On “Yoga Girl,” Race, Writing, White People, And Knowing When Not To Share

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***Yesterday, I had separate conversations with Panama and Maya Francis about everyone’s favorite Skinny White Yoga Girl and the reactions her piece generated. (If you’re not aware of this story, here’s a quick synopsis. Skinny White woman writes very, very awkwardly about feeling very, very awkward about seeing a heavyset Black woman at her yoga class, internet reacts.)

The conversation with Panama and I took place on Gchat. Maya and I also talked on Gchat, but she decided to send me something longer later in the evening. Both the conversation between Panama and I and Maya’s piece are below.***

Damon Young: You saw that yoga piece everyone is talking about, right?

Panama Jackson: Of course, lol. Poor white girl. Opened a shitstorm and was probably as sincere as sincere could be. THAT is an example of white privilege. Macklemore is not.

Damon Young: The most favor-ed comment on XO Jane literally had me laughing out aloud for 10 minutes. I think I even woke up my girl.

Panama Jackson: Yeah I saw that shit…I laughed hard as f*ck too. Thing is…its a weird but honest ass look into how white people feel. To that end, its actually educational. Like this white broad REALLY felt that way. Its white guilt at its best

Damon Young: We want white people to be honest. but we really dont. We just want them to listen and not speak

Panama Jackson: EXACTLY. Shut up and let us think you suck. We don’t care how you feel. But its like…look…I’m f*cking sharing here. THIS IS really how I think.

Panama Jackson: Do you remember some years ago I wanted to put together a collection of essays about race from white and black people anonymously?

Panama Jackson: This is EXACTLY what i’d expect to get from some overly empathetic white folks. Naive but necessary to keep the convo going. And folks are going ham. I appreciate this shit. I mean she needs a good talking to. But that kind of honesty from white people? Priceless

Damon Young: I wonder if people are more upset by the thought or the expression of the thought

Panama Jackson: That’s a good question

Damon Young: I think it’s the thought. Like, it’s great that you were honest and bared your soul and shit. but what the f*ck is wrong with you?

Panama Jackson: Yeah. At the same time…her biggest problem was using race as identifiers. If she hadn’t used race, it would just be body size insensitive, and it doesnt get traction. You throw skinny white girl and heavyset black woman in there? HIROSHIMA.

Damon Young: Thing is, every 25 to 35 year old black chick I know does yoga at least occasionally. Like, literally every single one.

***I received an email from Maya a few hours later***

When I decided I wanted to be a writer, I was 10 years old and had just suffered the loss of my great-grandmother. It was a deeply personal, life-altering thing, one that had me contemplating my own mortality, long before a person should have to think about such things.

As I sifted through her personal affects, I craved something tangible that would remind me of the music in her voice, the firm delicacy of her touch, the way she always knew exactly what to say when it needed to be heard. I wanted to read something that would instantly put her in the room with me.

I took the week off from school in mourning, and when I returned found myself even more invested in my favorite books as a means to escape the sadness that plagued me. At some point in the following months, we learned about the advent of the printing press and the role of the written word for the modern world.

“Words are given greater importance when they are written down,” my teacher said. It was at that moment, that I realized that my byline would become my closest shot at living forever. It was then that I started collecting my favorite quotes from people who’d long since been dead (a practice that I continue even now), and think about the legacies left behind. I thought about what my name, on paper, would mean when I was gone.

Things have changed since then, particularly in terms of what it means to be a writer. Like any writer, I am still a bit self-serving, but more than anything I strive to be an active student of the people, circumstances, and subjects I choose to write about. I write because I never want to stop learning; I write because I cannot see myself doing much else without going completely insane. I write because I’m naturally very nosey, and this is a great way to put it to good use. I write because I think its important to think critically.

Digital media has changed the way we think about writing, and the way scribes go about the practice. What was once an isolated, pensive undertaking is now filled with the loud noise of other people’s thought pieces (which we feel compelled to respond to), deadlines (that come faster than the traditional news cycle), and the crowded lanes of traffic that make up online content. It’s fucking loud in the echo chamber, and there are times that I have to walk away from my computer for a few weeks to figure out what the hell I really think. With a 24-hour news cycle and tweets coming in at 2am, it’s easy to get confused sometimes.

