John Mayer Doesn't Have "Jungle Fever"

Recent remarks by John Mayer about interracial relationships raise the question of why black women are snubbed disproportionately by men of all races in our society.
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In a candid conversation with Rob Tannenbaum of Playboy Magazine musician John Mayer said, "I think the world would be better off if I stopped doing interviews." Mayer has proven himself right. In what can only be described as a serious error in judgment, Mayer addressed his preferences and prejudices regarding interracial sex. When asked, "do black women throw themselves at you?" Mayer responded with the following: "I don't think I open myself to it. My dick is sort of like a white supremacist. I've got a Benetton heart and a fuckin' David Duke cock. I'm going to start dating separately from my dick." So John Mayer doesn't have "jungle fever?" What's the big deal?

Profanity aside, such an outpouring of talk is very revealing. What stands out most is the Bennetton-Duke analogy. Mayer's allusion to Bennetton as a symbol for multicultural interchange and interracial harmony does point to some hopeful speculations that interracial sex can seem like an accomplishment. Unfortunately, this is because the practices of white supremacy in the U.S., like those of David Duke, have built it as such a high hurdle to overcome. One way to interpret Mayer's words is to realize that interracial progress requires white people to separate themselves from white supremacy. Another way is to try and understand why black women are snubbed disproportionately by men of all races.

One theory offered by Cynthia Feliciano, a sociologist at the University of California at Irvine, is that men's choices are influenced by the media's portrayal of black women as being bossy. Another theory offered by Ebony Utley, a communication professor at California State University, Long Beach is that white male privilege allows us to live in a world where Mayer could say something so unabashedly sexist and racist and pass it off as if it were clever. There's also the theory offered by Joal Ryan, a writer for EOnline.Com. Ryan argues that the problem isn't John Mayer at all. It's his penis.

But is there yet another explanation? Do Mayer's racial preferences amount to racial prejudice? Or is overlooking an entire race as harmless as filtering out blonds or people over a certain height?

This leads to the other thing that stands out about Mayer's comments -- the twin themes of openness-separation and love-hate. Interracial sex has always straddled these fine lines and, as a result, has not really challenged the stability and hierarchy of racial difference. If anything, the reality is that interracial sex in fact can produce and enhance racial difference. This is evident in the rest of Mayer's quote. When prompted to, "put some names out there... [and] get specific" here's what Mayer said. "I always thought Holly Robinson Peete was gorgeous. Every white dude loved Hilary from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And Kerry Washington. She's superhot, and she's also white-girl crazy. Kerry Washington would break your heart like a white girl. Just all of a sudden she'd be like, "Yeah, I sucked his dick. Whatever." And you'd be like, "What? We weren't talking about that." That's what 'Heartbreak Warfare' is all about, when a girl uses jealousy as a tactic."

"I don't even know how to respond to that," says Gina, a 35-year-old white woman from Long Beach. "What does it even mean? White-girl crazy? Was this some sort of badly conceived marketing ploy to get free publicity for the new album?" Even if it was "perhaps the only redeeming quality about this whole thing is that Mayer isn't pretending that he doesn't see color when he looks at people," says Alexis, a 29-year-old mixed race woman from Queens, New York. However, the overwhelmingly negative point is that Mayer sees color and then objectifies, belittles and rejects it. Given how deeply U.S. history has been shaped along racial lines, the taboo of interracial sex and Mayer's crude vocabulary for describing and disdaining it can reveal the ways in which those lines continue to so tragically separate us from one another.

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