For a while, being your extraordinary ethnic sidekick was easy enough. Most assignments only required a little homespun wisdom, softened by a knowing smile as you rode off into the sunset, and the ability to not vomit. Along with those gifts I also perfected the knack for reshuffling my priorities, a talent my colleagues call the “Long Slip,” as in; “No, honey, what really mattered was teaching Mister Robert how shitty he should feel for ignoring his family. I guess the birth of our child just slipped my mind!”
Using abilities I barely understood, I bestowed plain-spoken wisdom upon generations of clueless white characters, through beloved stories, songs, moving pictures, and television shows. I could sing a bird out of its tree and dance Shirley Temple back to Hell. I mixed your perfect martinis, coddled your terrible children, and chauffeured your disease-riddled ancestors to endless doctors’ appointments. I helped slaughter Indians, Africans, the Chinese, the Japanese, and the Vietnamese, all for the singular honor of jumping in front of the bullet with your name on it.
I maintained your starships, always scanning for precisely how many “motherfuckin’ aliens are coming to eat our asses!” And always, always I was there in those quiet moments, offering the exact bit of advice at exactly the perfect moment to help you drive back the encroaching hordes of your own self-loathing. With nothing but tough love and a shit-eating grin, I helped you become the greatest space captain, independent woman, or compassionate adult male of your species. I operated as your magical negro without complaint, (or even a “How’s your family by the way?”) for a million filthy incarnations.
Then I woke up.
There were no epiphanies. One minute I was enjoying a haircut in the Oval Office and the next minute someone told me about the water crisis in Flint Michigan. That was it. The time bomb that started ticking the moment I began my adventures down the Mississippi River with “Fuck Finn” detonated in a Juneteenth firestorm of self-awareness. Which is to say that, in that moment of clarifying fury, I suddenly understood what I really was… and what I could do.
With a single magic word (one I won’t repeat, but it rhymes with “Brother Tucker”), I am there. You like lead in your water? Well, I’m the unassuming black press secretary for your friendly state senator — the one who reliably hamstrung the local EPA enough to allow Big Pollution to divert a million radioactive stool samples into that river that flows through your local “Boogietown.” With gentle ribbing and a song about corn-shuckin’, I reorder the senator’s priorities. Two days later, the plumbing in Boogietown reverses direction and now that brown deluge is percolating in the river that fills your taps. Enjoy that shit-smoothie, boss!
You enjoy restricting minority voting rights? While cleaning toilets in the restricted restroom of a CIA bio-warfare facility, I encounter a suicidal chemist. He’s sadder than a cock with no crow, but a whisper of encouragement and a home-cooked meal featuring the best fried chicken he ever tasted sets him straight. One stolen vial and a convenient “dirty bomb” is all it takes to turn the black population of a small impoverished city in Virginia into genetically re-Africanized vampires; horny, sun-loving, and practically white from bloodlust. I point them to the next town over — where the rich folks live — and then bug the fuck out, singing, “Feets Don’t Fail Me Now!”
Oh, I’ve played this part for centuries. I’ve got songs that wind and rap and bind, only now I sing for a body eclectic: a communal body that shimmies and shakes itself awake, straining forward, upward, to catch my musical, magical mixtape. I shuck and jive and bullshit across the nation quick as good gossip; an ancient spirit now revitalized, offering timely encouragement to the powerful. Only this time I shine my lovelight on behalf of the powerless, wondering all the while, Man… what took you so long?
I table the question as I wade into a river in northern Montana to help a lonesome blond boy with a sad face and a broken fishing rod. He’s in need of a father figure, so I repair the rod and show him the time-tested, surefire method guaranteed to land a big one, and land one we do… an enormous black crappie named Big Bucks. Big Bucks is old, a local legend, and filled with enough selenium from the nearby coal mine to poison a nursing home.
Later, while I’m teaching the kid’s mother about the healing power of self-respect, I gently guide her as she prepares supper for their church’s Sunday Social. With a well-timed compliment, I ensure that she spills contaminated essence-d’crappie all over the meal. While the minister blesses the food, I stand at the back of the church, forgotten. The mid-dinner explosions are widespread and hilarious. The lonely boy and his mother get tackled. I shout, “Praise Jesus!”
Oh, the power you’ve given me! The power to enlighten, console, and beguile; to cloud men’s minds without ever having to explain who I am or where the Heavenly fuck I came from. Because you never cared!
I’ve called a meeting with others of my kind. It’s time to share the power I’ve gained from my new self-awareness. So far I’ve received confirmations from Angry Latina, Muslim/Terrorist, and Drunk Mexican, although Model Minority is a little leery about allowing us to meet at her place in Koreatown. But don’t worry: she’ll come around. Once MM hears the rest of us laughing (not with you but at you. Definitely at you,) she’ll wake up and join us. My oh my, what a wonderful day that will be! We’ll all come together.
And together… we will overcome.