I know it sounds funny. But white men who love black culture have been some of my greatest teachers about learning to love my black identity. It’s interesting to imagine how they got this way.
On the surface it’s ridiculous. Why would a white man, who has been imprinted with the mark of power by mere accident of birth through his skin, choose to immerse himself in a culture that he doesn’t know anything about? It gives the implication that as a Caucasian he prefers to dress, think, speak and walk like a black man. It suggests a distaste for his own personal family and social legacy. There might even be an unspoken cry for acceptance by a black community that he can never fully be a part of. And God knows all his relations wonder why he would want to be.
Yet that emotional need — to become enmeshed in a group that you can only be born into — makes him study. It makes him read. Such a white man has watched every black movie that has ever been created. Read “Soul on Ice” and all the Iceberg Slim novels. But he has also read James Baldwin. He knows Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni very well. He can recite every lyric to every hip-hop album that has ever been recorded from 1979-2010. He does a lot to prove his blackness which can never be proven. And that just makes him try even more.
And then you have your white jazz enthusiasts. They know everything about every jazz musician from the form’s inception until today, want to extend the art form, and can play ten musical instruments. They seek out the black jazz greats who are still living but that no one who is actually African-American really cares about. They collect the albums, fund the old radio stations that keep jazz alive, and buy tickets to the concerts that keep money in the pockets of the music icons who made American music great. In most of the greater black community, the sounds of these creative pioneers would fall on deaf ears. Ornette Coleman? Who? Exactly. One of my white dates took me to meet the legend in his home. I rest my case.