Mayer Doesn't Have "Jungle Fever"

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...pic borrowed from US Magazine
...full text also found on The Huffington Post

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 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 scholar 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?

These questions, posed originally by Time Magazine with regard to internet dating, 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.


Jill Scott's Troubling Talk About Interracial Dating

While Scott's talk isn't as outrageous as Mayer's, there are some interesting similarities that are worth looking into.

Her CNN interview is also telling:

many factors at work here

"In all the hysteria around the dating lives of single black women, there's always this discussion of whether white men, and to some extent black men, actually find black women attractive. Many factors, stretching across races and political ideology, are at work here..."

Great Post!

Nice writing style! I enjoyed this article!


I think what makes me most sad about this article is that John Mayer's flippant comment was probably honest. Catching a star in a foot-in-mouth moment is every "E" reporter's dream. The hard part is that knowing these slips often come from careless dialogue, which can be the most truthful, however tactless. Like many other celebrities getting caught with politically incorrect quotations, John Mayer may represent many men with similar racist beliefs. Many men are able to escape public criticism because very few people know about their attitude toward other races, or setting their sexual preferences against people unlike themselves. This pattern runs much deeper than most of us realize, unfortunately. Knowing that people probably agree with him or even support him for what he said breaks my heart.


Wrong on many levels

Hi Dr. Dawkins,

Mayer's comments are, in the very least, provocative and mildly offensive. Despite his musical creativity and ability (which I have enjoyed), it is evident that he lacks the ability to be sensitive and to siphon off the idiotic filth that spews from his mouth.

I just find it ironic that he offend an entire population that is pretty much responsible for his success. The music he plays (blues, R&B) are of the African American culture; the people he has played with from B.B. King to Alicia Keys and his appearance on the Dave Chappelle Show are in fact African American and his current touring band is mostly black. Without any of those factors, Mayer would still be stuck as a gas pump boy.

Also, I find it odd that Mayer would align his penis with David Duke and white supremacy. Isn't Mayer himself of Jewish heritage ? Last I heard, white supremacists did not think too highly of Jewish people. Very odd indeed.

Despite his offensive remarks and utter stupidity, I somewhat feel that this is another episode of "Celebrities Say the Darndest things?" Next week, we will most likely return to something Madonna or Kid Rock said.


The Rich American White Male or Johnny Boy

Poor John is showing his ambivalence at being part of this elite club. HE is a member of the most fabulously over privileged group to walk the planet in over two millenea of recorded history: The Rich White Male. This group is the prime protaganist for White Suprimacy World wide. Perhaps is just not made of the stuff. First off, he owes his livelyhood to African Americans (AA), the authors of the blues; secondly, the majority of his band is AA; and thirdly he desires AA women. Appearantly, he strugles with these facts, which demonstrates his ambivalence and it comes out in not so clever babble. His psychie appears bottle necked with conflicting beliefs. He realized that he supposed to hate but he can't help his attraction AA Women.He also realizes, that musicall,y without AAs he wouldn'd be where is today. Lot's of white artist realize that. He is part of the power elite who owe much to supposed second class citizens. Even Bill Clinton eventually showed his true colors when he commented that, "...not long ago, Obama would be getting him coffee"(paraphrased). This was in response to Obama beating the pants off of Hilary in the Primaries. The battle/choice between being fair minded human and being a member of the elite ruling species is not a mental juggling act for the faint at heart. John probably would like to Strom Thurmond on the sisters cause he misses that melonin, but he probably wants to make babies with his white sistas. Yes, he made alot of stupid comments about other affairs but the Bennaton David Duke stuff was the most provacative. I want to see where his abivalence takes him. Seems like John is at a crossroads. Hey John, good luck with that!

Just found in LA Times

Comments from Mayer's interviewer. Very intriguing...

This is a terrific post. John

This is a terrific post. John Mayer should shut up. He makes me sick.

--Joan H.

I don't really know what to

I don't really know what to say about John Mayer. My thoughts: His ego is big, and regardless of what he thought by what he said he has shown the world what head he thinks with.


Unfortunately, the fact that

Unfortunately, the fact that anyone (women) care what this "person" thinks, says more about us than anything else. When will we stop allowing ourselves to be defined by who wants to screw us? New day, new mindset!


