If blessed are the peacemakers, I must have already earned my sweet spot in heaven. It seems like I spend an immoral majority of my time not-grinning-and-bearing-it after gay white men say and write dumb “funny” things about the black guy.
The jokers are especially wild on the dating apps, sometimes coming so frequently that even if I were inclined to respond full or righteous indignation, I wouldn’t have the time.
Once you go black...
I’ve always wanted to try black.
I’m not a chocolate chaser, but you’re fine.
Huh? (Yep, that unlikely one actually happened last week in Zagreb, Croatia.)
What’s up nigga?
N... what? (Another Zagreb winner.)
Is it true what they say about black men?
And then there was Don, a 28-year-old Spanish man living in Berlin, where I spent most of October and November. He actually took the time to unleash an entire race-for-laughs narrative.
He first approached me on Grindr shortly after my arrival in Germany, and we spent more than a week doing the online mating dance without meeting face to face. Then around 3.30 one morning he finally asked me out for “a spontaneous night drink or tea or whatever ur drink of choice is.”
He wrote: Can’t sleep so might as well do something like socially interact with a hot stranger. (Why was I awake at 3.30 am? Good question. I was still on Bangkok time so, to my body, it was actually 9.30 am.)
When I pointed out that we might have trouble finding anything open at such an ungodly hour, he suggested I go over to his place.
I’d rather meet at a bar or cafe or somewhere like that, I wrote back. I wasn’t in the mood to risk my life and/or limbs just to, erm, interact with a beautiful stranger in the wee small hours.
His response: Scared of my intentions? :) no worries. Was more meant as a joke tbh. A colored man in my home at these hours? No thank u probably ur a thug and bring grass to my humble innocent home.
Immediately, he tried to whitewash his black comedy: Ok, I think weve stated im not very funny [sic]. But joke aside, I would have suggested a stroll in the hood.
My head started spinning. I spent a few moments hanging onto “colored man.” Then I let it go. I lived in Argentina for four and a half years and have a pretty tight grasp on Spanish. Negro (pronounced NEIGH-gro) is the Spanish word for “black,” so cringe-y is practically built into Don’s native language. The day after Barack Obama won the U.S. Presidential election in 2008, I saw a front-page newspaper headline in Buenos Aires that actually said Martes Negro – or Black Tuesday. Yuck.
Clearly native Spanish speakers don’t need to be making puns about black people en español. But Don’s joke hadn’t been simply lost in translation. His ironic way of handling my hesitance to go to a stranger’s home was to turn it into why he shouldn’t invite a black man to his place. Tbh, his joke made my stomach turn.
While waiting for it to settle, I clicked on a link in his profile and discovered more dark humor on his Instagram. Last February 11, in the middle of Black History Month, he Googled “racist candy” and posted the illustrated result: “Nigroids” breath mints... “Cherry Clan Candy”... LOL. Racism is so damn funny.
I’ve been pursued by enough white/Latino/Asian men who called me the N-word after I rejected them to confirm that there’s a thin line between lust and racism. But black comedy and racism? Can white people legitimately look on the light side of race? It’s one thing when David Chappelle does it. He lives with racism every day. But it’s not OK for someone who doesn’t to turn a stereotype that’s the bane of a black man’s existence – a stereotype that has cost so many their lives – into a joke.
Slavery may have ended 150 years ago. Civil Rights may have kicked in more than 50 years ago. But it’s still way too soon for white people anywhere to be making careless cracks about race.
That also goes for celebrities who might be tempted to flash their creative license. A few years ago, social media erupted after Madonna used “nigga” in an Instagram post. In 2015, it crucified country singer Jason Aldean for topping off his Bob Marley Halloween costume with blackface. Meanwhile, Quentin Tarantino regularly gets blowback for peppering his movies with the N-word.
When legendary TV producer and writer Norman Lear created the racist character Archie Bunker for the 1970s sitcom All in the Family, it made sense. The racial outbursts of Caroll O’Connor’s alter-ego were near-highbrow comedy because it wasn’t just about getting laughs. Bunker held a mirror up to white America in the ’70s. Blacks may have been the legal equals of whites according to relatively recent Civil Rights legislation, but the point was that some whites would never think of blacks as equals in any other way.
There was a certain gallows humor there that felt appropriate for the time, as the races were still breaking the ice amid integration. Meanwhile, the politically correct/socially sound flipside to Bunker was given near-equal screen time. The result: classic comedy that probably wouldn’t fly if it were debuting in 2017.
Gallows humor was a centerpiece of Quentin Tarantino’s 2012 dark comedy Django Unchained. I accepted the racist language there because you can’t make a film set in the 1800s U.S. Deep South and pretend that slaveowners didn’t freely and frequently drop the N-word.
The revenge fantasy’s Oscar-winning screenplay made us flinch while offering catharsis to black viewers in a world that was already careening toward Black Lives Matter. The film upped its relevance by highlighting the caste system among black slaves that left a lasting legacy within the black community. That’s something you don’t get with slavery-themed Hollywood movies like Gone with the Wind and Lincoln, which are mostly about white people.
Then there’s Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, the 1994 Oscar winner (again, for its screenplay) in which the director showed up toward the end playing a mob associate who gratuitously and liberally used the N-word. Here’s where I had a real problem with Tarantino. Was the N-word crucial to the narrative, or was Tarantino using his art to fund his own catharsis?
Dear unfunny white people: You cannot turn racism into a joke or use the N-word whenever you feel like it. We’ve earned the right to do so because most of us have to deal with it in some form every day. You get to laugh about it and then return to your regularly scheduled white privilege, while we have to sit there uncomfortably and return to our regularly scheduled misery.
I told Don his joke was a stink bomb and ended our mating dance for good. I won’t ever be knocking on his door. Considering his warped sense of humor, he might actually answer it wearing blackface and offering me a slice of watermelon. I’d rather stay home and binge-watch Black-ish. At least on Black-ish, blacks are in on the jokes – and they’re getting paid to tell them, too.