By J’Mel Davidson
When I heard that a white woman was pretending to be black and running the NAACP, my first thought was “OK, but did she do a good job?”
Let’s start over. People, let me tell you ’bout my best friend. I’ve talked about him here before. His name is Sam. We met during very strange times in our lives. I had just been kicked out of Savannah College of Art and Design because I was poor and he was having relationship “stuff.” We bonded over affection for stupid things like Schoolhouse Rock (verb!) and Rudy Ray Moore (Dolomite) and Dixie Carter (that was mostly me). We have been friends for a little over 20 years, only ever having any real trouble briefly in the early 2000s when we failed to heed the advice of our betters, Bell Biv and Devoe.
I don’t know how it is with other hetero lifemates, but Sam and I have developed a sort of popular culture telepathy. Here is a long-winded metaphor that explains our shared existence.
Sam is Bruce Banner. He knows what he’s doing, he’s good at his science, and he’s liked by the folks around him. These people are aware of the Hulk (me). They’re aware that you don’t get Bruce without the Hulk. And they accept that. They have no choice in the matter. Hell, sometimes they even want the Hulk…until he shows up and starts crushing stuff! And by “crushing stuff” I mean administering criticisms of your pop cultural pleasures in the form of logical but blunt and awesome burns. Look, everyone likes the Hulk until it’s their house he’s crushing! Puny humans. It used to be sort of scary but now we just accept it. But Bruce doesn’t apologize. It’s a package deal.
Anyway, it is here that I should mention that Sam is a white boy, and five years and one month older than me. This is important. Because even though race never really come up between us, race is a thing that’s between us.
Not in a bad way. Culturally we’re resentful southern nerds first, black and white dudes second.
But there are questions. And the fact that we are so close and share a lot of the same brainwaves means that when there are race questions we can’t ask each other. Because we don’t know.
And I don’t mean obvious things like why is it a “riot” when black people are angrily burning police cars after yet another unarmed honor student is shot in the face but it’s “harmless shenanigans” when white people set police cars on fire to celebrate the Mighty Ducks winning the Stanley Cup? We already know the sad answer to those questions.
I’m referring to some of the less frightening and simply vexing questions that there’s never an appropriate time to ask unless you’re a hack late 80s comic or an awesome writer for a local big-shot magazine. As C+C Music Factory used to say, the things that make you go “Hmmm?”
For instance, why is it that well-to-do people of Caucasian nomenclature shy away from window dressing? Why don’t rich white folk have curtains? I noticed this at a very young age while riding through “good neighborhoods” as a child: Fancy peeps don’t have curtains! I mean, I’ve been broke my entire life and I still don’t want people looking in at my stuff at night but it seems that when gringos make that first million bucks, drapes and curtains go right out the proverbial and literal window!
I asked Sam about this. He doesn’t get it either. I didn’t ask him about how white people don’t use washcloths, because I know the answer: “We just never did.” I asked Sam if he had any questions for me, since I’ve spent my entire life being brown. He wanted to know if doo rags were for fashion or practicality. The answer is “yes.”
So you see, friends, there will always be questions. Not the huge things that will hopefully, eventually become obsolete like “white privilege” and African athletic superiority. No, the smaller cultural anomalies like why white people love The Princess Bride and Clueless and black peeps are so concerned with hair. Why black folks will stand in line for hours anticipating “them new Jordans” while our Caucasian friends will camp out for movies about vampire elves. (I should note that Sam and I don’t fit into any of these camps)
Point: The idea of equality is unrealistic on a global level. All we can do is come to an understanding that as a species we’re fundamentally insane.
Now, shake hands. Try not to make things any worse. Do a good job and maybe one day it won’t matter whether you use a washcloth or not.