In a recent interview with Playboy magazine, John Mayer made a few comments that caused a bit of an uproar and plenty or backlash on Twitter. It seems that more than a few people have wanted my thoughts, so here’s my obligatory “the White boy speaks out on John Mayer” post.
But before we get started, if you haven’t already, read the full interview for yourself (here) and then come back and join us.
Obviously his use of the n-word was out of line for the simple reason that he’s White. Whether John Mayer has a “Hood Pass” or not, he is still a White man in America using an incredibly powerful, racially charged, derogatory term that comes with, at least when said from the mouth a White person, years of oppression, slavery, and notions of inherent inferiority attached to it. A “hood pass” may give you a pass to come into someone’s community but doesn’t change the color of your skin.
Soon after the interview went viral on Twitter, Mayer soon realized the error of his ways and apologized on his Twitter page (@johncmayer) saying:
“Re: using the ‘N word’ in an interview: I am sorry that I used the word. And it’s such a shame that I did because the point I was trying to make was in the exact opposite spirit of the word itself. It was arrogant of me to think I could intellectualize using it because I realize that there’s no intellectualizing a word that is so emotionally charged.”
I give Mayer props for confronting the issue head-on and in a timely manner. (And for not making the “But I have Black friends” excuse that we’ve seen in the past.)
The whole issue behind the idea of a non-Black person (usually a White) receiving a “hood pass” is a little problematic. I understand that the premise is that an individual may be accepted by a group of Black people that they have this pass given to them, but as Dr. Mikhail Lyubansky points out in his article discussing Mayer, “it has absolutely no meaning to anyone other than the person giving out the pass’ and the one receiving it.” In other words, you can have a hood pass with different individuals that you may regularly associate with, but that give you no immediate privileges when you’re around a different group. Sorry White folks who may be holding one — it’s basically meaningless towards the general population of Black America. (Womp womp.)
I’m not a fan of the concept of a “hood pass” because it relates, on many levels, Blackness and the Black experience, to poverty. And while the systemic racism that undoubtedly exists in this country does plenty to perpetuate cycles of poverty in order to keep Black people broke and on welfare, the idea that you could gain the fullness of the Black experience in America by going into a ghetto is absurd.
As for Mayer stating that he has a “Benetton heart,” but a “David Duke [penis],” well, I say, “to each his own.” Mayer was clearly trying to be clever in saying that he’s not sexually attracted to Black women, but he definitely chose the wrong analogy there.
I won’t delve deep into interracial dating right now (that’ll be in a few weeks), but if he doesn’t want to have sex or be in a relationship with Black women, why should we care? We shouldn’t. There are plenty of people who date outside their race and there are plenty who don’t. Whatever. It’s a personal choice that each person should make for themselves. Mayer’s word selection, not his perspective, is again the problem here.
Race is never something to be addressed flippantly and without serious consideration for how all parties could potentially view a certain statement. That doesn’t mean that we sugarcoat things to make them more palatable, but it does mean that we should think through what we say to understand how it could possibly be misconstrued. This is the problem with interviews. Once something is said, and “out there,” there’s no chance to clarify meaning or intent, often until after the damage has been done.
I don’t know if the interview was really framed exactly like that, if it was a literal transcription of what was said, or if Playboy edited it and removed some context to make it seem a bit more edgy. Who knows? That’s part of the problem with fully judging someone based off a single comment they made in the midst of a conversation — we often tend to forget that, in these interviews, the fact that, it can be easy to get engrossed in a conversation where you focus on and understand only the people in the conversation without having regard for the rest of world that could be listening in.
At the end of the day, we’re all human, and we make mistakes. No one is ever immune to slipping up and saying something inappropriate of out of line. Mayer gave his apology via Twitter and then later that evening, also broke down at a concert and apologized again (see that video). All in all, I’m still a fan of Mayer’s music — a few misguided comment won’t change that — and I think we’d all be well served to take his statements and comb our own lives (as I’m sure he’s doing with his) and see if we can find any areas of unhealthy bias at could potentially slip out and have greater repercussions than Mayer’s comments.
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