On Loving And Defending Black Names…Until They Get A Bit Too Black

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If you’re Black and you have a Black friend who happens to teach at a predominately Black school, you can safely assume that at least once every few months, you two are going to have a good laugh about some of the names of the students in the school. If this friend is like my teacher friends, this laugh might occur once a week, and you might also regularly joke that kids with those names might as well have been named “Nochance.”

This is not groundbreaking news. There is nothing we (Black people) love to talk about more than the experience of being Black, and one of the lighter parts of this Black experience is the well known tendency some of us have to give our children ridiculously creative names. And by “ridiculously creative names” I mean “names that basically just attach multiple vowel sounds to popular cognacs.”

I even play a variant of this game while watching NFL games. A player will be introduced, and I’ll guess where he grew up by the type Blackness associated with his name.

(For instance, “Jockitchneous Jenkins” definitely hails from the South, and “King-Knowledge Fire Shabazz” definitely hails from a northern urban area.)

It is a game that’s unapologetically classist. We’re aware that lower-income Black people are much more likely to give these types of names to their kids than middle and upper class Blacks. We’re also aware that, unless this kid happens to be a rapper, stripper, or professional athlete, this name will likely have a net negative effect on their job prospects, dating life, credit, and Sam’s Club membership applications.

This has no effect on our amusement, though. We still think the names are hilarious. And, whenever we happen across one of them, we gleefully forward it to as many people as we can, indirectly taking credit for discovering another hilarious example of what those type of Black people frequently do. Happily expert curators of coonishness we are.

But, when the name is just a tad less Black—i.e. “Shamika” instead of “LaShamikalalize”—and we learn that a person making judgments on the name happens not to be Black, it’s an issue. A huge issue. 

Now, I realize this isn’t exactly a perfect analogy. There’s a big difference between joking about a name and using a prejudice about a name to discriminate. Also, Black people have more leeway to make jokes about other Black people because, well, we’re Black too. I will not suppress my chuckle the next time I happen across a “Tyranraneousrex Jackson” or “Cirocla Jones” and I won’t hesitate to call someone out for actively discriminating against Black names.

But, I’ve also come to realize that I’m such of a hypocrite about this that even my hypocrisy is hypocritical. Black sounding names are fine, and worth defending. But, names that sound a bit too Black, a bit too ghetto, a bit too embarrassing, somehow aren’t. Basically, lower class Black people—the ones who could likely use the most help from their educated and higher-income brethren—are the ones we reserve the most ridicule for.

The irony of writing something like this while being named “Damon Young” isn’t lost on me. While my name isn’t super Black, I think most people would assume that a man with my name would likely be Black. It is, without question, a safe Black name. A Black name worthy of defending.

The Black community would form like Voltron if we learned I was denied a job because of my name. But, if my mom got drunk while delivering me and named me “LaDameriousness” instead, the only defense I’d get from any of y’all n*ggas is when you happened to be on the basketball court with me.

(Which would be the only place I’d ever be because, with a name like LaDameriousness, it’s my only shot at success.) 

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

10 Reasons Why I’m Blacker Than You

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I’m Black.

I know, I know, I know. It’s quite a surprise. I carry an oversized beige murse attache. If you look inside this oversized beige murse attache right now, you will find a book. (Which you know is some White shit cause niggas can’t read.) I live in Pittsburgh. I prefer mayo to Miracle Whip. I’ve never really been a huge fan of chicken. (I like it, but I think it’s slightly overrated.) Shit, I even know my dad. But, lo and behold, aside from that translucent stage I went through for the first two weeks of my life when I vaguely resembled the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth, I’ve been Black for the majority of my time on Earth.

Lest I forget, I receive occasional conspicuous reminders of this Blackness. One occurred a few weeks ago, after I completed a half hour stretch that would definitely at least make honorable mention in a nationwide competition for the “Unnecessarily Blackest Half-Hour Stretch.”

