Understanding? Or Building Higher Walls?
Last week, some friends at work were listening to some classics by James Brown, honoring the memory of an influential American musical icon who had just passed away.
As anyone can attest who has listened to much of the catalog of “The Godfather of Soul”, Mr. Brown likes to talk on his records, as well as sing. He often talks to members of his band, and sometime seems to make comments aimed at no one in particular. As a good African-American, and a son of the South, these lingual outbursts make great use of “vernacular” English…When he heard JB’s commentary on a particular song, a white friend exclaimed, “he’s talking jive!” to which a black friend took offense. This started an interesting discussion…
Mr. Black explained that the word “jive” usually has negative connotations (there are many interesting examples from Urban Dictionary).
The discussion got loud and interesting, with Mr. White getting defensive, while Mr. Black was confused as to why Mr. White would use the word “jive” at all. “What is jive?” he asked Mr. White, trying to figure out if he was intending to insult James Brown or not.
The whole (very loud and animated) discussion struck me as a great example of how the racial overtones on certain topics make discussing those topics fraught with (social) danger.
After Mr. White’s and Mr. Black’s discussion some understanding might have been gained by all of us. (Please!)
But it also seems possible/likely that Mr. Black has become more convinced that Mr. White is a racist. And Mr. White may have identified another verboten topic, which he will avoid from here on out to stay out of trouble. (I hope not?)