The really intimidating thing about writing in the online space is how quickly (and intensely) readers respond to your world. Most writers, I’d think, don’t read the comments section. I respond to everyone who e-mails me directly, but I never read the comments; it’s like giving birth to your favorite child and the world immediately telling you what an ugly piece of shit they are, and how worthless you are for having her.

In the best case, the forever-ever nature of the internet (thanks, Google Cache!) and the ridicule that comes with it can force a writer to be deeply intentional about the things they put out into the internet. In the worse case, a person will throw shit at a wall and see what sticks.

When a piece falls flat – or worse, when it’s received as roundly offensive to a group of people – there’s an urging to find some greater value as to why it fell flat. We want the failure to mean something. Usually, someone will say that it “helped to start a conversation.” I’ll say now, while everyone is entitled to their opinions, some conversations just aren’t worth entertaining because of the basic expectation that grown people don’t say everything they’re thinking aloud.

It’s easy to fire up our laptops. It’s easy to have an opinion and make it matter because it’s in black and white. Digital media has, in many ways, made us forget (at one time or another) about the labor in our labor of love. The responsibility we have. We owe it to our audiences to not only be exciting, but to be interesting, poignant, reflective, honest, and insightful. It’s not enough to want to live forever; we have a responsibility to push existing conversations forward. To make good art.

If we can’t do that, then we should chop it up Love Jones style with our homies over wine and cheese and whatever other bougie shit we like to do when we’re feeling self-important. Let those conversations help us check our own privileges, assumptions, and naval-gazing. If our names are to mean anything at all, we’ve gotta make sense of the world around us, not further agitate the things we already don’t understand.

Either She Homeless, Or She Got Problems

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A couple weeks ago, the Gay Reindeer and I were sitting in my car, people watching and eating applesauce (don’t ask), when a conversation about Pittsburgh neighborhoods segued into gentrification, which then segued into the surreal experience of seeing White joggers trying to navigate past the hordes of people standing outside of liquor stores and check cashing marts, which then finally landed on a point she brought up: Those anonymous people hanging outside of those stores all day long—people who usually are middle-aged, Black, and poor—often serve as the neighborhood’s Shakespearean fools.

Perhaps they don’t seem particularly lucid or observant, and maybe their English isn’t the best, but they’re watching, recording, and assessing everything that’s going on in the surrounding area. And, if you ever have the opportunity to talk to one of them—like, seriously sitdown and talk—they have the tendency to provide plain-spoken insights and witticisms about the community and the people who inhabit it that would make you wonder if they were secretly undercover PhDs doing a years-long anthropological study.

Anyway, I’m bringing this up because this was the first thing I thought of when listening to Charles Ramsey’s entire interview. (Actually, that was the second thing. The first? That’s a really nice white tee he’s wearing. It must have been brand new.) Like a true Shakespearean fool, Ramsey’s appearance and “commoner” sensibilities belied the wit and bravery he so obviously possessed. And, also true to Shakespearean fool form, an off-hand, matter-of-fact statement made towards the end of the interview ended up being the most memorable (and insightful) thing he said.

(Paraphrasing) “If you see a pretty White woman running towards a Black man, either she homeless or she got problems.”

You know, out of all the interracial dating/relationship-related conversations I remember having, I can recall in-depth, nuanced, emotionally charged, and surprisingly sober discussions about…

1. The type of Black man who dates White women

2. The type of Black woman who dates White men

3. The type of White man who dates Black women

…conversations where everything from the way they typically look to the base reasoning behind their choices is examined and assessed with care.

But, there doesn’t seem to be that same level of discourse among us about attractive White women who choose to date Black men, mainly because we have a tendency to dismiss whatever attraction they may have for brothas as some sort of sexual fetish, a way of “getting back” at her family in some way, or a blatant cash grab.

Basically, if she runs to a Black man, either she homeless, or she got problems.