To wit, I ate a couple pieces of fried chicken (I know) and washed it down with a couple red Little Hugs I took from the fellowship hall of a Baptist church the day before. When finished, I walked the Gay Reindeer’s pitbull, and when I got back inside, I called my parents and we spoke for 15 minutes about watermelon. Adding Blackness to injury, I had on a wifebeater, basketball shorts, and Tims (Didn’t feel like going upstairs to get some sneakers), and the couches in my living room—including the couch I happened to be sitting on while eating fried chicken and drinking Little Hugs—are black leather.

Basically, not only am I Black, I’m actually one of the Blackest people you’ll ever meet.

This Blackness was reiterated this week with my glee over the BlackBuzzFeed hashtag—where Black Twitter users parodied Buzz Feed by “repurposing it for a Black audience.” I usually don’t take part in Black Twitter’s daily hashtag orgies, but this time I couldn’t resist the urge to show off my shiny old Blackness, tweeting about any and everything from dating practices…

“Come Through” And 8 More Lazy Date Suggestions You’ll Accept If You Like Him Enough #BlackBuzzfeed

…to Morgan Freeman…

1997, And 24 More Years That Morgan Freeman Has Been Exactly 76 Years Old #BlackBuzzfeed

Still don’t believe I’m Blacker than you? Ok. Here’s why you should.

1. I came thisclose to just making “Yeahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Niggaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!” an entire post after the Heat won the championship. (I seriously had to talk myself out of it.)

2. I’ve had the exact same hair cut for 18 years. Why? Because I’m Black, and Blackness makes you lazy.

3. I still refuse to do anything other than well-done. Basically, you need to char my meatThe only pink things I trust are Pepto Bismol and Lil Kim.

4. I’m a grown-ass man, and I still occasionally go grocery shopping in my parent’s fridge. (This will also be used on next week’s list: “10 Reasons Why I’m Broker Than You”)

5. I always recycle my cup at Panera Bread. And, by “recycle” I mean “I walk out with the cup, save it in my car, and use it again the next three or four times I go so I won’t have to buy a new drink.” (This will also be used on next week’s list: “10 Reasons Why I’m Broker Than You”)

6. I still own a pair of Karl Kani jeans. And Iceberg. And Wu-Wear fatigues. I don’t actually wear any of this stuff anymore. But, the high top fade came back, so who knows when I might need to start rocking my Clarks again.

7. I put salt on apples, watermelon, and cantaloupe. (If you think this is bad, I have an uncle who puts salt on bacon)

8. In college, I maxed out a credit card to buy an Avirex. Three weeks later, I traded the Avirex for a gold chain. I am not making any of this up.

9. I’ve been to Youngstown, Ohio. Multiple times. And (obviously) survived each time! (This really could have been the only thing on the list)

10. Last week, the Gay Reindeer jokingly suggested to me that if we had four kids, we should name them Ebony, Essence, Jet, and Black Enterprise.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea.

Ok. I might be willing to concede I’m not the Blackest person reading this, but I need to be convinced. If you’re up to it, explain exactly why you’re Blacker than me. 

(Non-Black people can play, too. Just explain why you’re the Whitest, or the Hispanic-est, or the Asianest person alive. We’re all family here.)

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

Why Rob Parker Was 100% Right And 100% Wrong To Question RG3′s “Blackness”

When people say things like “I’m in love with…” it’s generally understood that, unless they’re specifically referring to a person they have/had/wish to have a romantic interaction with, it’s always hyperbole. You are not actually in love with chocolate cake, Brooklyn, H&M’s fall line, or Kendrick Lamar, but you like/adore/admire these things so much that “in love” is used as an exaggerated substitute for a legitimate feeling you’re unable or unwilling to fully describe.

That being said, since first learning five years ago that he was going to run for President, I’ve been “in love” with Barack Obama as much as a person could be “in love” with a politician. While I don’t believe he’s perfect and I’m also aware this “love” could be more about the idea of Obama than Obama himself, as the unexpectedly primal scream I let out when seeing that he won Ohio last month indicated, I am an unabashed fan.

Yet, as I watched him on TV yesterday, addressing the Newtown school shooting, I’m reminded this “love” wasn’t unconditional. In fact, one of the main details allowing me to get to this place of “love” had nothing to do with his status as a politician and everything to do with a decision he made twenty years before I first knew he existed.

He married a Black woman. 

