A friend asked me the other day why NPCs are gray.
“I don’t really know buddy” I replied “Maybe it’s some form of camouflage.” Later I realized that sometimes a spur-of-the-moment guess like that can be the most accurate form of analysis.
“The Gray Race” is a 1996 album by American punk group Bad Religion. The music inside isn’t nearly as insightful as the montage of gray faces on the cover. The takeaway: no matter what our skin might look like, we are all gray.
Take a gallon bucket of white paint. Mix in about 16 ounces (the size of a typical water bottle) of black paint. Stir well. What do you get? You get the most perfect shade of gray you’ve ever seen. Not “battleship gray”, “Haze Gray”, or “gray sky gray” but NPC gray.
That same 1:8 ratio just happens to mirror the “blackness” of America’s demographic. Americans are indeed the “gray race”. Now whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, I will leave for you to decide. But it is instructive to pause and reflect on the wider cultural implications of our grayness.
Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher Carl Gustav Jung wrote “Another thing that struck me [in the American] was the great influence of the Negro, a psychological influence naturally, not due to the mixing of blood. The emotional way an American expresses himself, especially the way he laughs, can best be studied in the illustrated supplements of the American papers; the inimitable Teddy Roosevelt laugh is found in its primordial form in the American Negro. The peculiar walk with loose joints, or the swinging of the hips so frequently observed in Americans, also comes from the Negro. American music draws its main inspiration from the Negro, and so does the dance. The expression of religious feeling, the revival meetings, the Holy Rollers and other abnormalities are strongly influenced by the Negro. The vivacity of the average American, which shows itself not only at baseball games but quite particularly in his extraordinary love of talking—the ceaseless gabble of American papers is an eloquent example of this—is scarcely to be derived from his Germanic forefathers, but is far more like the chattering of a Negro village. The almost total lack of privacy and the all-devouring mass sociability remind one of primitive life in open huts, where there is complete identity with all members of the tribe.”
Deep Carl, real deep. So does this mean that White folks like you and me are some kind of wiggers because we live in a thoroughly Negrified culture? Not hardly. But perhaps it’s high time we own up to the grayness that surrounds us and flows barely noticed through our lives.
There are certain activities that signal one’s “blackness”: driving a Cadillac, drinking Heineken out of the bottle, elaborately choreographed handshakes, liberal applications of cocoa butter or coconut-scented body lotions, calling peers/colleagues “brotha”, caring excessively about your hair, talking to the screen while the movie is playing, etc. But I can also name for you a white person who checks each one of those boxes. Much more hilarious (to the general masses at least) are those signifiers of whiteness – things we call “SWPL” (for “Stuff White People Like“). Does this mean that Whites are funnier? No way. Most Whites aren’t that funny at all. But we are allowed to mock them. Big difference.
Just for fun, let’s go through your personal possessions and leisure activities and see how gray you really are.
Are you into sports? By “sports” I mean “sportsball” or the act of passively watching highly paid persons-of-color chase each other around with a ball.
The NBA is almost completely black, the NFL is mostly black, and baseball is pretty much a brown sport. If you watch any of these, give yourself a point for your grayness (bonus points if your sportsteam jersey that you wear on game day carries a black man’s name and number). Oh and don’t think that watching tennis, golf, or Olympic gymnastics doesn’t count. These traditionally White sports are blacker than ever.
Me? I swore off all non-participatory sports activities a few years ago. Not because I’m a proud White man either. No sir. I did it because watching sports is a massive waste of time. Read a book, take a nap, go for a walk, almost anything a man does is more beneficial for that man than sitting on his couch yelling at other men playing children’s games on TV.
Next let’s go through your record collection, or your CDs or your iTunes or wherever it is that you keep your favorite music. I fully expect the average White person to own at least some Rap, Hip Hop, R&B, or “Urban” music. Why? Is it because those jungle beats seem to tickle our European DNA the most? Or is it because we are deeply afraid of being viewed as “too White” by our hipster friends? Perhaps it’s a bit of both. Take Bob Marley, the alleged “King of Reggae” for example. Most folks (white or black) don’t know dick about Reggae as a musical genre (sorry bud, UB40 does not count), but every whiteboy I know sure as hell knows Bob! In fact, Marley’s 1984 greatest hits compilation “Legend” is the biggest selling Reggae recording in history. I’d venture a guess that 90% of those copies are owned by White folks like you and me.
Me? I deeply love Reggae. It’s my favorite “Black Music” by far. And there’s far more to it than dear ol’ Bob. Check out Burning Spear, Toots & The Maytals, Israel Vibration, Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, Linton Kwesi Johnson, The Wailing Souls, Pablo Moses, Culture, or Gregory Isaacs for some genuine Reggae. I also love those two purely American musical genres Jazz and the Blues – two genres that were created by blacks a century ago but have been SWPL’d into ridiculous caricatures of themselves in recent decades. Yeah, my record collection is pretty black (even without the Rap and Hip Hop). So what? There’s also some of the whitest music ever made in there: The Carpenters, Kraftwerk, Waylon Jennings, Devo, Slayer, Neil Diamond, Flatt & Scruggs, and Nick Drake (just to name a few).
We’re gonna head to your kitchen soon (oh boy!), but let’s take a swing through your DVD collection on the way, shall we?
What have we here? “The Sound Of Music“? Nice. “The Wizard Of Oz“? Very nice. “Gone With The Wind“? You are a whiteboy, aren’t you? Go back 50 years or more, and almost everything Hollywood put out would be considered “White” today. Times have changed, and I’d guess that most of us collect more contemporary movies than dusty old classics. I’m not sure if there are any such things as “White Movies” or “Black Movies” in today’s gray culture. Do this: pull a dozen randomly selected movies off your shelf. Take every one that features a) a black leading character; b) a black social cause; or c) the ubiquitous “Magical Negro” (Morgan Freeman also counts) and set them in a pile. The ones that don’t, put over in another pile. Now which pile is bigger? Face it, you have a pretty gray movie collection there pal. So stop being a graycist and deal with it.
Stay tuned for Part 2…