My friend Kerra, (not that it matters) is an African American.
Actually, it does matter cuz I grew up with about 0% ethnic diversity in Whitesville, OH.
I was always extremely curious, and inspired by black culture. Mostly because it seemed exotic compared to all the white people-packed strip malls in my hometown.
African Americans seemed way more outgoing and fun than most of the Precious Moments collectors and Pontiac Fiero drivers in my suburban hood. We all just seemed kind of mass produced, while the cookouts in the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime” and the cast of In Living Color made everybody seem ultra-vibrant.
I used to blast the band Living Color’s album Vivid, and air bass to Muzz Skilling’s grooves. Picture a skinny-ass, short white kid screaming “Why you wanna gimme that Funny Vibe?!?” I had no idea what a vibe was, let alone how to give or receive a funny one.
About 10 years ago we moved back to Akron, to the neighborhood where my wife grew up. She’s ethnically white I suppose, yet she grew up getting her hair corn-rowed because her community was way more diverse. She also gets hit on often by older black men because maybe she reminds them of Hallie Berry? It’s my theory. Or maybe it’s her wonderful butt.
We met our neighbors when we moved in, and after living in L.A. and Chicago (beside Mexican Americans and Serbians, respectively) I was excited to meet our new neighbors Tyrone and Sheila. African Americans, in case you couldn’t guess. They had five (5!) daughters, who were all beautiful. Tyrone and I became buds, and I would often mow both our yards on my lunch breaks since I worked from home. He’d let me steal I mean borrow his tools. Our girls called him Mr. Tyroney, and his twins babysat for us every Summer.
You could tell when T was in a great mood because his minivan would be blasting Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious”. When he fired up his smoker everyone would be envious.
Last Halloween, for the 8th year in a row, Tyrone and I passed out candy.
He sat in his yard, and I dressed as a unicorn to weird out parents. I wonder if his relatives warned him, or were concerned about him living next to white people who pulled this zany shit. I put a speaker in our front window and was spinning vinyl.
Mr. Tyroney is a wicked Sly and The Family Stone fan (because, who isn’t?!) I started their album “Stand!” on side 2, with the unifying “Everyday People”. Oh hell yes! “You Can Make it if You Try!” It was bumping good vibes. I was robo-dancing, popping and locking like a freak up and down the driveway with the unicorn head on, mesmerizing children and alienating their parents. It just seemed like what good ethnically diverse neighbors do. I’d look over at T, a big grin on his grill, head nodding. Not judging me in the slightest.
The music stopped, so I ran in between trick or treaters to flip the record. Side 1 starts with the title track “Stand!” I’m feeling kind of like a member of The Movement by this point, because I’ve always had a pretty serious disgust of anything remotely racist. Sly’s lyrics and grooves are all so spot-on, pulling people together.
But I forgot about Side 1, Track 2.
“Don’t Call me Nigger, Whitey”.
Picture that inciting, anti-racism anthem blasting out the front of my unicorn-owned, very-clearly-white home with hundreds of multiracial Halloweeners in all directions.
Sly dropped a good 8 or 9 N-bombs at 100 db before I could run inside to rip the needle loudly across the vinyl. My hands were shaking.
My wife was out with the kids getting candy. She would’ve been mortified.
It went from this beautiful moment of “maybe we’re not SO different!” to realizing that no matter how much I try to empathize, I’ll never (ever) feel licensed to have that word come from any part of my being.
History laced it with too much pain.
I couldn’t bring myself to bring it up to Tyrone, but I imagined he of course knew it was coming and laughed his ass off watching the unicorn sprint inside.
All of this bubbles to the surface during election season, when thinly veiled to disturbingly overt racial divisions are broadcasted on a loop.
Tonight Kerra made my week… This was her note. You may have seen the hashtag
It’s an invitation we should all try to earn. I was honored to be one of her 10 nominations. The awkward suburban kid in me feels like he won an Oscar.
“I SOOO love this post and want to share. Translation — The cookout is a sacred African American ritual featuring the Soul Train line, dark liquor and potato salad.
White people who are invited are there because they are allies. #whitepeopleinvitedtothecookout”
I nominate: KC Carter — No one pimp walks like he do”
I always thought Jim Carrey must’ve been pretty cool to hang with all those vibrant black people on In Living Color.
He probably just knew what took me 40 years to understand:
All us humans are biologically identical, we’re just separate expressions of the same unifying consciousness. So we better hang together, laugh together, form the Soul Train line together.
And stick up for one another.
We’re all in this crazy nuthouse together. Don’t let any punkass politicians divide us when all we crave is u-n-i-t-y.