Now, would I have supported Obama any less if I learned he was married to a White woman. I’m not sure, but I doubt it. I doubt it would have had that much of an effect on who he was as a person and politician to make me do a complete 180 on how I currently feel about him.

There are two things I am sure of, though.

1. I’m not the only Black person who “loves” and supports President Obama the way I do

2. I’m not the only Black person whose “love” and support for Obama was helped by the fact that he has an authentically Black wife

And yes, while technically there’s no such thing as “authentically” Black—being Black is all the authenticity you should need—it matters that his wife wasn’t just Black, but a dark brown-skinned big-bootied chick from Chicago whose last name was Robinson. We still would have supported and voted for him, but I’m certain we wouldn’t have “loved” him as much. (I even have doubts he would have received the same unconditional “love” and support from the Black community if his wife was light-skinned.)

None of this should matter. But it does. And, because it does, I have to call bullshit on the tidal wave of post-racial self-righteousness coming down on ESPN commentator Rob Parker for questioning the blackness of Washington Redskins star quarterback Robert Griffin III (RG3). Was Parker wrong for his comments? Yes. (More of that later.) Should he have been suspended? Definitely. But, was his opinion—and the line of thinking behind the opinion—any different than the thoughts many of us of had about prominent Black men? No!

What he said about RG3 is said in many of our heads about every Black male politician, actor, athlete, co-worker, supervisor, neighbor, friend, and family member we know. Shit, as much as you all “love” VSB, I have no doubt our support would dwindle if one of us married a White woman. Sure, it wouldn’t change who we were as people or writers, but for many of our readers, we’d be a tad less “authentic,” and I can’t chide Parker too much for using the same means to calibrate Blackness that many of us also use.

It’s ironic that Parker mentioned “talking to some people in D.C.”—a clear allusion to the type of “barbershop” convos Black people have with each other—before going in on RG3 because that’s exactly why he was still wrong for saying what he said. These discussions about authenticity and “levels of Blackness” are definitely had…but they’re not meant to be had in mixed company. You do not ever question another Black person’s Blackness if any non-Black people are within earshot. In fact, you don’t even have that conversation if certain type of Black people are around. It’s only for people you trust to be able to fully appreciate and handle its nuance. Shit, doing that repeatedly will get your Black card revoked quicker than dating any White woman would.

Interestingly enough, I don’t even think Parker’s statements are the result of RG3 having a White fiancee. If dating White women was the NFL’s barometer for Blackness, you could have this same conversation about 80% 30% of the league. It’s more due to the fact that RG3 doesn’t act the way a typical young Black athlete acts. It’s not about him speaking proper English or even him not being seen at KIng of Diamonds every other weekend, but just the fact that the way he carries himself is outside of the range of behavior we expect from people like him.

If he was Rob Griffin the IT guy, his Blackness wouldn’t be questioned because his behavior is within the range of behavior we expect from people like that. But, between his behavior, his background, and his hair—yes, the fact that he has plaits in 2012 definitely matters—he’s “different” because he’s not what we expect. And, for too many of us, a “different” Black guy = “a Black guy who’s not really Black” or even “gay Black guy.” The criticisms leveled at him—questions about his Blackness and his sexuality—are no different than the types of criticisms hurled towards Ricky Williams, Chris Bosh, Tim Duncan, Dennis Rodman and other high profile Black athletes who acted in a way outside of what we expected from them.

Ultimately, RG3 is a 20-something quarterback of an NFL team, not a politician whose personal life choices directly influence his policy decisions—policy decisions that can affect the lives of millions of people. Basically, so what if he isn’t authentically Black? He throws a f*cking football for a living. Who gives a damn who he dates?

Well, Rob Parker (obviously) does. And, as long as it’s true that our “love” and support for Black men is influenced by the color of whoever they decide to marry, we do too.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

The One About Self-Awareness.

I see PRIDE! I see POWER! I SEE A BAD ASS MUDDA WHO DON'T TAKE NO CRAP OFFA NOBODY!!!!