While this line of thinking is usually thought to be an indictment on White women—or, rather, the type of White woman who primarily dates Black men—it actually is a bigger insult to brothas. By believing that White women who choose Black men are effed up in some way, you’re also implying that there’s no reason for a normal, well-adjusted White woman to want to be in a serious relationship with a Black man.

Admittedly, I’ve fallen victim to this line of thinking as well. I’ve joked before about the type of White woman you might find at a predominately Black nightclub (I even have a name for them: “snizzles”—a term that derives from “snowbunnies”), but those jokes were rooted in a very real belief that something had to be wrong with a White chick who was into Black dudes. While I do believe that there has to be something wrong with someone who only dates outside of their race, I make concessions and justifications for Black men, Black women, and White men who do this that I never have with White women, and this lack of interracial dating-based empathy boxes me into a very awkward corner.

“If I believe that there’s something seriously wrong with her if she’s into me, that a decision to date a Black man is a seriously bad one, doesn’t that also suggest that I believe there’s something seriously wrong with me?”

I haven’t answered that question yet. Maybe I just don’t want to hear the answer. And, maybe I’m just not smart enough to be a fool.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

So, She’s Down With The Swirl…And So Is She…And So Is She…And So Is She…And So Is She

Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana Have a Night Out at the Theater

I’m going to assume that the 25 to 40 year old Black people in my sphere of influence probably aren’t that much different than than the type of Black person a typical reader of VSB interacts with regularly. (Basically, the n*ggas I know are exactly like the n*ggas the rest of y’all n*ggas know.)

Why does this matter? Well, the statement I’m about to make is completely unscientific, completely unresearched, and completely dependent on anecdote and observation. You could even argue that I’m pulling it completely out of my ass. But, I doubt you’ll make that argument because, since the n*ggas I know are likely to be pretty much exactly like the n*ggas the rest of y’all n*ggas know, you’ll probably agree. You may not want to agree, but if you’re smart—and, if you’re reading this, you probably are—you will.

While the vast majority of the Black people I know date/marry other Black people, I personally know more Black women my age with White boyfriends/husbands than Black men my age with White girlfriends/wives…and I bet most of you do too. Actually, for me, using “more” is somewhat misleading because, well, I don’t know any. I mean, I know they exist. I occasionally hear about them on NPR, and sometimes I’ll see one or two waiting for jitneys outside of Giant Eagle, but I do not personally know any urban, educated, and employed Black guys—basically, Black guys like me—who date White women. Not one. But, I know at least 10 Black women with those traits who are currently dating or married to White men.

I’m not pointing this out because I think this is a bad thing. Or a good thing. Or an inbetween thing. It’s just a thing I’ve noticed…a thing that basically goes against everything we’ve read, heard, learned, and think we’ve seen, but just a thing nonetheless.

I’m going to leave you all with two questions, one I think I already know the answer to and another that still escapes me somewhat.

1. If you took a quick survey of the Black people you happen to know, could you have made this same observation? 

2. Why do you think this is? (I have my theories, but since I spent all weekend moving, I’ll let you all do the heavy lifting today.)

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

What Happens When (Some) People Think You’re Marrying A White Chick

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Two weeks ago, a bit of “I spent all night watching tournament games, and now it’s 11:30pm and I still can’t think of anything to write” writer’s block led me to leave WordPress for a minute and go to ESPN.com to kill some time. While there, I came across a picture of Blake Griffin.

Seeing Griffin’s Alfred E. Neuman-esque hair reminded me that he’s biracial. This led me to wonder which side he identifies with more, and that thought led me to also wonder if there was any specific way to tell which side a biracial person feels more of a connection to. I answered my own question (“Their dating patterns are probably the biggest tell“), thought about whether Blake Griffin dates mostly White girls or Black girls, wondered how each side of his family feels about his dating choices, and finally…

“Hmm. I wonder how people I know would take it if I fell in love with and married a White woman?”

Voila!

This thought effectively ended my block, leading to “How I Fell For, Proposed To, And Will Marry A White Woman”—an early April Fools joke on the VSB readership.

