Patrice lounging by a pool, soulfully gazing into your eyes. Photo credit: Dana Marino
I wanted to ask about Brooke Gladstone using the n-word on the panel at the Brooklyn Book Festival — I heard she was heckled.
Brooke got into this riff where she was quoting reality television, so she was like, “Yeah, on reality shows you hear people talking about bitches and hos and niggers.” She even said it quietly, but it was a quote mark situation. Later on in the Q&A a black guy got up and said, You are not allowed to use that word.
What’s your take on that?
As someone who grew up in hip hop culture I’m definitely desensitized to the n-word and generally don’t get too riled up about it, but I’m obviously sensitive to people getting worked up and have a respect for your elders take on it. I felt bad for Brooke a little bit and gave her a pat on the shoulder because she was just trying to make a point. For Brooke it’s going to be a losing battle; she can’t really engage in that and expect to win an argument.
In the book, you have the part about black political figures, then you move on to Black Jesus. It’s pretty great, because people can’t take themselves seriously in this book. You take aim at everyone.
You don’t want to hurt people’s feelings like that guy in the panel, but you need enough distance where humor enters the equation.
You also talk about the Erykah Badu-type who is flaky, spiritual, and totally into herself and guys like Common, who are secretly sexist. You bring up these points and you seem to get it right.
A lot of the concert rappers have been blatantly homophobic but have been people who are supposed to represent higher values, the thinkers of hip hop culture. It becomes tough to challenge rappers; this contradiction works with sexism, too. Mos Def or Common will make these offhand remarks, and since racism is so trenchant you think people shouldn’t come down on them too hard, but at least now there’s enough different vibes and influences that people are starting to be comfortable challenging the status quo.
Queen Latifah just came out this year. Finally.
Yeah, we need a gay rapper. We need an NBA baller. We need people who are occupying positions of influence and power to represent these quote unquote alternative lifestyles.
But they need to be masculine to really get the message across.
Like Omar from The Wire was perfect. A gay thug. I’ve been lobbying for Jay Z and Kanye to really culminate their partnership. I was hoping for a kiss on the VMAs.
Like Lil Wayne kissing Birdman?
Yeah, those jeggings…
He’s a fruit.
Wayne’s approach to drugs is against the orthodoxy of black hip hop culture. Hallucinogenics and coke – the more exotic drugs aren’t usually associated with hip hop, but Wayne and Kid Cudi and these alt rappers show a line where the drugs they use are influencing the output of their creativity. If you just smoke blunts, you might make the same boring songs. So I think both Kanye and J need to kiss, and they need to do ‘shrooms to be great artists.
We should start a Change.org petition. Let’s try for 25,000 signatures.
[laughs] We could get a few votes for that.
Let’s talk about what happens when a young black kid goes to boarding school.
I went there and got the conditioning of privilege where I think I’m entitled to stuff, but then I didn’t have the financial backing to support that kind of thing. [laughs] You’re being told you’re special, but also being told you’re coming from shit. How do you come to terms with that? You can be paralyzed by it or encouraged by it.
You talk about it in the section on Young, Gifted, and Black, but also the part where the blogger tries to explain himself in the ‘hood and is all, “Yo, I wrote for McSweeney’s,” which unsurprisingly doesn’t impress his old friends.
Everyone has a going back to the block story. When my grandfather was still alive I would go back to the Bronx and it would bring tears to my eyes sometimes, just, wow, you can live in this space and have no sense of the world at large or the opportunities. When you break out of that and come back, you realize you can have a narrow, sheltered worldview and not even recognize the potential in yourself. It’s a weird function of what happens with unique, talented Negros. Hey, when I say “negro” what’s your reaction?
In my mind I see Selma in the 1960s, but I have friends who use it as a throwback word. It’s hard because as a white person I just think of water cannons or the NAACP. There’s a lot going on there. What does it mean to you?
I’ve lost my personal attachment to it at this point, but when I started the blog it wasn’t like a thing, I started using the word Negro in school and it was the same thing you were talking about – being a novelty retro word. I would get a laugh so it stuck a little big, but when I started the blog the TAN acronym worked. The word, the blog, that whole thing becomes a Rorschach test that people respond to differently.
There was one time when this guy was hitting on me at a club and I wasn’t responding to it, and he was all, “Do you have a problem with Negros?” So then we had to have this conversation about whether I was racist or just not responsive because I wasn’t attracted to him.
I like that. There’s a leveraging there. For someone who I’m imagining is liberal and has intellectual integrity, if someone challenges you on that front you have to defend your position regardless.
We got into it, and it was kind of great. But I admire that tactic. He was really going for it.
I feel like it could’ve been either way, like I’m gonna throw out “negro” at this girl…
…and guilt trip her into having sex with me.
That would be great for a book. [laughs] Can you be guilt-tripped into having sex with a black guy? I would read that.