This piece was submitted from a member of our enthusiastic community of readers. If you’re interested in sharing your opinion on any cultural, political or personal topic, create an account here and check out our how-to post to learn more.
The year was 2001. I was back home in Toronto, driving in my mom’s Hyundai on our way to the cemetery to visit my dad, who’d recently passed away from cancer. His death was unexpected; it completely changed my perspective on life and my future. I was unemployed, having quit a job that, like me, seemed to have no direction. I was afraid of dying unexpectedly without accomplishing anything substantial in my life.
I remember approaching the gates to the cemetery and hearing those first few chords and lyrics:
“they love to tell you stay inside the lines / but there’s something better on the other side”
If you’ve heard “No Such Thing,” or John Mayer’s intricate guitar melodies and silken vocals, then you know where I'm coming from — or maybe you don't. That's OK. It's really not the point. Before the eyes start rolling and my peeps start judging me, wait: I’m making my point, but you have to come along for the ride.
I bought the album Room for Squares. I knew every song lyric for lyric, guitar lick for guitar lick. I even bought an acoustic guitar and named her Georgia. Then I bought Inside Wants Out, heard "Comfortable," and fell in love. I bought every album Mayer had out at the time. I didn’t care that he was white or I was a Black girl feeling like I was betraying my ancestry because I was fond of his blue-eyed blues. It was just that he seemed to get me. It was like he was writing and singing about my life.
As a Black girl, I felt a sense of pride in this puppy-eyed artist; he was pop, but not; he could distinguish Miles from Coltrane. And he loved an imperfect girl who, when I bought his albums, I was. Not to mention, he was showing respect to two legendary African American musicians.
I wasn’t ashamed to love this white boy. But then, it destroyed me to learn during a 2010 interview with Playboy magazine, he said his cock was a white supremacist. I also couldn’t believe I didn’t know he’d actually used the word "nigger." There’s actually a reason I didn’t. Like any long-term relationship, you get bored. You seek new experiences, looking for that spark again. But after discovering the Jennifer Anniston, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Jessica Simpson, sexual napalm s**t, I could see that John just wasn’t that into me, and so I left him alone. I mean the man even appeared on Chappelle's Show in one of the comedian's most brilliant skits about Black folks and how we respond to different musical instruments. I was betrayed!
Recently, I attended a John Mayer concert, and if I’d known all of this, I wouldn’t have gone. To tell you the truth, the concert was just aiight. If I wanted to hear the Continuum album, I could have saved myself some money and listened to it alone in my bedroom.
Of course, he’s since tearfully apologized about the controversy and I get it — it could have been the after-effects of sexual napalm, or the infamous six-day hangover, but he had a lot of s**t going on.
I heard that he tearfully apologized and regrets the whole incident, and I suppose having an all-Black back-up band (except Pino Palladino) was his form of an apology? Or some form of musical reparations? C’mon John!
Black music, or what was once called “race” music (jazz, swing and blues), were indicative of segregation. Additionally, the controversial stereotypes associated with Black people were associated with the music. I’ll skip the history lesson, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about how Black music and culture has been bastardized from the blues right down to hip-hop and urban vernacular. So called “race” music was literally born of the blood, sweat and tears of an oppressed and enslaved population whose voices were suppressed along with their civil rights. John Q. Public is woefully undereducated about racism in this country, so it’s no surprise they think rock and roll started with Elvis. John Mayer’s musical influence was Stevie Ray Vaughn, an incredible guitar player, blues musician and a white man.
Herein lies the great race conundrum. What do we do about this? Music is life. It is the great communicator and healer. It brings people who don’t even speak the same language together. But, Black music never becomes popular until white America gets involved.
Look at rap — it started as a political movement speaking to issues of social and criminal justice. The pioneers of hip-hop were poor and crying out for the government to look at wealth inequality. Now hip-hop is a billion-dollar industry with artists boasting about the millions of dollars and Maybachs they own. The industry (rich white men) continues to profit from and appropriate our culture without looking back.
Here’s a challenge: ask most white people who their favorite rapper is and nine times out of 10, it’s Eminem (can’t say I blame them). Most of them weren’t exposed to rap until a white boy got famous performing it. Most people had no idea he was discovered by Dr. Dre, a former member of N.W.A. suburban moms would go into cardiac failure listening to N.W.A.’s music. Now, hip-hop is used to advertise everything from fast food to sports. Rap music has been completely severed from its roots and its message.
I saw the film Once Upon a Time In Hollywood a couple of days ago. The soundtrack was pretty dope. I heard a familiar tune, “Keep Me Hanging On,” performed by white rock band Vanilla Fudge. “Keep Me Hanging On,” was originally recorded by The Supremes, of Motown/Berry Gordy fame. Berry Gordy, the legendary founder of Motown, put his blood, sweat, tears and other fluids into creating a Black label for Black musicians putting out Black music. At least the Rolling Stones had the decency to pay homage to blues legend Muddy Waters by naming their band after him.
When I hear chants like “send [them] back,” or the other racist vitriol spewed in this country lately, I think about the contributions of Blacks to this country and how those contributions get swept under the rug of racism in America. Far too much money is made off of the backs of Blacks to "send us back" — soul food, braids, urban vernacular and more. But when white folks speak our talk, suddenly they are an acceptable part of the dominant lexicon.
Speaking of braids, to our stylish readers who wear them but have no idea where the style originated, I challenge you. Find out.