Between here and The Root—where the piece was republished—the responses ran from “Congrats on your upcoming marriage to a White woman!” and “Damn, you got me” to “Does she have a sister?” and “So…why does this dude feel the need to tell us that he’s marrying a White woman. Just marry her ass, have the honeymoon in a bucket of mayo, and be on your Tom-ing way” 

Most (men and women) were amused, though. That wasn’t a surprise. I know the readership here is a bit, well, smarter and a bit less prone to take themselves too seriously than what you usually find on the internet.

Again, most were amused. But, not all.

This was a comment left Thursday evening.

Another sellout. And, yes, just one more “field negro” (after the website of the same name) with a white woman.

And his writing this little essay won’t change that.

Sisters, brothers, we need to raise our children to know and do better. Life is about choices, and this brother made a bad one. If there’s a white person for you, there’s DEFINITELY a black woman for you. Ditto for the sisters with regard to white men and black men.

Once one makes a conscious decision to be with a black person, then it doesn’t matter who else one meets — because one has made a choice. It’s about a certain kind of social and political consciousness that understands the importance of modeling black love, of building strong black families.

It’s brothers like this who will shake their heads at young black kids cursing, their sagging pants, their lack of facility with standard English. But where are they? They’re MIA in the black community, leaving another sister to raise a child on her own, to battle to maintain a certain standard of living on her own, to face the world on her own without a mate.

But it’s also brothers like these black women do not — or certainly should not — miss. If this is where their head is — blown — then we’re far better off without them.

We need to return to a traditional African understanding of community and responsibility. Without it, we will never prosper as a people. *smdh*

Her follow up comment 50 minutes later:

Okay. I’m an impatient reader and am only just now seeing that it was supposed to be an April Fool’s joke.

Uh … not funny. It’s like reading an account of a lynching and then seeing “April Fools!”

The survival of the black family is too serious a matter for such silliness. And the situation it spoofs is too real to make light of.

Let me add that I wasn’t offended. It didn’t make me angry. It simply disgusted me. And then I began to think of the title of the website.

My thought: “Clearly, the brotha isn’t as smart as he thinks he is.”

Well, one thing’s for certain: He’s not as funny as he wants to be.

You know, whenever I watch videos like the one where the father was beating his daughter after catching her making a twerking video, I wonder if people who believe in corporal punishment are on the wrong side of history. I know it’s a traditional part of child-rearing—and I also know that many of us have been spanked before and turned out alright—but I think this is one of those practices that people will look back at in 100 years and think “Damn. Can you believe they still thought it was ok to beat children in 2013? How did they think it was a good thing for fully-grown adults to beat the smallest and weakest person in the house, and how did the courts allow parents to do this?”

Anyway, I’m bringing this up because although I have always been solely interested in and committed to dating Black women, I wonder if people who believe in the type of uncompromising racial solidarity as the person who left that comment are also on the wrong side of history.

I could be wrong, though. Maybe she’s right. I mean, humans are instinctually tribal, and perhaps all this post-racialiciousness isn’t necessarily a great thing.

Like I said, I could be wrong. But, I doubt it.

What do you think?

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

How To Be Really, Really Good At Being A Black Man

Lemme learn y'all asses to something

Lemme learn y’all asses to something

We received a comment last week that basically said Black people in positions where they can help people often don’t do enough, and ended by urging Panama and I to do what we can to mentor aspiring bloggers.

Although I’m still not sure how I’d go about completing that task, I do want to lend a hand to help young people do what I do best: Be really, really good at being a Black man.

I don’t have all the answers for all the people out there who want to be really, really good at being a Black man, but I do have a few tips.

How To Walk

1. Whatever your normal walking speed is, decrease it by 40 percent. If it usually takes you 60 seconds to walk from your cubicle to the office bathroom, now do it in 84 seconds. Time yourself with a stopwatch if necessary.

2. While walking, slowly and subtly bob your head and shoulders from side to side to the rhythm of a chopped and screwed version of Issac Hayes’s Walk On By. If this doesn’t work, David Porter’s version of Hang On Sloopy will do.

How To Look While Walking

Make sure to always look either slightly amused or slightly irritated. This will remind onlookers that you have a big penis.

