(The following is not meant to be taken seriously. If you are offended, please contact your humor service provider immediately.)
I have a sneaking suspicion that my mom doesn’t think that I’m black enough.
Every time I fail to name one of her favorite R&B singers – or “my people”, as she puts it – I can see a part of her soul crumbling to dust. Her attempts to make me into the ultimate black scion have been thwarted by (tentatively) four zaptillion hours of games. That won’t stop her from trying, though; to this day, the floor of my bathroom is lined with African-American-oriented magazines, archiving critical matters like Mo’Nique’s love life and an expose on Laz Alonso, the TRUE star of James Cameron’s Avatar in his award-winning performance as Giant Blue Kitty No. 4. Miraculously, all of these gather dust, since I’m taking care of more important business. Here’s a helpful hint: it involves toilet paper.
But even so, the piercing stare of dust-covered Lionel Richie haunts me every time I have a seat. He’s watching me, glaring in disgust; disappointed that I’m using my writing to make obtuse video game references rather than advance the cause of our “brothers”. Oh Lionel, can you blame me for preferring a resuscitation of the Konami Code? You’re not a man if you don’t know the code…and who couldn’t use a few dozen extra lives?
On the other hand, I can see why my crippling overspecialization could prove problematic. Imagine a scenario where people are having an average conversation, and then I join and say, “Hey guys! Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start! Know what I’m sayin’?” Exaggerated as it may be, it suggests that I’m out of touch with the social expectations and mores of my so-called people – that, although I rarely think of myself as black, certain mannerisms, standards, and knowledge are expected of me. Questionable as my blackness may be, I’m a human, a social creature that needs to belong and be understood.
And in order to do so, I must understand in turn. Therefore, if I’m going to make my mom and the ghost of Lionel Richie haunting my command center happy (wait, he’s dead right?), then I owe it to the both of them to evaluate my blackicity, and make strides toward remedying my unique and vaguely hilarious situation. In doing so, mayhap I’ll evolve as a man. As a writer. And who knows? Maybe even as a Pokémon; like a helpless Magikarp blooming into a mighty...
Oh, wait. I’m trying NOT to be a freak. Sorry about that. Let’s get started, shall we?
Probably the only category I have a chance of earning high marks in, and even then I might pass as an extremely tanned white guy. My hair comes in two varieties – as a classmate once put it, “curls for the girls” and “waves for the babes”. I prefer the curls, because it’s fun to see how effective of a lady-part deflector my hair can become. That, and the fact that, as my broccoli-shaped coiffure grows, I’m convinced that I’m smarter. I’m like some kind of Bizarro Samson, except instead of super strength and faith in God, I get the amazing power to type with one hundred percent accuracy while looking away from my computer screen. Which would be just aces, if not for the fact that afros went out of style before I was born.
Beyond that – and this is where the problems occur – I don’t dress like a black guy either. In terms of old-school appeal, I can’t remember the last time I went out on the town in my dashiki. Nor can I even picture a dashiki without running a Google Search. In terms of new-school aesthetics, I can’t imagine what sort of clothing style might be popular among young black males without resorting to tired stereotypes. But who can I trust, if not for media influence? Who can I turn to, if 50 Cent is little more than a pair of quarters in my eyes, and generations have long since buried the stone idol of Steven Q. Urkel?
On the plus side, I’m kind of lanky.
The Score: Four kente ties out of five.
The Countermeasure: The question that needs to be answered is, obviously, how do I look like a black person? What sort of standard needs to be followed? Am I to resign myself to my fate, and resort to copying the looks of others? Or do I dare blaze my own trail with whatever happens to be in my drawer, for better or worse? A wise man would suggest that I’m fine as-is, and I’ve nothing to prove by changing my wardrobe and physical attributes. A WISER man, however, would dedicate his life to finding the perfect ratio between the amount of underwear exposed and the tightness of one’s belt to prevent an autonomous pantsing.