Strategic Racism

Let me begin by saying I don't like John Mayer's music. But maybe I shouldn't stereotype. I've heard somewhere between 2 and 4 of his songs and have not liked any of them.

I am also no expert on race or culture. I find Mayer's comments worth discussing, however, because I think they are representative of a common discursive strategy in today's public sphere. Specifically, Mayer is using legitimated racial stereotypes to absorb contradictions in his own identity.

I propose the following as plausible (and, with proper resources, verifiable) facts:
1. John Mayer has slept with very few black women [claimed by him]
2. John Mayer has very few black female fans [asserted by commenter]
3. John Mayer prefers to engage in sexual relations with women who adore his music and persona to such an extent that they will abandon or subordinate their ethics and/or identities to "s his d" or other's d's and boast about it. [implied by his description of "white-girl crazy"]
4. Mayer is otherwise undiscerning in his sexual preferences. Any "white-girl crazy" girl will do. [implied by his explanation that he is attracted to several actresses that he doesn't know, personally]

Given these premises, we can construct the following explanation for Mayer's comments:
1. After a given concert, most of the women who suit Mayer's criteria of sex appeal are white. So he sleeps with white women. If Mayer were in an all white town, he would do the same. That is, Mayer's sexual history has nothing to do with his racial preferences per se. He probably doesn't even know what his racial preferences are, his sexuality is a servant to his narcissism, only.

2. Mayer brings race into his discourse for another reason, having nothing to do with his real (and unbeknownst to him) sexual preferences.

Mayer wants to simultaneously maintain two contradictory positions. First, he wants to look like someone who engages follows his "d" and thus is not inhibited when it comes to sex. He wants male fans to think he is a player and he wants adulating female fans to think they have a chance to be with him. But second, he does not want to look like someone who is undiscerning in sex. This undermines his image as sophisticated and sensitive. But these two goals are in contradiction. In any real analysis, "uninhibited" and "undiscerning" are the same thing.

3. To eschew this contradiction, Mayer splits his sexuality identity across a racial boundary such that he can be both uninhibited and discerning by using race to absorb the contradiction.

More specifically, for fans that like his "player" side, he talks about his uninhibited attitudes and behaviors (what his "d" likes and doesn't like). But lest fans think he is an undiscerning pig, he talks about these attitudes and behaviors in terms of his racial preference. Does he like sex? Yes, he listens to his "d." But he's no sex-crazed pig -- he doesn't sleep with black girls!

He takes advantage of this split further by avoiding describing his uninhibited side in counter-factual scenarios with black women. Kerry Washington is the one who, hypothetically, is giving a bj. So for his player fans, he shows he knows how to talk the talk, but for his non-player fans, he describes player behavior in terms of acts with a category (black women) that these fans likely don't respect.

In other words, a contradiction has been converted to a win-win. The loss is taken by those in the category, black women, that are not his concern.

Like I said, I'm not an expert on race and culture. Does this kind of discourse hurt blacks or women in the long run? I don't know. But I do know that it's bulls#$t.


John Mayer

Because this is black history month, I will keep it short. Race plays a big part in todays society, with out even knowing it. Mr. mayers comments effects no one of color. People dont seem to undesrstand that black is an exspression and not a color. To be black is to understand our culture. We as african americans have passed the point of every one just having a color. Sure plenty people think that people are people, untrue. We are the reality of racism and therefore dont need the john mayers of the world. I dont listen to his music and dont care whether he likes females of color, we have enough african americans superstars to chase after, one more elvis presley wanna be cant stop that. So in general, Mr.mayers is just that a wanna be that has a little stardom not enough to miss.

What can we learn from this?