I remember the first time I heard the theory that people are more intimately familiar with who they think they are than who they actually are. Okay, that’s not true at all. I don’t remember when I first heard it, but I do know that when I heard it I immediately said to myself, “self, that’s true”. It makes sense if you think about it. We spend so much time thinking about who we want to be and how we think we come across that reality is like getting slapped in the face with one of Aretha’s areolas, your two ho’s, and a bottle of rum.

With that in mind, over the course of time I’ve come to some conclusions about myself based on what I thought I wanted or who I thought I was and how reality is playing itself out. Some way down like where the signifying monkey used to hang out. Others more shallow than Kim Kardashian in a kiddie pool kickin’ it with two koalas on Koval.

Allons-y.

I thought I wanted to be one of those folks who likes to have deep conversations. It turns out that I want to be one of the people who has deep conversations about ignorant sh*t.

You know Savon from Love Jones? Yeah, I want to be him, except talking about thongs and the importance of Puffy to the fabric of society. But I SO want there to be a drum present. When I buy a house, one of the first things I’m doing is going drum shopping so I can have a truly Black household. All convos will include the drum. I want to talk about how Kool-Aid is truly the key to life and pop culture. I don’t want to talk about important things unless I feel like it. And only on special occasions…like when white people are present. Or in front of Barack Obama, though I’m fairly certain I’d probably talk a little ignant around Obama. The man sings Al Green songs for cripe’s sake. He cool.

I thought I wanted to date women with big hair who had the big hair angst and social justice guilt and conscience who were artsy and blah blah blah. It turns out I just like big hair.

Seems that I couldn’t care about their activism. I just like big hair. Hell, I might actually prefer big haired bougie women. The type with big hair and Coach bags who are as superficial as chicks with perms. I just wanna lay in their hair without the guilt of recycling. Basically, while I love Freddie from A Different World, I’m sure she would have gotten on my last damn nerves when I told her that I thought “Rack City” was empowering to women.

I thought that because I’m a writer and a rapper and an author and talker and because I communicate often I was a good communicator. It turns out that’s not true.

So, despite my uber sharing ass nature, in intimate settings, I can be quite walled off and anti-vulnerable. How’s that for some sh*t that makes no sense. I’m like the Great Communicator Of Useless Information When It Matters Least. I’m Alex Trebek for Dummies. For Relationships.

I thought that majority of my relationships ended because of compatibility issues. It turns out that most of them probably stem from that little communication problem I just shared a few lines ago. No coca-ina.

Now that’s not to say that every relationship that ended didn’t need to end, they probably did. But my inability to communicate properly was probably as culpable for the beginning of the end as any compatibility issue or constant nuisance that I either created or initially found cute but eventually found grating.

I thought that I was one of the few mixed kids who didn’t have an identity issues. It turns out that I do.

Yeah, I can’t decide if I f*ckin’ rock or if I’m f*ckin’ awesome. It’s a conflict that only people of my pedigree can fully appreciate. It’s hard out here for an cool mulatto. Or a culatto.

I often thought that because I was enlightened that I was above certain negativitisms. Turns out my enlightenment helps to inform my ignorance.

This woman cut me off in traffic today. I didn’t call her a b*tch while shaking my fist in my car behind my glass windows. Nope, I called her a wench. Mostly because I like the word and second because I thought calling a woman a b*tch because she’s a woman who pissed me off would make me like every other ignorant man. So wench it was, which I’m fairly certain achieves the EXACT same end as the b-word. I felt bad. But if I didn’t read, I don’t think I’d know the w-word either. Damn you education system for teaching me how to get around general use pejoratives for learned ones! I definitely call ni**as the n-word though.

Anyway, those are some of my self-awarenesses. Sharing is caring people. What you got?

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. STEAL YOUR CURL aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3

Break On Through: Understand Where I’m Coming From?

So I’m black.

(Don’t you love when I open up with that line? It’s like a precursor to some race based observation on something race-related. Like NASCAR. Thank you.)

I had the privilege of growing up in very different circumstances. For instance, during my early years, I was raised by my white mother (as my father, though around, was in another country preparing me for a new family), in a black populated area. Some might call them projects, I choose to call them very low-to-no income housing.

