John Mayer is no stranger to controversy. In various interviews and on Twitter, he has made comments that many consider to be racist, sexist, and homophobic.
Mayer is a musician, and as such, we expect him to challenge societal norms. However, rather than actually saying anything transgressive, Mayer has so far only managed to reinforce the various stereotypes that are dominant in our culture.
In an recent interview with Playboy, when Mayer was asked whether or not Black women throw themselves at him, he responded with the following gem:
“I don’t think I open myself to it. My dick is sort of like a white supremacist. I’ve got a Benetton heart and a f*ckin’ David Duke c*ck. I’m going to start dating separately from my dick.”
After receiving a vicious backlash regarding his statements in the interview, Mayer apologized on Twitter, stating, in various tweets:
“Re: using the ‘N word’ in an interview: I am sorry that I used the word. And it’s such a shame that I did because the point I was trying to make was in the exact opposite spirit of the word itself. It was arrogant of me to think I could intellectualize using it, because I realize that there’s no intellectualizing a word that is so emotionally charged. And while I’m using today for looking at myself under harsh light, I think it’s time to stop trying to be so raw in interviews… It started as an attempt to not let the waves of criticism get to me, but it’s gotten out of hand and I’ve created somewhat of a monster. I wanted to be a blues guitar player. And a singer. And a songwriter. Not a shock jock. I don’t have the stomach for it. Again, because I don’t want anyone to think I’m equivocating: I should have never said the word and I will never say it again.”
Like many people today, Mayer understands racism in terms of overt acts and/or language. This is why, upon reflection, he could understand why regardless of the reason, a White man using the N word (which he did in another part of the interview) is unacceptable. While his apology falls well within his hipster understanding of racism, the fact that he didn’t mention the ways in which his comments were both racist and sexist, speaks to the ways in which it continues to be acceptable to marginalize Black women.
The overt way in which we speak about race has altered, thus making covert racism the standard of our current time. Even though Mayer may have felt that his commentary about whom he sleeps with to be a personal statement of desire, it is also reflective of a long history of White hegemony.
Black women as a group do not need to be desired by John Mayer, but his inability to see Black women as desirable mirrors the sentiments of a lot of White men. Many of us can point to a time when we have faced rejection of our person simply based on race. I have been told that I am “pretty for a Black girl,” by a White man who assumed that this was a compliment. I have also been told by my White male supervisor that his image of beauty is White women and that he has never been attracted to Black women, because they are simply “not beautiful.”
Black women have never been considered the “girls next door.” At best, we are the women you have sex with, who rarely-to-never get introduced to mom. Mayer’s comments were hurtful, because they reminded Black women of the multitude of ways that we are not considered women. In every media format, White women continue to be held up as the epitome of beauty, whereas Black women are mostly there for the purposes of exotic titillation. In a world in which real power is continually denied women, restricting beauty, which is one of the few real paths to power, desexualizes Black women and marks us as powerless.
It is quite ironic that Mayer compared his heart to Benetton, because the company has continually come under fire for its racist, essentialist advertising. This is beside the fact that Mayer has performed with several Black artists and most recently he performed at Larry King’s fundraiser for Haiti, thus giving the appearance that he not only accepted Blacks, but disagreed with the social imbalance.
The whole time that he was carefully constructing this image, he drew strict guidelines as to the limits of his tolerance in his personal life. Black women are good enough to share a stage with, and to promote his work, but never good enough to love. In fact, we’re not even good enough to f*ck. When it comes to Black women, there is always a but.
It is this nagging but that keeps us up at night. No matter how much we may battle against it, part of one’s self perception is always based on how you are viewed by others. Mayer can count on his Whiteness, masculinity, cisgender status and class position to assure him a seat at the table. Meanwhile, Black women must always be wary of those whom we trust.
We have tried to pretend that racism has been reduced, and we have tried to pretend that the history of abuse of Black women by White men no longer has bearing on the present day. Still, the fragile hold that we have on this fantasy is too often pierced by the arrogant ramblings of men like Mayer.
Our failure to accept this dehumanization as the cost of being Black and female in this world is used against us to once again deny our femininity. Softness and passivity are for those who have never had to bare the sting of sexism combined with racism.
John Mayer may only have spoken his truth, but it is important to note that too many White men use truth as a way of affirming their place at the top of the ladder. As a straight cisgender White male of class privilege, Mayer will never know what it is like to have his masculinity seriously challenged, after all.
John Lennon once famously sang that “Woman is the Nigger of the World,” but perhaps a more accurate lyric would have been “Black Woman is the Nigger of the World,” because despite of all of our trials and tribulations, basic respect remains an elusive dream.