the BLOG of stuart mcdonald

My Thoughts on John Mayer and the “Hood Pass”
February 12, 2010, 10:10 am
Filed under: race, Think About It | Tags: , , , , ,

In a recent interview with Playboy magazine, John Mayer made a few comments that caused a bit of an uproar and plenty or backlash on Twitter. It seems that more than a few people have wanted my thoughts, so here’s my obligatory “the White boy speaks out on John Mayer” post.

But before we get started, if you haven’t already, I’ll let you read the full interview for yourself (here) and then come back and join us.

Obviously his use of the n-word was out of line for the simple reason that he’s White. Whether he has a “Hood Pass” or not, he is still a White man in America using an incredibly powerful, racially charged, derogatory term that comes with, at least when said from the mouth a White person, years of oppression, slavery, and notions of inherent inferiority attached to it. A “hood pass” may give you a pass to come into someone’s community but doesn’t change the color of your skin.

Soon after the interview when viral on Twitter, Mayer soon realized the error of his ways and apologized on his Twitter page (@johncmayer) saying:

“Re: using the ‘N word’ in an interview: I am sorry that I used the word. And it’s such a shame that I did because the point I was trying to make was in the exact opposite spirit of the word itself. It was arrogant of me to think I could intellectualize using it because I realize that there’s no intellectualizing a word that is so emotionally charged.”

I give Mayer props for confronting the issue head-on and in a timely manner. (And for not making the “But I have Black friends” excuse that we’ve seen in the past.)

The whole issue behind the idea of a non-Black person (usually a White) receiving a “hood pass” is a little problematic. I understand that the premise is that an individual may be accepted by a group of Black people that they have this pass given to them, but as Dr. Mikhail Lyubansky points out in his article discussing Mayer, “it has absolutely no meaning to anyone other than the person giving out the “pass” and the one receiving it.” In other words, you can have a hood pass with different individuals that you may regularly associate with, but that give you no immediate privileges when you’re around a different group. Sorry White folks who may be holding one — it’s basically meaningless towards the general population of Black America. (Womp womp.)

I’m not a fan of the concept of a “hood pass” because it relates, on many levels, Blackness and the Black experience, to poverty. And while the systemic racism that undoubtedly exists in this country does plenty to perpetuate cycles of poverty in order to keep Black people broke and on welfare, the idea that you could gain the fullness of the Black experience in America by going into a ghetto is absurd.

As for Mayer stating that he has a “Benetton heart,” but a “David Duke [penis},” well, I say, “to each his own.” Mayer was clearly trying to be clever in saying that he’s not sexually attracted to Black women, but he definitely chose the wrong analogy there.

I won’t delve deep into interracial dating right now (that’ll be in a few weeks), but if he doesn’t want to have sex or be in a relationship with Black women, why should we care? We shouldn’t. There are plenty of people who date outside their race and there are plenty who don’t. Whatever. It’s a personal choice that each person should make for themselves. Mayer’s word selection, not his perspective, is again the problem here.

Race is never something to be addressed flippantly and without serious consideration for how all parties could potentially view a certain statement. That doesn’t mean that we sugarcoat things to make them more palatable, but it does mean that we should think through what we say to understand how it could possibly be misconstrued. This is the problem with interviews. Once something is said, and “out there,” there’s no chance to clarify meaning or intent, often until after the damage has been done.

I don’t know if the interview was really framed exactly like that, if it was a literal transcription of what was said, or if Playboy edited it and removed some context to make it seem a bit more edgy. Who knows? That’s part of the problem with fully judging someone based off a single comment they made in the midst of a conversation — we often tend to forget that, in these interviews, the fact that, it can be easy to get engrossed in a conversation where you focus on and understand only the people in the conversation without having regard for the rest of world that could be listening in.

At the end of the day, we’re all human, and we make mistakes. No one is ever immune to slipping up and saying something inappropriate of out of line. Mayer gave his apology via Twitter and then later that evening, also broke down at a concert and apologized again (see it below). All in all, I’m still a fan of Mayer’s music — a few misguided comment won’t change that — and I think we’d all be well served to take his statements and comb our own lives (as I’m sure he’s doing with his) and see if we can find any areas of unhealthy bias at could potentially slip out and have greater repercussions than Mayer’s comments.

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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I respect your blog post! I find that the “N word” doesn’t bother me because I disconnect from it! You can call me anything but, don’t call me not a child of God! “hood pass” just saying this or thinking this is so ignornant, black or white! Its like saying there is also a “pass” that gets you in to White America! All this extra ignorant mess is a distraction from whats really important, & that is not our own personal struggles w/ prejudice but, the fact that Jesus who died for me taught me to turn the other cheek & who else suffered more from real prejudice than He! Not to mention who is John Mayer to me that I should care that he lets certain people or things influence him negative! Believe me I a bone to pick with people in the music industry that have not said “the N word” but done something much much much worse! I won’t get into that right now but, anyway ask God for forgiveness John Mayer cause I don’t judge you!

Comment by Qia

Excellent commentary, Stu. I am still a John Mayer fan myself. I also have inadvertently used the N-word and started a mini-riot. And I AM black! Again – the context is the key. I totally understood what he meant, even as I cringed from how he said it. There are a lot of points in his interview – some racial, some sexual, some social, etc. – where his speech needed some more thought. But I know what it’s like to just speak from the heart and promptly have to spit out shoe laces. (And now to post a totally different comment on FB!)

Comment by joysrantlist

I say forgive him he has apologized,i think he was trying to be witty which backfired so hard he sold both homes & moved to the country? but, he is a musician who makes great music & i am sure he will think first before opening his mouth again,& we must remember that all big musicians/actors have big ego’s which played a large part in this.I would say instead of talking about John Mayer talk about who is going to be the next President that should be a huge worry if you live in the states & even if you don’t & i hope you do more than talk about the political mess that could be, protest instead of just talking about what will happen if President Obama is not re-elected because its a horrifying thought if the opposition (Romney) wins! it scares the hell out of me & i live in Canada thank-god! its just my opinion.Fr: Cape Breton N.S.Canada

Comment by Suzanne hallett

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