What transpired can only be called a social experiment in whether or not white people can truly raise black kids. While my other black peers were listening to Michael Jackson and Prince, I was listening to Michael Jackson and AC/DC. Or ZZ Top. Or Ratt. Or my personal favorite, Judas Priest.

And you couldn’t tell me nothing about Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath. I was diehard.

At 5.

At age 6, my younger sister and I, heavy metal and motorcycle boots in tow, left my mother’s care in Michigan and moved in with my father in Germany. So you can imagine the culture clash that was little Panama and his new soon-to-be sisters and mother. Have a look see.

Panama’s New Sister-To-Be: I just got that new Janet Jackson!! Controoooooooool!

Porno for Pyro’s Panama: Umm…do you have any Judas Priest? I really like Judas Priest. Or maybe some Ratt.

Panama’s NSTB: What is Judas Priest?!?!!!! Mommy, this new boy that you all brought home just curseded!

(Actually, my sister couldn’t speak English very well at that point since she was going to German school. Little known Panama fact, I taught one of my sisters how to read in English. At age 7. )

PP Panama: *two fingers in the air in Satan/Texas Longhorn salute* Rock on!!!!!

Now this was all a social experiment because my mother’s musical tastes became mine. Kind of like how Kanye said he was very feminine and gay acting in high school because he was raised with his mother. Except not even remotely similar.

With my mother’s musical tastes, I often became the kid that folks didn’t understand. Buying toy bats (of the flying variety) and trying to bite their heads off a la Ozzy will do that to you. However, over time I gained my parents appreciation for “black” music. I started getting into Alexander O’Neal, Michael Jackson (even more), Prince, and of course all the old school soul music my parents had stored up in their record collection. Talk about confusion. It got even worse in middle school. I’d go from listening to Guns ‘N Roses to the Geto Boys in about 3 seconds flat. Skid Row?? Def Leppard?

Homey, pour some sugar on me.

So where is all of this going? Well its going here. My mother’s influence on my early musical tastes have helped me TREMENDOUSLY in life. It allowed me to be way more open-minded in my music than a lot of folks I knew growing up. I’d be rocking my Green Day albums while my friends in high school thought I was listening to that “white music” too much.

Dude, they had an album called Dookie. I was like 13. Who couldn’t get behind that?

And it’s amazing that at this point in my life the vast array of music I listen too. I’ll go from listening to the Blackbyrds to listening to the Doors (as I’m doing right now…I think the classic rock song “Light My Fire” might be one of my new favorite songs of all time). I have thousands of CD’s at this point (on last count) and you’ll find some of the strangest shit ever in that mix. Hell I still purchase music.

I have all of my old school music segregated since I like to consider those albums the gems of my collection. But mixed in with those are my Guns ‘N Roses Appetite for Destruction album, my Doors albums, my Rolling Stones and Beatles albums, though I seriously think the Beatles are WAY overrated.

Yeah I said it!! I’m a gangsta. And I hate Jim Jones.

I often wonder why we, as black folks, are so quick to dismiss rock music (or any other type of music not done by black folks), especially since about 90 percent of the early rock music is just blues music being sung by white boys. Granted, the music was taken and given life by the new white audiences who couldn’t care about the black originators, but alas, if it’s good it’s good. And how many people REALLY don’t listen to rock because of the racism behind it? Not very many. Most folks don’t because it’s “that white sh*t.” Hell, I used to hate on country music. HARD. That was until I started listening to Johnny Cash. Now I’m hooked. And if you don’t think Johnny is country, then I listen to Kris Kristofferson too. The Highwaymen rocked.

I don’t know how people listen to solely rap or R&B all day long. It would truly drive me nuts. Especially with all the great jazz out there. Speaking of jazz and obscure R&B, it wasn’t until college and I met one of my boys who probably introduced me to more jazz and 70′s era soul music than you can shake an old cat at, that I even got into jazz. This dude’s knowledge and catalog is extensive but I was open to learning. Now I’m like niggas with Independence Airline tickets…on a whole nother plane.

Get it? Cuz they shut down…

*rimshot*

Aww go to hell.

Anyway, I know how I got to how I am; how’d you get to where you are?

Put a little love in your heart.

-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka TANGLE JIG P aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3