I played baseball when I was seven – and, like any stereotypical sports team worthy of an 80’s training montage, I was the jinx. By law, I was required to endure some sort of injury in every game. It was a duty I fulfilled without question; I’d take a ball to the thigh, the ribs, the hand, the knee, the shin…and, while practicing with my dad I almost literally ate the ball, losing a tooth in the process. It certainly doesn’t help that I inadvertently called a time-out for both teams during a game, sending everyone back to their dugouts. Coach Rodriguez was not amused…although I have to wonder about the logic of believing that a first-grader could banish both teams from whence they came like the Jabberwocky.
But that’s all right, because as we all know, black people ROCK at basketball! Like Kobe and Shaq and Abdul-Jabbar and I could go on, but I won’t. Because as I recall, I almost gave the other team a point by shooting at my own basket. Fortunately, I missed. Thank the stars for my five-percent shot accuracy!
The Score: One hoop dream out of five.
The Countermeasure: Training seems like the order of the day, regardless of race; if I want to become better at a sport, I need to devote hours and hours to raising my shot accuracy, daily. In doing so, maybe I won’t humiliate myself as I have in the past.
Although, a baseball player I knew in high school seemed to be of a different persuasion. According to his earnest belief, black people build muscle a lot faster and more reliably than other races. Though I can’t help but wonder what he was doing observing the physiques of other males, it could very well suggest that there is, indeed, a biological advantage that black people have over others. Perhaps it’s this quality that gives rise to so many African-American sports heroes – and by extension, feeds into the starry-eyed expectations of children everywhere?
Maybe. In which case, my prospects look bright. With enough training, perhaps even Superman would stare at my sculpted, Herculean form with jealous, heat-vision-y eyes. He would gaze upon me, and despair! And cease to be fictional!
My mom once said that all rock music (or anything my brother likes) is about sex – ironic, because as I understand it there are entire genres of music devoted to detailing the process of unhooking bras and groping random women. As for me, I prefer the purity of metal, in all its string-shredding, amp-blasting glory. On the other hand, I respect the sounds of a choice few hip-hop artists…specifically, those who I used in an old video game. You have to respect a rapper for being able to swing a guy like a helicopter, then breaking his back like a plank of wood.
As subtly hinted, video games are a hefty source of entertainment, with music (of a certain timbre) as a corollary and writing as an addiction that I can totally quit anytime so don’t host an intervention. But all things considered, how do I fare on the blackometer? True, I have a peripheral knowledge of certain figures and the images attached to them (Chris Brown needs to be repeatedly reprimanded with a mahogany two-by-four, for example), and I know that hip-hop…exists.
The Score: Three gunshot wounds out of five.
The Countermeasure: Wait, what? That score seems kind of low considering the above, doesn’t it?
Permit me to ask a question, fair reader: what exactly is hip-hop? It’s a definition that eludes me, and one that I pray doesn’t force me to revoke my “I Am Indeed Black” License. What’s the cutoff date for the good music and the bad? Who can be listened to proudly while walking to class? Who are the champions of the genre, the ones who clearly reveal the essence of that which is hip and/or hop? And how does one go about exploring the depths of the genre – of any black-preferred genre – without sparking a caps-locked jihad in online forums?
It’s important to have a train of culture to ride upon and call your own, but sometimes it’s easy to get left behind. And when you do, you can either chase after that train, or hitch a ride on a new one. In other words? No metal-heads allowed. Unless said metal-head also has super speed.
Gordon Ramsay of Hell’s Kitchen fame is one of the greatest chefs around – which is exactly why I can never meet him in person. If I told him my specialty dish was “half-dry oatmeal”, he’d make me into a soufflé, shaking his head in disapproval because Microsoft Word had to tell me how to spell soufflé. My mom, wisely and skillfully, handles most of the cooking; as a result, I get a healthy amount of gravy-soaked soul food on a regular basis. On the days when she doesn’t cook, it’s either raid the kitchen like some pre-Mesopotamian hunter, or pray she brings home some Popeye’s chicken. Incidentally, I may have high blood pressure, at least if the constant satire of fried chicken in the media is any indication.