Hi Marcia,
I think you raise some interesting points here. I think it is important to recognize that Mayer’s comments mirror broader narratives on cultural attitudes about the liminal space between self and Other. Furthermore, I agree that two of the important sticking points, in terms of what the comments reveal about Mayer’s conscious and subconscious awareness of cultural narratives, are the hierarchies of race and gender that are co-terminus in white masculinity. However, I think it is important to do what we can to make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. I am less concerned with whether Mayer learns from his mistakes than I am with what the rest of us can learn from them. I think that one point of departure for a synecdochic unpacking of the interview is Mayer’s “crude vocabulary”. While the surface level crudeness will likely receive the most attention in pop culture analyses of this moment I think there is a more fundamental crudeness of the vocabulary we share for navigating the difference between self and Other. One of the most frustrating things about his remarks is the clear juxtaposition of a critical racial consciousness and a subconscious acceptance of hierarchies within our cultural narratives. By situating this moment within broader historical trends and cultural exchanges we encounter the need to develop a language adequate to describing those spaces and the competing impulses of desire and anxiety that operate within them.
I think it is important to situate these remarks within the entirety of the interview. I haven’t read the whole thing yet myself, but from the other chunks that have made it out he is clearly struggling to understand something about himself. I think it is also important to compare the way he and we are talking about this interview with the ways we talked about Harry Reid, the beer summit, Joe Biden, and other discursive transgression of the norms of interracial address. Another interesting point of comparison is with Eric Clapton’s pro-Enoch Powell remarks to an audience in the UK in the late 70s. Basically I think it is important to seize the opportunity within this controversy to hold open the tears it made in the fabric of communicative means and cultural norms. Ultimately, I think the right attitude to aspire to with regard to moments like these is one of ‘humble’ rather than ‘superior’ irony.

- Steven


Where do I begin? While I am still a fan of John Meyer's music, I am disappointed, though not entirely sure why. I say this because when I look back on the times I went to his concerts I was one of only a handful of people of color there. When I reflect on my surprise when he didn't step in and join the other uber talented artists who performed to benefit the Haitian relief efforts, I think I get it now. When I heard on the radio about his publicist making a big deal about him donating money to help Haiti way after the fact, I think I understand.

Perhaps he just doesn't think about people of least as a priority. Maybe they just aren't on his radar. This in no way excuses his comments though. Like John Mayer acknowledging his cultural insensitivity, his apology for the things he said seem like an afterthought.

Closing Comment...

As a final thought to my previous comment, I want to add...

I am frustrated that such a gifted, intellectual, soulful, and passionate musician would allow his beautiful contributions to music to be veiled by impulsive and bigoted comments such as these. It saddens me to think that the allure of Mayer's guitar will be disparaged by the foolishness of his tongue.

-Brent B.

Mayer apologizes but few are buying it

Check out his latest tearful outburst. When will he stop?

Musician?? Bigot??

Dr. Dawkins, here are some of my brief thoughts on Mr. Mayer...

Everything about my musical tastes tells me I was born in the wrong decade. While I can acknowledge the impacts that Taylor, Beyonce, Kanye, and other artists are having on the contemporary music scene, I still prefer to listen to Zeppelin, Kansas, and CCR. Needless to say, I'm not always the most informed when it comes to the latest hit song on the radio or the charts. However, I have, for quite some time, considered John Mayer to be an anomaly to my rule on contemporary musicians.

Musically speaking, John Mayer just gets "it." His sultry acoustic sound has garnered him respect on the charts, but his prowess on the electric guitar makes his live show one of the only "must see" concerts I can think of. The most impressive quality of John Mayer's music (other than his seamless ability to make the guitar "cry" and "wail") is his ability to transcend the musical era in which he finds himself. There have been a slew of memorable guitarists in music's history, but I am confident that John Mayer could stand his own with any of them, wherever and whenever.

It is precisely this musical ability that makes me infinitely more frustrated about Mayer's recent remarks in a Playboy interview. I won't get into detail regarding the comments, but simply say that they were shocking and deplorable, at best. I don't pity Mayer because of these comments, and I certainly won't defend his remarks. The only concrete emotion I feel is frustration. Strangely enough, I am not as much frustrated with his uncanny ability to make a fool of himself as much as I am frustrated that he would allow comments like these to ruin his reputation. I suppose, to some degree, my sentiments represent the most selfish part of me... the music lover.

While I feel as though I have the ability to cognitively separate Mayer the Musician from Mayer the Bigot, the judging public will not be so forgiving. If we know anything about this judging public, it is that it views celebrities and their controversies from an extremely peripheral perspective. Regardless of what Mayer has done to garner him respect in musical circles, his recent comments will almost surely severely denigrate his reputation.
--Brent B.