"Sometimes just making yourself at home is revolutionary" - Slumberland by, Paul Beatty
It was recently brought to my attention that often times I am the lone black character in the projects I do. Watching my demo reel with a director who jokingly asked "which one are you in this scene?" made it clear to me: I have become a token black guy! That explains why, on a recent trip back from LA, Sean Patrick Thomas and Donald Faison showed me so much love in the first class lounge at LAX! I thought their greetings of "Dude, wassup?" while jabbing their Stellas in the air was because we were some of the only brothas under 40 in the first class lounge. But now I realize it was because we are some of the only Negroes in the first class lounge in Hollywood also known as mainstream projects. How the hell did I end up here? I don't even drink Stellas. I drink Henny (double shot neat if you're asking, sidecar if you're sexy). And if you ever hear me refer to some cat as "dude" send help immediately, because I've been kidnapped by the A.A.N. (Association for Assimilating Negroes) and they've threatened to lock me in a room and make me watch Rugby and reruns of the "Wayne Brady Show" if I didn't incorporate the word into my everyday decidedly hood vernacular. I mean yeah I went to a predominantly white private school in Westfield, NJ during my formative years, but my family still does the "bus stop" unprovoked, music or no, at every family gathering. Ok, ok, I did play soccer my whole life (before my man Freddy Adu), but my Dad's from the Bahamas, it's what they do! Why is white America so comfortable with such an non-assimilated black man? My guess is because I'm comfortable with myself and therefore am at home in all settings. I've also been blessed with opprtunities that have allowed me to be exposed to many different walks of life without being forced to take any particular one on fully as my own. No "powdered sugar black guy" business over here. That just wasn't my upbringing.
Comfort is a huge issue in the black middle class. We're comfortable with Barack, but squirm in our seats at the thought of Jerimiah Wright opening his mouth and making public the dinning room table conversations that we've had for years. I, for one, personally hope Barack has a BBQ on the front lawn of the White House to celebrate his presidency. It is time for a change. Time for the black middle class to stop trying to assimilate and just be whomever you are. Whether you like BBQ or Sushi, malt Liquor or a single malt scotch, own it and move on. Hollywood, often times a reflection of white America as a whole, responds to those who are comfortable in their own skin and able to bring that to the table. Don't get me wrong, the fact that the decision makers need to feel "comfortable" with your life's experience isn't lost on me. Flavor Flav is a man who is very comfortable in his skin but I doubt mainstream Hollywood is comfortable enough with his life experiences to invite him to drink Stellas and watch the Lakers with the family. But he doesn't care! And I love him for that.
Flav doesn't represent the black middle class. He reps for the lower class who is crystal clear on how they are viewed by mainstream America and, most importantly, by themselves. They, unlike middle class blacks, do not harbor dreams of one day fitting in with white America. I've even had friends explain to me that they don't partake in certain activities because "that's some white people shit." Although a crude and arguably ignorant statement, it speaks to how clear they are about what they like and how they are viewed. Flavor Flav speaks to and sometimes for them. He is accepted in some form by the mainstream largely due to this fact. Not because he's a Coon (as he's often times called in my middle class circle of friends), but because he's himself. My more "user friendly" counterparts in the Token Black Guy club are also very comfortable with themselves and their experiences. Granted theirs were probably a lot less "hood" than mine and therefore make mainstream Hollywood very comfortable with them, but they are true to their personal experiences and should be applauded in the same way I applaud our ebony courtroom jester turned love guru . Many are not trying to be "white", but rather their experience in life is one that may be more in line with that of a white person in America. We as black folk can't afford to spend another minute on worrying about how a largely uninterested white America views us. If it doesn't directly effect their lives, they DO NOT CARE. When Michelle Obama was referred to as Barack's "Baby momma" on CNN I think it was made very clear that in white mainstream America, the only difference they see between Barack Obama and 50 Cent is a suit. It is merely our responsibility as artists to bring our unique experiences to our work. One cannot aspire to be a token black dude, your feeble attempts will only be exposed similarly to Master P on "Dancing With the Stars". Makes no sense, it's an obvious cry for attention from an unimpressed audience. Flavor Flav isn't trying to be outrageous, he just is. Donald Faison isn't trying to fit in with white folk...he just does. And both are otay with me (sorry couldn't resist the homage to one of our finest coons to ever grace the screen). Sometimes the best thing one can do to combat a stereotype is just be oneself. Kick back with your malt liquor in one hand and fried chicken in the other, and turn up the gangsta rap if that's what makes you feel at home because that's revolutionary in this day and age. The revolution will be televised and chances are I'll be the token black guy.