How To Drive

1. Lean far enough back in your seat that people waiting for buses have to tilt their necks to see your face, but not so far that you have to sit up every time you need you hit your turn signal.

2. Make sure to time your music so that your hardest sounding track just happens to come on right when you’re at a busy intersection. Slowly bob your head, look straight ahead, and pretend like you don’t care if people are looking at you.

3. Only drive cars featured in commercials narrated by a man’s voice.

How To Secure a Loan for $30,000

1. Find the nearest bank.

2. Rob it.

3. Return the next day with all of the money. This will build trust.

4. Do this two more times. After the third time, the bank manager will be so impressed by your magnanimousness that he’ll allow you to keep the money.

How To Have Sex

1. Get naked

2. After getting naked, pause to put on Timberlands and Ray-Bans.

3. Admire self in mirror.

4. Charge cell phone for 15 minutes while still admiring self in mirror.

5. While phone is charging, entertain woman by allowing her to do pull-ups and dips on penis.

6. After phone is charged, instruct woman to turn around.

7. Insert penis.

8. Start recording self

9. Say “Yeah” repeatedly to no one in particular, making sure your voice gets deeper each time.

10. Don’t forget to remember that woman is still there. Do this by asking her to say your name. Hearing your name will remind you that she is still there.

11. Dougie while climaxing.

How To Be Attractive To Black Women

1. If she happens to be dark-skinned, compliment her hair.

2. If she happens to be light-skinned, allude to her “realness” and her “commitment to the struggle.”

3. Ask her if she watched the Melissa Harris-Perry show last week. If she didn’t, she’ll think “Wow. This guy watches Melissa Harris-Perry, and I don’t.” This will arouse her. If she did, she’ll think “Wow. We can watch Melissa Harris-Perry together.” This will also arouse her.

4. Be tall

5. Don’t be short.

How To Grill A Bucket Of Jerk Chicken Wings

1. Have someone (preferably a woman) purchase a bucket of jerk chicken wings.

2. Place wings on grill.

3. Wear gloves for safety, and to safely smack anyone who dares near the wings before you’re done grilling.

4. Stare at jerk chicken wings like jerk chicken wings just told you a joke, and you’re trying not to laugh.

How To Let Everyone On A Packed Bus Know That Although You Gave Up Your Seat To An Attractive White Woman, Her Being An Attractive White Woman Had Nothing To Do With It

1. Give up said seat.

2. After giving up seat, she will thank you.

3. Nod your head, don’t speak, and walk to the back of the bus.

4. Remove copy of The Bluest Eye from your attache.

5. Begin reading while nodding head and taking notes.

How To Say “Word.”

1. Grow out facial hair.

2. When sufficient amount of facial hair has been grown, give self goatee.

3. Rub goatee with thumb and index finger.

4. Shake head slowly, and make face like you’re trying to remember if you need to buy a pack of bacon.

5. Say “Word.”

How To Remind People That Telling You “You kinda look like Stevie J” Isn’t Really A Compliment

1. Kinda look like Stevie J.

2. When people ask you if anyone’s ever told you that you kinda look like Stevie J, lie and say “No.”

How To Successfully Flirt With Cashiers At Rite-Aid

1. Kinda look like Stevie J.

2. When she asks you if anyone’s ever told you that you kinda look like Stevie J, lie and say “No.” When done lying, say “Why?”

3. When she tells you that you kinda look like Stevie J, say “Word?”

4. Tell her you want a wellness card. (Even better if you already have one.)

How To Be Humble

1. Give all praise to God. Or Allah. (Whichever floats your boat)

2. After done giving praise to God (or Allah), allow stripper to finish lap dance.

3. Don’t look like you’re enjoying it too much.

How To Be A Good Dad To Your Son If You’re Not With His Mom Anymore

1. Make son your Facebook profile pic.

2. Sporadically hang around and shit

2. Coach son’s Pee-Wee football team.

3. If son is good, stay in child’s life by continuing to coach.

4. If son sucks, stop coaching, but still hang around sporadically.

Hopefully, this helps. But, if anyone still needs more assistance on how to be really, really good at being a Black man, hit me up at contact@verysmartbrothas.com

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)