CMJ: One time in college, I went home with a friend to this tony suburb in Connecticut. Full of the sort of gentried WASPs you’d expect. And it was fine and his family was very nice and all that. Then, the next week, he told me that his parents remarked to him how nice and kind I was. There were a few of us staying at his place, but they wanted to point out that it was me who was really nice. And I knew what that was all about.
LS: This is hard. It’s gross that they said that, I totally see that and feel that way now … but I can understand, and I’m sure—and cringe to think—that I have made similar comments in my life. You were probably the first black person in their house, which broke this stereotype they had in their head. But it’s sad that they—we—had those stereotypes to break in the first place.
CMJ: Oh, totally, I understand that a lot. My maternal grandfather was an outright racist who refused to ever meet me, and I don’t begrudge him that. He was raised in a different time, and it sucks that we never spoke, but I feel sad for him, not angry. I just suppose that a chip that’s easy to get on your shoulder if you’re a person of color moving about in these wealthy worlds is that sometimes you just want to be at a place and enjoy yourself.
You don’t want to be an ambassador. You want to be a house guest or a bar patron just like any white person. Y’know?
My father, when I was growing up, told me this a lot: “If you want to make it in America, which has a lot of racism in it, you’re going to have to do two for every white person’s one. That’s not fair, but that’s life.” And that’s something that’s stuck with me throughout my life and career. Playing the black ambassador is part of that. You’re not just a party guest like everyone else; you’re the BLACK party guest. That’s just how it is.
Please read this thank you goodbye.