About a year ago I told my friend I thought Obama and McCain would end up facing off in November. I figured Obama would win by five to eight points in the popular vote. Now? I'm wondering how many points you have to win by to have it called a landslide.
First CNN tries to become BNN, the Black News Network, by doing a special on being Black in America. Laughable.
Now, NBC is trying to become the National Black Channel. Tonight's late night line-up? Jay Leno has Michelle Obama, Chris Rock, and Darius Rucker...yeah, the Black lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish. And Conan O'Brien's got Charles Barkley on.
Charles Barkley said he was a Republican and he kept his card. I bet Alan Keyes is saying "no fair".
“Sure, we may elect a black president this month. And yeah, Oprah has all kinds of white ladies in her audience. But in real life, it seems the older you get, the less chance you have of being friends with someone who is not in your racial demographic.” - Devin Friedman, GQ November issue, “Will You Be My Black Friend”
On the way to watch the Longhorns squeak one out against Oklahoma State, I jokingly told some friends that the difference between Democrats and Republicans is Democrats have two black friends while Republicans only have one. Obviously, these friends were white.
It may not be that simple, but over the last seven-and-a-half years since I graduated from high school, I've realized that if my math isn't perfect it's pretty darn close.
In high school, the number of black friends a white person has is pretty much dictated by two things: 1) where they went to school and 2) what they did after school.
Case in point, I went to high school in Greenville, South Carolina, and Killeen, Texas - both of which had pretty sizable black student populations - so it was pretty hard for a white person not to be friends with at least one or two black kids. And in high school, if you're in an AP Calculus class of 18 or 20 students, you pretty much consider any non-white person a "friend". Because you really have no choice. That's pretty much why I was so popular in all my classes.
The funny thing is, since most of us black kids didn't live in white neighborhoods most of my classmates lost those black friends the day they graduated. Today, we can thank Facebook for re-connecting people with long-lost black friends.
If you went to a rural high school or private school with fewer students, and certainly fewer black students, you probably have a leg up on big public high school types not because you like black people more, but because you probably grew up in similar socio-economic situations whether your parents had blue or white collar jobs. So when you finished senior year, you still had a connection.
The exception to all this regardless of of public or private schooling is what you did after school.
If you played sports, you probably kept that black friend or two a little past high school because you had more reason to keep in touch and relive your high school basketball team division championship glory days.
If you were in a club, you were probably just friends because you had similar interests. In high school. But there's no 20-somethings version of the Speech and Debate Team unless you've always been planning to go to law school together, and in that case, the high school debate team's one black member - who has wanted to go to law school since high school - is probably getting into Harvard Law. Or Howard. You may get into SMU or George Washington.
If you had some mutual interest in high school, like running or playing in the band, you’re far more likely to keep in touch with that black friend or two only if you maintain your interest in that activity. If you bonded because you both played the trombone, you better be in a jazz band or something if you plan on keeping black friends through music. Or go to a lot of R&B concerts, since all the hip-hop ones are 90 percent non-black anyway.
Basically what I’m saying is that if you think about it, you don’t really know if you have black friends until after high school. Everything up to that point is out of convenience.
The day college starts is the day you start finding out how difficult it is to make black friends. Your classes are too big to bond through microeconomics, your sports teams are probably too good or too insulated to have players who hang out with non-athletes, and your fraternity or sorority already has its token. If you’re lucky, you may join a student group or student government and find one black friend out of that. And there’s a lot of competition for those black people - trust me, I was one of them - so making it all four years with this friend is not going to be easy.
Most colleges and universities don’t make integration a priority. They’re too damn focused on diversity. For example, at my alma mater, The University of Texas in Austin, we had these spirit organizations. They’d wear Texas-themed costumes and get-up (chaps and all) and shoot cannons and take care of our team mascot, Bevo. Really elite, well-respected groups we’re told. But just about all of them had exactly two black members. Diversity is valued more than integration. Unicorns are cooler than zebras.
So even if you were one of those super college students who was the president of your frat or sorority, the student senate leader, college newspaper editor and the star of your intramural co-ed football team, you probably made it out of college with two black friends at best. And no, I'm not talking Facebook friends.
And as Friedman points out, the times get harder as you get older. A general rule of thumb from my observations and calculations is that however many black friends you have in college is how many you’re likely to have after college. The explanation is simple: college is the first time most of us get to "be ourselves" and if you were yourself with one black friend, you probably don't need anymore to function. So if you had two black friends in college, you’ll probably maintain close ties with two black people during your adulthood (at least 20-somethings) either through your office or alumni network or Democratic party affiliation, which brings me back to my original point.
In this politically-charged environment, when white people are more aware of their relationship with black people, everything racial becomes more sensitized. Democrats, sensing the historic nature of this election, have spent 2008 re-energizing their efforts to make new black friends or doubling down on the black friends they do have. Here in D.C., you can pretty much see this taking place at local lounge/restaurant/bookstore Busboys & Poets, where a year ago the ratio of blacks to whites during Sunday brunch was around 7-to-3, now it's almost the opposite.
