Thursday, March 26, 2009

White guy staring

I was at a party a few weeks back. It was a typical Utah house party: rock band, dancing, and no alcohol. After getting wasted on a few root beers, I decided to cut up a rug. As soon as I started doing my patented running man, this one kid looked at me. But it wasn’t just a look. It was a stare. And not just a regular stare. It was an “Oh, I know who you are” stare. I was sure I didn’t know the kid, so I just looked away for most of the time. He was also dancing, and it was apparent that he had memorized the words to the rap song that was blaring out of the speakers. As a few more songs went by, I noticed that he hadn’t lifted his gaze and that he continued to be the master of ceremonies, rapping away to what I thought were pretty inaudible lyrics.

When the stare went on for maybe 5 songs, I was pretty sure of what was going on: he figured I was that minority kid who was “down” (I was wearing a black fitted baseball cap, a sure sign of urban coolness). He wanted recognition for his own coolness—his beanie cap, two-step, and knowledge of hip hop lyrics.

I wanted to make sure that my assumption was correct. I approached him with a poker face, gave him an acknowledging head lift, and said, “What’s up?” He responded, “What’s up, dude?” I said, “You got some pretty good moves. Where are you from?” He responded, “I’m from Florida. Yeah, when I was a kid I had only like three white friends.” I wasn't exactly sure what he wanted me to say to that. Did he want me to compliment him?

Maybe he thought I'd be impressed somehow and would enthusiastically say something like, "Oh, word? So can we be homies?"


  1. Jang, deep down I had always hoped we were friends for this exact reason.

    I think I can understand the insincerity of someone pursuing acquaintance only for street credit. When I was in Northeastern Brazil, it was cool for the people to say they knew and hung with the white Americans. Some would only say "good day" to me if their friends were around. Of course, it was always said, "what's up, whitey" just to show how tight we were that they could call me that. One cultural caveat however is that the racial names there are not always interpreted derisively. Even if you are strangers, tone and context are weighed as well. On a side note, I would hear "Are you Tom Cruise?" instead of "Are you Jackie Chan?"

    While association for street credit seems blatantly selfish (and annoying), I have been wondering if there are cases where relationships are pursued for more altruistic motives. I am reminded of a brief exchange in Malcolm X:
    Woman (caucasian): ". . . what can I do to help you and further the cause?"
    Malcolm: "Nothing."
    Though brief, the exchange contains other context and many levels of complexity (not to mention the difference in the book version) that could be a blog unto itself. Mine is a question of possibility. Is it possible to say this and be relevant: "I see that your race is different than mine, but I know that we are brothers. I may never know the full pain of persecution, mine is the remorse of the persecutor. The hate that I was taught is coming back to haunt those who spewed it forth. I do not want to steal your chance to stand alone, to strengthen. But I'd rather bleed than stand idly by when my brother's being beaten."

  2. This is my favorite post so far. Technically you have to grow up with 5 white friends to be considered white. So he is kind of a minority too.

  3. Hmmm. I think that you may be tearing this white boy up too much. It does sound like the white boy wanted some R E S P E C T. However, I also think that he may have been just trying to explain how he was so familiar with hip hop, since he is a white boy and thought that he was trying to relate to you, a minority who is "down". I think that you're writing this post to express your feelings about assumptions that some people make. However, I think that his assumption about you was somewhat accurate too. YOu got some jangsta in ya. Why not be impressed with a white boy who is down with music that is more targeted to blacks and other minorities?

  4. Staring for 5 consecutive songs??? Hmm... I don't know... I think he was hitting on you. He just liked you! I mean who wouldn't be attracted to jang's urban coolness. let's be honest now.

  5. Jang, I'm really enjoying this blog. It gives a perspective we don't hear enough. Keep the posts coming. jlm

  6. Whoa. I just tried to take your ethnicity poll. Where's the section for Hispanic/Latino? I have no box to check.

  7. Jang, what a refreshing, honest and a unique blog! I'm happy that you're a blogger now (never thought u would but now that you do, esp. about race, it is SO you. ;)

  8. this is an interesting post about social interaction. i live in DC and our church community is really diverse-- for the first time in my life, having grown up in rural California and gone to school in Utah, do I really have a chance to become friends with African Americans. And I celebrate that, and then I wonder is that racist?

  9. Actually, I like MissKim's thought. I think he wanted some Jang. LOL!

  10. i think misskim hit the nail on the

  11. You should have had a freestyle battle with the Floridian and put him in his place. Initial stares will boil forth internalized feelings and thoughts not necessarily intended from the other party. So did you spark a dialogue?

  12. Jordan, (you know that I've been your friend for ten years because you are from the street.) You bring up interesting points, most of which I do not have energy to reply to right now, but I will surely write it in a post later. You're right that Tom Cruise comments are similar to Jackie Chan comments, however being compared to a good looking guy like Tom Cruise is kind of a compliment... But Jackie Chan, eh... not so much.

    Miss Kami, surprisingly you are not alone in this being your favorite post. I had no idea that ppl would like it so much.

    Birdie in DC, it's not racist, per se, to desire to become friends with people of different races. But as Jordan mentioned, it could be disingenuous to want to become friends with someone because it's cool to have some black friends so that it kind of boosts your own coolness. It's kind of like how people want to be friends with the popular kids because the association itself will boost your own status. But I think it's a different story if you really just want to be their friends because you appreciate some of the different culture, perspective, and experiences that they have.

    Brian Bambl, some assumptions are perfectly safe to make, and it would be humanly impossible to ever not make an assumption. If a kid is wearing hip hop clothing (which I really wasn't, besides a baseball cap), sure you can safely assume that the kid likes hip hop music. But that doesn't mean that proper etiquette is thrown out the window and that you can act on those assumptions in a really ridiculous way, like stare at someone for five songs straight.

    MissKim and Minerva, I think there are other blogs for gay issues.

    Sunnygroov, that kid would destroy me in a freestyle battle.

  13. Jang, that is a hilarious point that I didn't consider at the time. I only thought "That's not who I am, I don't look anything like him." When writing the post, I was thinking of the many ways I didn't want to be compared with Tom Cruise (mental state, rich, spoiled, hollywood values, etc.) and all ways I did want to be compared to Jackie Chan (martial arts, choreography, bilingual, charismatic, etc.). It would be less complicated (and more humorous) to judge how offensive it is based on the attractiveness of the person they call you. Maybe it could be your next poll?

    Who would you least like to be called?
    Steve Buscemi/Judy Dench
    Mel Gibson/Paris Hilton
    Michael Richards/Courtney Love

    I wonder if that Florida kid thinks Jackie Chan is more attractive than Tom Cruise . . . I wonder who he'd rather be seen with.

  14. I think Jackie Chan is a stunningly good looking dude. Mannn, has European/Western beauty standards infected us all?