The John Mayer Rule

Dwayne reflecting on Mayer:

I'm not defending Mayer at all - but I'm wondering, how many black people reading this has said something, at least, equally offending about white people. Maybe not in a public interview, but after a hennessy and coke?

Me. Definitely me. Moreover, in my younger years I needed no drink, and I would have been dead serious, and argued with you about it.

I hinted at the "don't get drunk around white people" rule and that I no longer much care about it. Two things happened--one very pleasant, another really fucked up.

1.) My first real job was at Washington City Paper, and when I was there it was basically all white. As it turned out, some of my best friends came out of that gig. But when I got there, I was 21, straight out West Baltimore, with a detour to Howard, and all I saw was white folks.

I think I came in, not so much expecting beef, but just kind of on guard. Frequently we'd have social gatherings, and I'd always skip them for A.) Fear of being the only black guy B.) Fear that someone would get smashed, say something ignorant and I'd do something that would get me fired. I feel bad about this, because I was really well liked and no one ever actually did anything to me. Indeed, race-wise, it was one of the most progressive workplaces I've ever been in. No P.C. bullshit, but no "I'm not P.C." ignorance either. But because of my own issues, I skipped everything from after work gatherings to Christmas parties.

A couple years after I started my friend Neil Drumming came on, thus adding a second black guy. Neil was from New York, didn't go to an HBCU, and thus had a lot of experience navigating the wider world. Whenever there was a party, he was down. I'd look at him with that "you drinking with them?" look and he'd look back with that "Motherfucker, free beer" look.

Free beer won. And that isn't a small thing. I dare say I gained a lot from a few free beers with white folks.

2.) I had a dinner party when I first moved to Harlem with a bunch of friends. One of my homeboys was dating a mutual friend, who happened to be Korean. Anyway, after dinner someone pulls out blunt, rolls up and we all partake. One of my other friends, who was black, goes "Damn dude, your eyes are all chinky." I laughed like nothing had happened. It never even occurred to me what had happened, until the young lady called both of us on it.

That was the end of the party--in more ways then one. What I was left thinking about was the power dynamic, and the trust factor. She was in an apartment surrounded by black people who she trusted were fairly enlightened. As it turned out, some us weren't. Would she not be justified with her own John Mayer rule?

Anyway, what got me in both cases was how fear along with a sense of moral infallibility drive us to do certain things. I think as a black person, I am, in professional settings, a little more conscious than some of my white peers when it comes to keeping up appearances. (Except when I'm out with the Atlantic ad guys! Madison Ave knows how to party!!) But it isn't because I don't like to drink, or because I secretly suspect they're racist or some such. It's more like a feeling, a sense, that if anything goes wrong, I have a lot more to lose. I don't know if that's right. In point of fact, there may be individuals with a lot more to lose than me.

I get why people might be offended by the "don't drink with them" rule. But it helps to understand where it comes from. Black people in this society are extremely vulnerable. I'd hazard to say that black professionals are especially sensitive and aware of that vulnerability. The last thing they want is to have to even think about race while they're out with some friends.

You go out with your lady enough time, to enough bars where there aren't many black folks, and have enough white people come up to you, while you're minding your own business, and drunkenly exclaim, "My dog's a nigger!" or lurch over to your table and start doing their rendition of Michael Jackson at Motown 25, and you start getting scared--mostly that you're gonna knock a motherfucker out. And when the cops show up, you know who's getting tasered.

What most of us want, is the right to get fucked-up with whoever we want to get fucked-up with, and not fear that our individuality will be threatened. In point of fact, I don't know if anyone gets that--certainly women (white, black, whatever) don't. In that light, I suspect that we are not the only ones with a John Mayer rule.

Anyway,  don't get out enough these days enough to have a John Mayer rule. When I'm out, I want to be out--I don't have time to do the math. Besides, I have too many white friends at this point. Once ya'll are really rolling together, what's the point?