Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Meet A Black Guy: Good Natured or Borderline Racist!?!

I thought I was providing a valuable public service when I introduced my Ask An AverageBro mailbag feature awhile back. I got lots of questions, most of a cultural (not necessary racial) nature. BTW, the first installment of The Ask An AverageBro Mailbag is coming very soon. If you've got something you wanna ask, hurry up and do so.

Anyways, it's no secret that while black folks might seem ubiquitous on TV, we're still barely 12% of the US population. Since I've got a Day Job that requires constant travel, I've been to many corners of the country where I'm not only the only black guy in the meeting, but probably the only black dude in the entire county.

From Utah, to Kansas, to Oregon, to South Dakota, to West Virginia, I've been a boatload of places where I seriously doubt any colored man has ventured before, all in the name of the almighty mortgage. In most of these places, I'm treated with the utmost respect, and find people exceedingly friendly, especially in Utah. Sure, you get some curious/borderline insulting cultural questions ("You like chicken don't you? There's a great fried chicken place on Main Street") from time to time, but I don't usually take this stuff seriously.

The University of Maryland professor who ran the mentoring program I was in last year said that whenever we're in the right mood [note the italics], we should try and actively engage people when they ask such questions. Because reality is many white people don't know anything about blacks, and instead revert to believing stereotypes when placed in an uncomfortable situation. This isn't racist, it's merely a lack of exposure. Many have never sat down and broken bread with us, many don't have a "black friend", and there's the very rare white person who has never even met a real, living, breathing Negro in person. And if they haven't met one, how would they otherwise know that we're not all rappers and ballers?

It seems like a gentleman in Oregon is taking this same ethos to a whole nother' level, and then some.

The booths at the Saturday Corvallis Farmers’ Market have a wild mix of fresh produce, tasty food, plants and flowers.

But this week, a table just outside the bazaar offered something more bizarre — “Meet a Black Guy.”

Those who participated in the free service could chat with 21-year-old Corvallis resident Jeff Oliver, and get pictures taken with him.

“It’s a statement about diversity in Corvallis. It’s not a very diverse place,” said Oliver, a lifelong Oregonian. He hoped to promote understanding, break stereotypes and perhaps even provide a comedic moment for hundreds of people strolling along the riverfront.

The booth drew a mixed reaction, however.

“I think this is hysterical. The entire market’s great,” said Jeremy Stand of the Bronx, who was in Corvallis to visit family. Oregon, in general, is a pretty Caucasian place, he said.

Sherry Littlefield of Corvallis said the booth was unnecessary. She and friend Ron Naasko said they have black friends, and would be voting for Barack Obama for president.
Personally, I don't think there's anything wrong with what the guy's doing here, for many of the same reasons mentioned above. I think it's a bit odd that Corvallis is a college town (I've been there, it's nice), yet there's still a need for such a thing. But that's just nitpicking. I say more power to Jeff Oliver.

Seriously, when you've got the mainstream media confusing a simple pound/dap between a man and his wife as a terrorist gesture, it's clear that there's some huge level of disconnect between white America and everyday black folks. We've seen this ignorance played out during the Rebb'n Wright scandal, and should Obama win in November, I suspect we'll see a similar level of pointless Cultural Anthropology play itself out in newspapers and amongst cable talking heads. Can you imagine the news reports when the Obamas bust out the Electric Slide at the Inaugural Ball? The first time Barack decides to let loose and grow a goatee? The countless examinations of what's on little Sashia and Malia's iPods? I'm sure it'll be a racket.

But at the root of this all is the need for whites to be willing to learn something (anything) about other cultures beyond ethnic cuisine. Black folks are inundated with well rounded images of white culture from the cradle to the grave. They're on every sitcom. Every drama. Every action movie. Every news show. Hell, there's an entire B-movie cable network dedicated to the tragedy, vulnerability, and complexity of the white female psyche.[1] Black women, uhhh, not so much.

So, I applaud Jeff Oliver's tongue-in-cheek attempt at bridging the gap. And I wonder if the rest of us should maybe consider doing the same thing, albeit in a different fashion.

Question: What do you think of Jeff Oliver's Meet A Black Guy booth? As a black person, do you feel occasionally [note the italics] obligated to dispel stereotypes? What's the oddest "cultural curiosity" question you've ever been asked?

Black Guy’ booth livens up Corvallis Saturday Market [Corvallis Gazette Times]

Fox's "Terrorist Fist Jab" [Yahoo]

[1] It just so happens to be one of my favorite channels too. Cyber Capri Suns to the AverageCommenter who correctly names said cable channel. I did a whole post on this awhile back.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.