Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Affectation and Honesty, Projection and Patronization

This keeps happening: I meet black people, and as I speak to them, I notice mounting exasperation and disgust in their faces. They've pegged me as yet another patronizing white guy trying to "talk black" with them.

The problem is that I naturally speak in a highly informal patter of jazz musician phrases and inflections (because that's what I am, at heart, even though I use a different voice in many of my writings here). It struck people as much more in character back when I was a kid with crazy hair and a trombone case perpetually strapped to my back. But my current appearance as a bland middle-aged white dude is at odds with how I talk (not to mention with how I think, behave, and believe; or with my motives, or with the source of my odd-seeming intensity*).

I'm mortified to be seen as racially patronizing. So I've started speaking to new black people in the most Caucasian possible manner - my impression of Richard Pryor's imitation of a white guy. And the funny thing is that it goes over perfectly well. Affectation comes off as honesty, while honesty seems affected.

* - This explains my ambivalence about transgendered people's insistence on being socially viewed in alignment with their inner self image, as if that were a human right. Millions of us never imagine (much less demand) such alignment. For example, I'm extremely handsome. But, recognizing that 99.99% of people don't share my view, I've learned to accept the classification the world hands me. Virtually none of my essential and defining qualities are ascertained by the public as I go about my day. But isn't this sort of misalignment a fundamental characteristic of the human condition?

See also "The Burden of a Perpetually Clean Slate", my Groundhog Day tale of the crushing drudge of having walked into 10,000 Hispanic or Latino restaurants as a seeming clueless gringo.

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