John Mayer's attempts at solidarity rub the wrong way

    What’s grinding your gears? Writer Julia Haskins has the answer to that question. In what, according to Haskins, is not at all a shameless rip-off of Family Guy, she will explore the unsettling and downright upsetting issues concerning civil rights, human rights, and political correctness.

    Currently Grinding My Gears: Tasteless Interviews

    John Mayer: Singer. Songwriter. Black guy?

    Nobody ever said that John Mayer was the most insightful or articulate person, but his recent interview in Playboy only served to perpetuate his often tactless reputation.

    In the magazine’s March issue, Mayer gave a convoluted and outrageous interview that fired up the blogosphere with talk of whether he is racist, homophobic, or just plain wack. Sprinkled among his musings on his past relationship with Jennifer Aniston and his love for Miley Cyrus, he discussed how cool he is with black people and gay people. But because he can allegedly identify with them so much, he’s comfortable referring to them as “niggers” and “fags.”

    Mayer went with the idea that if you’re down with the minorities, you can use their words with impunity. In his interview, Mayer utilized the classic tactic of assuming solidarity within with a group by using derogatory language associated with that group (think about every terrible comedy about a lovable white person awkwardly assimilating into black culture). It may have been clever to Mayer in theory, but it failed miserably in execution.

    The “Hood Pass” Argument

    Straight outta Fairfield, Conn. Holla.

    In his own twisted way, Mayer seems to be comparing his status to the plight of the African American in terms of receiving good service to make a point about discrimination. But throwing in the n-word makes him seem like he really is trying to see himself on the same level as black people. I understand your pain, so I can use the word that has haunted you for generations, he seems to imply.

    He is overly confident, assuming the right to use such a hateful word, and that black people love him. I’m sure he has his black fans, but whatever swagger he feels he possesses doesn’t necessarily make him an icon in the black community, and there is nothing particularly striking about his contributions to black people that could warrant such a volatile statement.

    The Street Cred Argument

    Black people of America, John Mayer knows your struggle.

    This is really where Mayer waxes philosophical. He encapsulates the entire essence of blackness into the idea that it’s about making the best of the situation. While this may be a part of the definition to some, it’s quite bold to define the nature of being black without having ever experienced it. And while he does admit that he doesn’t share the “collective struggle of black America,” it’s silly to say that his struggle could be “similar to one black dude’s.” Obviously. We all have the same tribulations regardless of race, from parking tickets to heartbreak to the quarter system. He shares the same struggles as others not because of the black experience, but because of the human experience.

    The “I Had a Pseudo-Homosexual Encounter with a Prominent Gay Blogger So I Must Like Gay People” Argument

    Because kissing a gay guy makes me open-minded.

    The only man I’ve kissed is Perez Hilton,” Mayer said. “It was New Year’s Eve and I decided to go out and destroy myself. I was dating Jessica at the time, and I remember seeing Perez Hilton flitting about this club and acting as though he had just invented homosexuality. All of a sudden I thought, I can outgay this guy right now. I grabbed him and gave him the dirtiest, tongue-iest kiss I have ever put on anybody—almost as if I hated fags.”

    Mayer’s first offense is in his description of Hilton “flitting about” in a stereotypically gay fashion, bringing up hackneyed images à la Queer Eye. Like his elucidation of black people, he has a very close-minded idea of what being gay is. But instead of striving for a better life like your typical black guy, being gay is about looking the part and savagely toungue-ing the gayest guy in the club. But that, and using the word fags, is acceptable because he actually likes gay guys. Or else he wouldn’t have said that he didn’t hate fags, because he’s only being ironic. Sort of. Mayer really made things complicated for himself and would have fared much better to have just said that he was ok with gay people.

    Seeing what hot water he had gotten himself into, Mayer rushed to his Twitter to apologize:

    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.

    Mayer’s remarks were more groan-worthy than cause for serious intervention, but they do show that many of us do become a little too comfortable using derogatory language among our peers, and we begin to conflate attempts at irony with prejudice. Just because we jest in private among those like us, that doesn’t always make it acceptable, and we don’t want to become so complacent that we would slip on a national scale.

    I’ll never forget a discussion in my dorm about saving energy during our Green Rep elections. One girl vowed to remind people to turn off the lights, but “wouldn’t be a Nazi about it.” “What did you say?” a girl immediately demanded. I almost stupidly reminded the offended girl that the candidate was Jewish as well and that it wasn’t a big deal, but if it genuinely upset her, what right did I have to tell her to chill out? It’s easy to forget that not everyone shares our sense of humor or understands our idea of irony. This doesn’t mean that we have to sacrifice our character, but just being aware could save us a lot of humiliation in the long run.

    Thankfully Mayer is stepping back to get a better sense of his actions (although we’re still waiting for his apology for using the ‘F word’ as well), and in the process is reminding us that sometimes we just need to keep our stupid mouths shut.


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