I think I can honestly say I speak for a large sector of African-American women when I admit that I've never given singer John Mayer more than a half a second of thought over the years. Sure, I can vaguely remember thumbing through some tabloid magazines that detailed his romances with various Hollywood starlets and the drama that came with that, but really, who cares? I sure didn't. On some level I did appreciate him performing at Michael Jackson's memorial last year, signaling the diversity of the King of Pop's influence. But as soon as he left the stage that day, he pretty much left my mind.
But it seems I really should have been paying more attention to Mayer and his very telling thoughts. If I had, I'd have been more familiar with his propensity for immature, salacious banter and outrageous antics. If I had, I'd have known that somewhere along the line, Mayer imagined he'd received an invitation-only entry into the African-American inner circle. You know that invitation that allows you to say anything that comes to your mind about black people without fear that Jesse Jackson or Rev. Al Sharpton will be picketing outside your door the next day.
So imagine my surprise last week when Mayer's controversial Playboy magazine interviewhit the airwaves and newspapers. The 32-year-old singer decided to freely let loose his thoughts on blacks, the "hood" and African-American women. He also felt free enough to use the N-word like he'd been saying it to make a point all his life.
His entire interview left me seething, but his comments about African-American woman sent me through the roof. For those who aren't familiar with Mayer's incendiary quotes, just know he essentially said that he wasn't interested in black women—because his male sex organ was like David Duke (a former Klan member). He causally mentioned one or two black actresses that he thought were OK, and that actress Kerry Washington was "hot," but would probably break his heart like a "white girl." He made a few other comments regarding Washington that were so degrading and offensive I won't even try to paraphrase them. And for record, his references to Jessica Simpson were insulting and degrading to all women as well.
I can only assume what Mayer meant by "like a white girl'' was that Kerry Washington is the only black woman that even comes close to being on a white woman's level of desirability.
Wow! Really, John?
Imagine if you will: America's sweetheart Beyoncé doing a major interview where she explained that her interest in men leaned more toward the Malcolm X way of thinking and that Brad Pitt or George Clooney couldn't make the cut if they tried.
Mainstream America would be so angry and appalled with Beyoncé and her 16 Grammys that she'd have to take serious cover for years. Only a very teary-eyed Oprah interview and months in some kind of racial rehab would even begin to allow her a moment back on the national and international scene. (Though rumor has it that talk-show queen Oprah was so upset by Mayer's interview that she's made it clear he won't be sitting on her couch anytime soon.)
Sadly, even though an initial public outrage had Mayer apologizing via his Twitter account and found him crying on stage during an apology, my guess is Mayer will suffer little for his comments. And the reason is very simple. He clearly said out loud what a large majority of mainstream men in power feel in private. I'm referring to those invisible men in the corner offices with the influence and power to put women in movies, on magazine covers, and television shows. The ones who decide what beauty looks like, how much it weighs, and what age it should be. The ones who, just like John Mayer, have deemed black women as just not good enough.
Sure, Beyoncé gets her due attention as does Rihanna, but one has only to look at the most recent Vanity Fair magazine cover to see what a lot of America really thinks of the combination of beauty and brown skin. There isn't a darker hue to be found, not even in the fold. Earlier this year, pictures altered to fuse first lady Michelle Obama's face with an ape flooded the Internet, while actor Scott Baio posted on picture of the first lady with a frown on her face and a caption asking if this was what President Obama had to wake up to every morning.
All of this has left me to wonder: Is it open season on black women? Are we in a time where openly disrespecting and insulting women of color is OK and without consequence?
Yes, there will be those who will rightly point to rap music and its demeaning lyrics and videos depicting black women—all made primarily by black men. Without doubt this has been a heated topic discussed for years by black women's groups and leaders with little resolve. But one fact remains: most black men end up loving and marrying black women, so the words, while hurtful and offensive, don't ultimately match their actions.
Unfortunately, Mayer's do. He and his peers' lack of interest in African-American women doesn't just impact us on date night, it impacts important decisions about how we are viewed all over the world. And it determines whether those sightings are balanced and diverse.
In the end, I have no idea if Mayer is the racist some have suggested, but I do know the power of words and how painful ones aren't easily retracted. Here's hoping that the next time Mayer sees Kerry Washington, she rips him apart—just like a black girl.