes one a racist. If I say that I’m going to “Get those Asian owners back for invading the ‘hood by opening a “Wok and Roll” in Chinatown I am being wry and clever. If I say that Chinese people have slanty eyes which prevent them from walking in a straight line, I am being racist. Read a book. Crack open a dictionary. Finish school.
What do these three incidents tell you about race?
1) That having a Black president in the 21st century doesn’t prevent people from having 20th century attitudes on race.
2) That being “White” never ever meant you were “right.”
3) If I want to start kidnapping and indoctrinating young White babies there’s a park in my neighborhood where the pickings are easy.
Stay Black (or back)!