I’m interested in the way some young white people on TV and mass media have started to talk casually about racial stuff– and black people in particular–without eschewing their own whiteness. Obviously white political commentators and culture critics have always had the go-ahead to talk about race in the context of news and art, but I think the phenomenon of whites talking about race and black people in a more personal context with less titration is much newer. I think John Mayer (in his couple of startlingly unfiltered interviews) and Daniel Tosh (of Comedy Central’s hilarious Tosh.0) are the best examples of this. Perhaps Stephen Colbert is a predecessor to this newly emerging casual racial discourse, though I think the fact that his show is thoroughly contrived satire makes his media impact considerably different.
Mayer’s blissfully frank, nearly manic sex-obsessed comments have been a hot topic on celebrity blogs for weeks now. Upon first read, all of his comments rub me the wrong way. It’s gross how sex-obsessed his interviews have been (but then again one of them was in Playboy). Hearing about his quest for “the Joshua Tree of vaginas,” one on which he might “pitch a tent on and just camp out on for, like, a weekend,” and his eternal love of Jennifer Aniston despite their (unremarkable) age difference makes me even less likely to give his make-out session blues a second listen. But, aside from his downright racist comment about Kerry Washington and his use of the n-word while discussing his ‘hood pass’, I can’t say that I am offended by the content of his personal statements.
His examination of the idea of a hood pass (quoted below) is actually pretty astute. It’s funny though that the super amplified self-awareness that drives all of his other comments doesn’t kick in enough to make him realize that if he is correct that the hood pass doesn’t exist, then he can’t say the n-word even in order to illustrate the illusion of the aforementioned pass.
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.