After all, since Obama is about to be our next president, I realize white people need a surrogate to be able to talk about exactly how historic this is. Otherwise, it’d have the feeling of Hugh Hefner telling you how breast implants feel. I know you get it, but you don’t really understand.
Meanwhile, Republicans aren’t spending time doing this type of race-relations homework. Why? Because white Republicans just lost their second black friend - Colin Powell - and everyone knew it was coming because it was starting to get crowded, what with Michael Steele giving such a stirring speech at the Republican National Convention that he may be the head of the party soon...
Speaking of dancing, here's one of my dancing idols, Ginuwine, and one my my favorite videos of his. I had originally planned on putting up Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" video, but I guess the people behind his royalties care more about selling CDs than letting fans share his great ground-breaking videos to enable embedding. So I settled for one of the guys MJ inspired.
Okay, I'm kidding. No great philosopher ever said those words, but I definitely understand the feeling that led to them. Sometimes when I'm really up or when I'm really down about something, anything, life in general, I get that feeling that tells me to put everything aside for a minute and just dance.
Sometimes, when I get home from a day's work, I simply walk over to my speakers, hook up my PowerBook, load iTunes to my favorite playlist - consisting of every good new club song with a few alt tracks mixed in (think: T.I. followed by Cut Copy followed by Beyonce) - and dance. Yes, this happens in my living room. Yes, I move furniture around. It's my version of Turbo's broom dance.
I'm not anywhere near that level, but a few of my friends know what I mean when I say I'm a pretty good dancer. No lie. A lot of people expect a Black man to be a good dancer (I'm not going to get into a discussion about stereotypes here), but I'm still able to shock people by exactly how well I can dance. It's not bragging if it's true. And it's been this way all my life.
Well, at least since I was five years old. That's when I won a dance contest and the $20 cash prize involved.
Ever since, I've been a pretty legit dancer by most people's standards. I went to Atlanta back in July and that was honestly the only time in at least three years where I went to a club and wasn't necessarily the best dancer there.
What kind of dancing do I do? How was I trained? Well, the answer to both is that I taught myself how to do pretty much anything you've seen in a music video this side of Chris Brown. As I explained it to a friend the other day, I mix my love of poppin' and lockin' - I own the Breakin' 1 and 2 DVDs - with the kind of crump with a Southern twist stuff you may have seen in Stomp the Yard.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of dancers better than me. They do music videos and TV shows and take lessons to try to become professional dancers. But in terms of going to a club and dancing, I'm up there with the best of 'em. I can get a circle formed around me in a club in a matter of seconds and this usually does happen whether I'm in Vegas or Northern Virginia.
But this diatribe isn't about how I dance as much as it's about why I dance. I credit two influences: my dad and hip-hop.
I didn't grow up with my dad. Barely know the guy. But I do know that he loved to play music. He'd put on everything from Kool and the Gang to Kwame. Pretty much from birth, I grew up bobbin' my head to the beat.
Both of my older brothers are the same way, I think. My oldest brother is the only person that owns more music than me and my middle brother is probably the best producer/rapper you've never heard. Seriously.
So from them, my brothers not my dad, I always had someone to share my love of music with. And when you grow up poor and Black, you listen to rap and R&B. And I'm not talking about because it's trendy or cool or on the radio, but because that's what speaks to you and the life you're living.
I didn't have to sell drugs, but when I heard Nas' "The World is Yours", I immediately understood who he was talking to. When I hear Q-Tip's verses on "Sucka Nigga", I know he's trying to teach me something and not someone on the other side of middle class.
So when rap and R&B merged and exploded in the early '90s, that was right around the time that I started to fully realize what kind of life I had and how much of my personality was tied to this culture, this hip-hop culture.
I started to realize that even though some of my clothes weren't as nice or expensive as my classmates' clothes, I could look better just by having more style. I began to notice that my writing improved because my vocabulary improved because I was listening to all this music. And I learned all kinds of stuff about how to survey people and situations, how to talk to girls and how to dance by watching videos and listening to this urban music. Even though I was in a working class duplex-filled neighborhood in Greenville, South Carolina.
And I had big ugly glasses so I had to find unique ways to compensate for that insecurity.
So I convinced myself that dancing was one way to do it. I would be known as the guy that could dance. I would go to middle school and high school parties or teen clubs and dance and make girls want to dance with me. It worked pretty well too.
Fast-forward to college and I pretty much had perfected that whole dancing for female attention thing. But as I get older and care less about picking some girl up at the club, I realized that I never really danced for anyone else. I always danced for myself. Because I love it.
I love hip-hop culture and rap music and I love being able to combine that with my love of attention (haha) and my ability to learn dance moves quickly just by watching videos and movies. And just about every week or two, I get a chance to have fun and showcase what I can do outside of my living room.
Unlike running, which I do by myself 95 percent of the time, I can dance in bars and clubs with dozens of other music lovers. And nowadays the only difference between me hearing that M.I.A. song or that "new" T.I. song on the dance floor and most other people hearing it, is that I've heard it a few weeks or months earlier and already danced to it alone in my living room.