Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sex, Race, and John Mayer

I like John Mayer's music and the man can really play a guitar. Unfortunately, he's not so good when it comes to giving interviews. He seems to have two basic topics--sex and race. He touched on both and even mixed the two together in his interview with Playboy magazine.

The two remarks that have put him on the hot seat are:
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: Do black women throw themselves at you?
MAYER: I don’t think I open myself to it. My dick is sort of like a white supremacist. I’ve got a Benetton heart and a fuckin’ David Duke cock. I’m going to start dating separately from my dick.
Check out the entire interview for more context and a few more doozies from Mayer. I also suggest that you check out Mark Olmsted's insightful blog entry about Mayer's faux pas, What John Mayer Should Have Said.

I intensely dislike the word nigger, no matter who uses it. I spent 20 minutes debating whether or not to spell the word out in this post or use the euphemistic "N-word." I refuse to defend anyone's right to use it, but as I've pointed out before, under no circumstances does a white person get to use it. You just don't have the right, sorry.

However, rather than think that Mayer's use of the word was an indicator of racism on his part, I think it was more about youthful arrogance. He wanted to appear to be real and down with it (whatever it is), so he chose to demonstrate how in touch he is with his inner black person by casually dropping the word even as he acknowledged that as a white man he could never fully appreciate the racial discrimination endured by black people. If you read his initial observation without the n-word that becomes evident. I don't think that John Mayer even came close to being racist in his intent or in what he actually said. He was a bit incoherent and probably needs to stop attempting to address serious topics in interviews. Perhaps he needs to write his notes in his palm.

As for his comments regarding relationships with black women, I suspect that he was trying to appear hip and humorous when he should have simply stated, "I've never opened myself up to a romantic or sexual relationship with a black woman."

The media and bloggers have been making mincemeat out of Mayer, accusing him of being a racist. Mayer has apologized repeatedly and even shed a few tears. I feel sorry for Mayer, but I suspect that he will survive.

The hoopla has moved me to again consider the color line. We use the term racism far too liberally; there is a qualitative difference between prejudice and racism. We are all subject to prejudices against groups with whom we do not identify. Racism goes beyond prejudice. Racism is predicated on a belief that certain groups of people are "other," and therefore undeserving of fair and equal treatment. Racism is based on believing that any disadvantages or hardships that the other faces are because of their negative qualities such as laziness or a propensity towards violence. Racism allows the racists to feel superior in all ways to the victims of their racism.

Over use of the term racism denigrates the seriousness of the term. Applying the term to every incident of insensitivity merely detracts from the seriousness of actual racism and makes the use of the term racism akin to the boy who cried wolf--when real racism rears its ugly head, people tend to dismiss it as much ado about nothing.

Racism is not a fiction perpetrated by black people simply to annoy white people. Racism is real. Nor do I believe that we should simply ignore remarks that do not rise to the level of hate implicit in racism but are nonetheless based in prejudice; we should use them as starting points for honest discourse about racial prejudice and racism. The first step is identifying what we mean by the words that we use. As long as all we do is toss about accusatory language, we will never understand each other.

As for Mayer, saying something stupid isn’t the same as racism. Perhaps John Mayer, Tiger Woods, and John Edwards could form a support group for men who screw up publicly.


Nance said...

Public F-ups Anonymous has a whole gaggle of new members lately. You left out the SC contingent and don't forget James O'Keefe. Folks are just lining up to join PUFA. Let's keep the roll call running and see what sort of demographic we come up with, shall we? Or would that be profiling, I wonder.

I'm always tickled to see a new Examined Life post in my reader and I'm never, ever disappointed.

warrior scout said...

as always, you discuss something very contemporary, very this week. but i am torn with my reaction. part of me agrees that he has made blunders and should do some pennance. but part of me gets frustrated because he is being held to standards that we don't hold the rest of our citizens. Mayer is neither a politician, public speaker, nor a policy maker. he is merely an artist- well paid, certainly-but a creative soul none-the-less who thinks and lives in lines of thought that should cross boundaries and delve into taboo territory once in a while.
i agree that Mayer is most likely not a racist. he was speaking from personal observation from real conversations and anecdotes from his peers. and i believe that he was sharing his views from his racially mixed experiences. and i wonder if there is a new language and permission level that needs to be considered as our cultures actually become more integrated.

Mark said...

I've been advocating for the word to branch into two concepts: hard and soft racism. Hard racism is stark, obvious and involves a real sense of superiorty; soft racism is the about entitlement, assumption, and expectations. It's much harder to parse and identify, especially within oneself.
I think John Mayer's worst "ism" might start with "narciss." He should never have cut his hair and started working out. Now he thinks he's all that and a bag of chips.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

I remember when a friend of mine in San Francisco called me the N- word, and I knew that I had trully become his friend. I agree with you that a white person should never say it.

I agree with your assessment of racism vs. prejudice.

Sybil said...

Love your last paragraph !!!
I guess I am just anti labels of any kind...white, black,able, disabled, fat, thin, they are just not needed. We are all people...plain and simple people..Maybe that is a bit simplistic....probably it is...but thats how I see it.
Much Love sybil xx

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I wondered what you thought about Mayer and his comments. I think you are way too fair to him. Guy's a douchebag.

Love you, Sheria.

jack-of-all-thumbs said...

Holy crap! How did I completely miss all of this?

Years ago a co-worker ran into me and asked me who Carmen Electra's brother was. I responded by asking who Carmen Electra was. He looked stunned. I explained: "I don't get out much."

"Get out?" he countered. "You don't need to get out. You just need to get a TV."

But at this point I confess that I thought I "knew" John Mayer. Apparently. Not so much. It will be very hard to listen to his music in anything close to the same fashion.

Joy said...

I think you're giving him too much credit. He's a prick. What he said about that and about ex-girlfriends takes him beyond saying something stupid. Major douchebag.