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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I Can't Believe It

I was going to write about my recent field trip to the Brookfield Zoo. Embarrassing one’s children is always a worthwhile part of the parenting process.

Something happened at work, however, that I had to write down.

By and large, the country’s perception of Black men is not a flattering one. The most favorable is that of an oversexed musician or a young athlete who has problems with the police, baby mommas or drugs. Or a combination of three.

The least favorable is that skinny guy with the curl bag and gold teeth the evening news always seeks to interview after something crazy happens in our community. Or some heavyset guy who reminds me of Big Worm in Friday.

These caricatures do their damage, but my concern isn’t that the rest of the world will view me as Pookie or some baller named Kashawnanon.

I saw something at work yesterday that showed me the true danger of stereotypes.

A guest at my place of business requested a late check out. During the week, this is the type of courtesy hotels happily extend regulars, but some folk take advantage. This person stays with us regularly but has tried every trick in the book to get a discount, a free room or attention above and beyond what a good property should offer. When people throw ketchup on their sheets and say you rented them a room with a bloody mattress, hoteliers start looking for what other scams such an individual may pull. These are people who will scream to high heaven how much they hate your establishment and then demand free nights.

If I’m that dissatisfied with a hotel, it would have to pay me to stay there. I’m not trying to spend any more time in a hellhole than necessary. Not even for free.

Those of you who’ve read YNB for a while remember my tales of Bad Guests # 1 & 2? This person tops them.

This gentleman keeps getting over, however. He asked for a late check out, after already wheedling a steep discount for his room from a new desk agent and after having tried to pull a fast one with paying his bill once before. As a member of management, I share the blame in this. Why keep doing business with this guy? Well, there’s a recession, and the hotel industry is hurting, and frankly, he’s not a violent or destructive guest.

He’s just slick.

So yesterday when the desk agent pops her head into our office and asks if we can extend this guy yet another break, the desk manager says, emphatically, “No!” Minutes later the agent is back with the usual request from this guest to see someone in management.

I have little patience for such people, and as the desk manager rises from her seat, I shrug into my jacket to lend some managerial support. I’ma big guy.

We go up front and I look around. All that I see is an elderly Caucasian guy and a man who reminds me of Carlton from “Fresh Prince of Bell Air”.

Carlton waits his turn then politely requests his late check out, along with other freebies. Not seeking to override the authority of the desk manager, I stand silently behind her, confused as she grants his request.

“What gives?” I said when we are back in our office. “I thought we were gonna put this guy out once and for all!”

“I know,” she sighed. “I can’t explain…”

I can.

Stereotypes like Pookie, Junebug and Man Man have conditioned a lot of folk to be prepared to instantly say “No!” when a Black man even asks for the time of day.

So most of us aren’t ready for the well spoken Black guy. And there are slicksters who have used that to their advantage for decades.

If you don’t speak like Magic Johnson, you’re in.

Think I’m lying?

Who’s living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

It’s happened to me, and I use these powers for good. I go into places where people are ready to call the police until I open my mouth. Suddenly, people are looking at me like I’m a damn unicorn, and they start GIVING me things. It gets so bad to where they will lean over and make disparaging comments about other customers to me, as if I were part of some select club.

It’s not often I will say this, but white people, this is your fault. You spent years isolated in your own environment that you figured any of us who dresses and talks like Bryant Gumbel is some kind of Super Negro. Like Michael, Eddie and Magic, we’re not Black. We’re something else. Since we’re not Black, however, we must be OK. Here, JD-wanna borrow my Mercedes? I’m not using it. No. It’s OK. Take it. I got some money for gas. Just don’t drive on the low end. THOSE PEOPLE live there, and you might not be safe…

I walk into stores talking to my wife and white guys pull me aside, asking if it’s exotic being married to “one of them”.

As a result, shysters who know how to pronounce their ts, and rs are making a killing.

I had a boss once, a Black small business owner, whose business was a phenomenal business to business concept. The problem? Dude could not manage a kid’s play date. He ran through money like crazy. Do you know why he stayed in business?

Because he had Caucasian business partners, savvy businessmen themselves, who kept throwing money at him. Tens of thousands of dollars. He’d bankrupt one business, and these same folk would be back on board for the next go round.

“Man, when these folks see one of us who can speak well, the sky is the limit!”

I was young at the time, so I thought he was crazy. Like I said, I was young.

It’s ridiculous. Barack Obama is a bright man who has pushed through a lot of beneficial legislation that will benefit Americans for years to come. Black people didn’t put him in the White House, however. We just don’t have the number.

I’m sure in those crowds were tons of folk who didn’t give one whit about his platform. “What’s his stance on gun control?” “Dunno. Have ya heard him TALK?” They saw his skin color and listened when he opened his mouth, and the rest was history. To this day, only the Republicans stand against him, probably because they have enough coloreds who talk right in their own party, so they’re inoculated.

I had a disagreement with another boss once over a different deadbeat guest whose balance was getting bigger and bigger.

“You gotta take action,” I begged. “This guy is soaking us!”

“Nonsense, he’s not that type,” came the reply. “For Pete’s sakes, James, he talks like you! He’s just having a tough go of it. Let’s float him til July…”

It was December.

There are exceptions. If you talk like a lot of sportscasters, like speaking correct English requires thought, so you are obviously speaking minutes after deciding just WHAT to say, and you over do it? Un uh. Dead giveaway. Or if you sound too much like Carlton. It’s weird. You have to be articulate but with some bass in your voice. You’re not TRYING to sound like anything other than what you ARE is the trick, I guess. Those are the guys who appear to get over the most.

I think this is limited to guys, as well. Our society is perfectly accepting and aware of Black women who speak like Oprah does and still accepts them “going black” and neck rolling and cutting someone down as if they were their mommas.

A Black man, however? Shoot. Sky’s the limit. It’s mind boggling.

I don’t know whether it is one of the twisted nuances of racism or it says something about how Americans really do have it in them to look past color. “I like Will Smith. He raps happy!”

No, Dummy. He pronounces polysyllabic words as if he’s been speaking the language most of his life, and as if his parents raised him with some sense. As a result, ya’ll made a billionaire out of him.

All of those years as a kid that I spent getting beaten up for not “talking Black” suddenly come into perspective.

There’s a market out here. I don’t think it’s fair. I was taught to speak correct English because my mother would pop me out of annoyance if I didn’t. Now some fools have turned this into a cottage industry? I feel like Eddie Murphy the time he put on make up and infiltrated the other side...

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