I've Always Been This Awkward - Eleven


Although little tan-brown kids are all the vogue now, I didn’t grow up with many of them. People were either white or black or what we called in southern California, “Mexican” or “Oriental.” That was it. Anything else would’ve been freaky. Freaky like me. I think my freaky type was still called mulatto or some old-ass shit like that. And how brave my parents for being a mixed-race couple in the mid 1960s. Little did I know I was the king of the future, the leader of the tan-brown people of earth. Who knew?

This is bi-racial in the 1970s:

B – Damn, you have such straight hair! I’m so jealous.
W – Wow, you have such curly hair! I’m so jealous.

B – Your skin is so light.
W – Your skin is so dark.

This is bi-racial in the 1980s:

B – Hey, whitey!
W – Hey, nigger!

B – You listen to Mozart?
W – You listen to NWA?

This is bi-racial in the 1990s:

B – You’re the whitest person I’ve ever met.
W – My cousin married a black guy. Once. In Canada.

B – You work here!
W – You work here?

This is bi-racial in the 2000s:

B – Your baby looks just like you.
W – Your baby looks just like her mother.

B – You have such straight hair! I’m so jealous.
W – You have such curly hair! I’m so jealous.
I grew up—during my formative years, anyhow—within a population that was about 95% white. And somewhat affluent. We weren’t. Either. That’s probably why I like stuff like the Talking Heads, the New Yorker, and Whole Foods. You can’t escape your nature or your nurture. Perhaps that’s my affinity with Barack Obama even though he's every bit the opportunist, fake-ass politician as the rest. He's my people. Represent, tan-brown people!

And the 5% of black people I’ve known have usually felt it their obligation to be brutally candid with me and about me. Apparently I have been everything from “so smart” to “self-loathing.” I’ve been an “Uncle Tom” and an “Oreo” as well as “the future” and “our hope.” Funny. But I have had, more often than not, the attention and respect of the black community. We are cool. It’s almost as if I am a keenly situated spy into the white world. Plus I have a weird charisma and can charm myself into the hearts and minds of anyone.

Conversely, I’ve been showered with the highest accolades from the white people. I’ve been called, on many occasions, “articulate.” Fuck, yeah! I hate that. I guess some people are just easily impressed or whatever, but “articulate”? Please. The only honor better than “articulate” though is, as a musician and percussionist, being told how good I am with my “rhythm.” Oh it’s explained too…apparently rhythm comes naturally to me. Had I known, I would have saved a bundle on music school. Ahhh, yes. Tap dancing is my nature too. But, likewise, I possess the attention and respect of the white community (although I have to work harder for it). We're just fine. It's almost like I'm their spy into the black world. Weird charisma and a nice pleasant smile.

And while I have felt perfectly comfortable operating within both the white universe and the black ghetto (c’mon, that’s just a fact), I have never felt 100% accepted, safe, or free in either. I mean I have friends who love me without condition, sure, and I have the built-in acceptance of the family I know, but in general, I am a stranger among blacks and whites. Weird, huh? No fooling...nobody believes I feel that way. People just think I'm all happy to be me and shit. I just manage to put on a brave face and a calculated act to get by. Not “frontin’”, but just enough well-placed nuance to pass. I’ve observed enough to mimic, learned enough to mirror. But I remain an island.

Interestingly I have always been instructed not to trust white people. I’ve also been instructed not to trust black people. I understand they both steal, just in different ways. [Note: I heard that I shouldn’t trust Jews or Asians either]. Tough gang-youth blacks frighten me still. Rednecks petrify me still. But wiggers, as they’re called, are hilarious and I frighten them. Unfortunately Fortunately there is no such thing as a black redneck though. I have learned in my life to stay clear of the south. I've been there enough to realize I am not welcomed.

To this day if I stop at an intersection and I’m "pumping," say, Sufjan Stevens on the stereo and I stop next to a car of black people I will turn the sound down for fear of scorn. Reverse that and substitute The Roots and a car of whites and I have the same automatic reaction for fear of judgment. I got issues. [Note: Music influence assignment from 2007 - clicky]

In the corporate world, associates just loved how I could “talk black” with the mailroom staff to get the things I needed or to get things done on their behalf. The mailroom staff would marvel at how I could “talk white” with the salaried and the management to get things done for myself or for them. I have developed keen facilitation skills and have always been an incredible chameleon. To many I am everyone. But to me, often I am no one. Issues.

I can do that black guy affinity nod out on the street but I’m always surprised at the words that automatically exit my mouth when I say stuff like, “What’s happenin’?” or “Wuz up?” Respectfully, I address older black men with a sincere, “How you doin’?” With whites its all “Hello” and “nice to meet you” and on occasion, “howdy?” Yes, howdy? Jesus! I know!

I’m definitely the black guy in my affluent, sequestered, master-planned community and I am certain that I ruin certain stereotypes. I’m sure some see me as a renter rather than a good old-fashioned U.S. American property owner. But, I can’t control that. Hopefully they know by now that I look at them with pity and my own brand of scorn.

Don’t misunderstand; it’s not always negative in this confusing world. There are plenty of positives too. I understand that chicks dig me. I’ve never believed that or acted upon it but that’s what I hear. So, that’s a pretty good thing. I understand that employers love me too. I get jobs for which I am wholly unqualified because I look good in a suit (which I only wear to the interview) and they hope that I don't scare anyone. As my friend Robin once said, I’m a “safe black.” I get invited to all the client meetings. Hey look at our black. Look!

And I do get to play the race card on occasion, usually for sport. Amazing how people will do nearly anything to prevent being perceived as race-biased especially in the corporate world. It’s a wonder to view and it’s much fun to play. Funny has hell actually. But the very best thing is that I can mock and imitate blacks and whites with impunity. I can do this to and with blacks or whites, it just doesn’t matter to me. I love it. They love it. And no one can tell me to stop. My best black act is as funny as my best white act, I think. And believe me, I’m brutal to both/all races. I can mock something vicious. People tell me to consider stand-up (but they're retarded - see?). Sometimes I say that I’m the biggest racist I’ve ever met. But you know what, it just comes from the fact that I’m just over it all. We’re all the same inside (not really, but it’s the thing to say).

I’m not a racist though. I’m mostly an elitist culture and social snob. I am the taste police, judge, jury, and the goddamn appeals court. Everyone else (except my friends) are mopes.

I've Always Been This Awkward

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