Hot dogs, of course, form the backbone of my diet. I make it a note to have about four a week, and consider it a state of emergency if the family ever runs out. They are my love. They are my livelihood. They bring me more joy than any batter-infused poultry could ever muster.
The Score: Four heart attacks out of five.
The Countermeasure: Surprisingly slight, in this case. Granted, I’m not much in the way of the infamous (but still delicious!) bucket of fried chicken, but my quiet acceptance of it suggests that I’m blacker than I thought!
Moreover, I’d like to posit a theory. Those who like the foods they do can probably trace their love back to child experiences or good times in general. I’ve got fond memories of eating soul food and the like with my family – among these foods, the legendary turducken, crafted by the unholy fusion of three different birds into one. Therefore, if I’m to fully accept and integrate the Black Side of the Force into my being, then one would think that I should forge more food-centered memories with my blood.
But will I? Do I have what it takes to forgo hot dogs in favor of cornbread and green beans?
Appealing as a good image may be, statistical evidence readily offers a hearty “NAY!” Because I totally talk like that.
See? I told you. Who else do you know who would use the word “vernacular” in a sentence but a Writing Major?
I invite you – if you can stomach it – to look back over this piece, and at my word choice. “Nay.” “Mesopotamian.” “Countermeasure.” And so on.
Surely this is of little consequence. Surely being verbose and eloquent will have no effect on my overall score, right?
The Score: Zero “Oh, hell no!”s out of five.
The Countermeasure: Out of all the qualities of the proper black man, I have a hunch that this is the one that’ll generate the most flak. Outside of a small minority (see what I did there?), the perception is that black people do not talk this way. They, supposedly, use plenty of contractions, never use the letter G at the end of words, use double negatives, and regularly recite the aforementioned phrase “Oh, HELL no!” – which in turn is regularly exaggerated into “Aw, HELL naw! – like some kind of mystic spell that keeps Lord Voldemort from resurrecting.
Frankly, I don’t understand the appeal; why is it that that phrase, out of all the other idioms and sayings in our language, is the one that gets heard the most when it comes to media? Why not something cool, like “You have no dignity” or “Well, that’s a bit of a problem”? Wouldn’t life be more fun if you played with words? Verily?
I say yes. And therefore, I refuse to sacrifice my wordplay to fit in. Because I’m a rebel.
A paltry 2.4 out of five. In the absolute worst-case scenario, my mom will cry herself to sleep tonight, knowing that I’m failing to meet expectations; in the meantime, I will dream about falling L-shaped blocks eager to crush my bones. Don’t make that face. Everyone – black, white, and ugly – loves Tetris. And isn't that much more important than trying to become a stereotype?
True, there are plenty of truths in stereotypes. It’s good to be aware of them, as well as the truth behind them. But at the same time, trying to become a stereotype – trying to change yourself to fit an idealized form – won’t do anyone any good. It’d be like me trying to become a life-sized Barbie doll – the end result is just as gruesome as the mere imagining of that picture.
But hey. My hat’s off to whoever can actually pull it off. Maybe there’s someone out there who’s willing to change himself to gain acceptance, and make the image the truth. Who knows? It’s a big world, and somebody out there’s got to get those stereotypes going. If they didn’t, then ninety percent of Family Guy’s jokes would vanish into the ether. And when a writer can’t make a joke, it’s a fate worse than death.
 Excluding the almighty Jew-fro.
 It was then that I got my first taste of blood, and I’ve been a regular drinker of Dr. Hemoglobin since.
 My training schedule suggests that it would begin in Q4 2178.
 Or wantonly violating Newton’s grave.
 This piece does not advocate chasing after trains and trying to grab onto them, because it’s really dangerous and you’re likely to get tired before you even catch up.
 And there’s nothing Freudian about them.
 That was a devastating cut.
 This is the most horrifying joke I have ever made, and I’m sorry for it.
 R.I.P., Lionel Richie. Possibly.