I was first in line for "Wedding Crashers" on opening night, hoping it would be as funny and sexy as it looked. It was. I laughed out loud and had enough naughty thoughts about surfer-dude Owen Wilson to make me squirm a tad in my seat. I'm dying to know what the deal is with that adorable crook-nose and, furthermore, hereby volunteer to faithfully brush those shaggy strands out of his eyes. When Vince Vaughn vulgarly announced himself a "cocksman" and bragged that he was 6-foot-5 -- I'd had no idea! -- there may even have been a slight arching of the back. The closest I've ever come to an interest in math is the few minutes I spent trying to triangulate how tall Owen must be when the two stood side by side. In particular, the highlight of the movie was the early and prolonged scenes of them partying down at a Benneton ad's confection of weddings set to "Shout" -- Hindu, Chinese, Jewish, Irish -- that will be wearing out the replay button on America's remotes when the DVD comes out.
But it was the montage of naked women cascading jubilantly into the rogues' beds, poufy bridesmaid dresses crumpled somewhere out of frame, that did the most for me. The sight of them -- alone, unarmed and unafraid, as one military motto goes -- was as deliciously sexy and just as much fun as the shenanigans at the weddings where Wilson and Vaughn wooed their willing prey. It was fitting, not to mention gutsy in these WWJD days, that this part continued to be set unapologetically to "Shout" and not some gauzy, romantic cop-out guck so we could forgive these sluts for schtupping a man they'd just met. "Crashers," at least in the beginning, wasn't about love. It was about making multi-orgasmic lemonade on love's fringes until it was your turn to star in a wedding.
That montage was a celebration of sex, carnality and the feminine ideal. It was a testament to the lion-tamer aspect of being a straight chick, that heady "bring a strong man to his knees" adrenaline rush that is one of the keys to understanding your power as a woman. At the same time it's a testament to the pleasures of surrender, that sweet, sweet payoff that can only come after a free-fall shuddering toward a landing site that has been promised but not verified, you tramp. That happy Vesuvius of perky breasts, firm thighs and concave tummies was a tribute to youth, to the search for adventure and to our enduring belief in romantic serendipity. It was a bungee jump with an elastic cord you're pretty sure is functional, but hey, if it's not, your wounds will heal. It was about optimism and thrill-seeking and I was proud of those sluts. They leapt before they looked and I don't want to know anyone who never has.
But, somehow, by the end of the parade of weddings crashed and women laid, I realized I was sad. It took me an entire martini to figure out why: The crashers seduced their way through every culture and every ethnicity but mine. Why don't Owen and Vince want to seduce me, too? Why don't they want to dance with my nana at a wedding?
It's confusing to me that in a nation, a world, where black culture so permeates, if not dominates, the entertainment industry that a major Hollywood release would throw up its hands and declare Negro culture impenetrable. There isn't a white boy in America who doesn't do a jerky cabbage patch when he's happy and pronounce himself "dissed" when angry, yet Hollywood can't break the code on LaQuisha and Raheem jumping the broom? Odd that "Shout," performed by black musicians, was chosen as the raucous anthem for an ode to collapsing racial and ethnic borders but excludes blacks, the lubricant by which this celebration of humanity, this transcendence of race, proceeds. More troubling, could it be that achieving racial harmony results from non-blacks banding together to exclude blacks? (If this seems extreme, check out David Roediger's excellent new work, "Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White." He discusses the extent to which joining in pogroms against blacks helped the despised Southern and Eastern European immigrants "prove" their whiteness and become Americanized.) We can provide the soundtrack, we can entertain, but we cannot participate; where have we heard that before? Whites can dance the hora, they can play mah-jongg with Chinese grannies, they can go Bollywood with the Hindus, but they can't figure out the electric slide? (That's our wedding staple, by the way. I have yet to hear "Shout" at a black wedding.) I reject most conspiracy theories, really I do, but I suspect that black culture was, however subconsciously, deemed unworthy.
Please don't misunderstand. I hate those Negroes who would bean count for black faces in Antarctica so they can get airtime whining about "the lack of diversity" blah blah. Start a school! Take in some foster kids! Run for office! If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, cheap race-mongering is the last refuge of an idiot. "Niggardly," indeed. Anytime you want someone with a ghetto pass to tell them to shut up for you, give a sister a call. I'm talking about something else, something more than "gotcha, white folks," something y'all won't be able to dismiss as easily as all that. I'm talking about something that grieves black women, that breaks our hearts so much I have never had a conversation with another black woman about it. Or, at least not one that dared venture further than "I bet he's got a white girl" as a gorgeous brother passed by. Our hearts are broken because we are unloved. More than that: Black women are unlovable, or so the world tells us every day. Most often, it's a sucker punch.
Minding my own business recently, I was reading my friend's excellent nonfiction book, "Random Family: Love, Sex and Trouble in the Bronx," which chronicles the intersected lives of a hardscrabble constellation of Latinas. In lamenting the loss of a lover to a rival, one woman was dumbfounded that anyone would prefer a woman "with hair like a black girl's" to her. I am ugly by definition. Usually, though, our degendering and masculinization is pretty easy to see coming. I watch the promos for my hero Chris Rock's new series about his Bed-Stuy adolescence and cringe when his "mother" traumatizes her son with bellowed, emasculating, dehumanizing threats like: "Boy, I will SLAP yo' name out the phone book, then call Ma Bell and tell her I did it." Hilarious, no? He looks about 10 as she terrorizes him with psychotic threats that would make Uday and Qusay proud. Who would want to bed that shrieking harridan? Who'd want to live next door to or hire such a bitch? Bets are off on how far into the series it will be before this black harpy (how redundant) is swiveling her neck and reducing a good man to shreds with her razor tongue. I have a 4-year-old son and an almost 2-year-old daughter who would go into cardiac arrest if I spoke to them that way, even in jest. Forgive me, Chris, but your "mother" proves that Zora Neale Hurston nailed it when she noted that black women are "the mules of the world."
She was speaking of how hard most of our lives were in the 1920s and 1930s, she was talking about the patriarchy and misogyny within the black community that keeps so many of us mute chambermaids who are regularly beaten, but perhaps most important, she was talking about what that hardness did to us, or rather, to others in dealing with us. Our ability to survive atrocity, to make something from nothing, to bounce back day after day -- somehow, this makes the world see us as rhino-skinned, never soft. Quadruple-lunged, never asthmatic. Incapable of giggling, blushing or shutting the hell up. Sisters are essentialized as indefatigable, never in need of a door held open, a chair pulled out. A "how are you doing, really?" I have to believe that somewhere in there is also the belief that the niceties are wasted on us, coarse cows that we are. Bears are happy shitting in the woods and "sistaz" ain't got no time for no nonsense like sweet talk, a man who rises when we do, or a lover to whisper naughty things to in the dark. And we don't need no stinking flowers either, or at least Jamie Foxx's hospitalized mother didn't; in "Collateral," she rejected them and belittled him for his foolishness. The bedraggled dandelions I got for Mother's Day this year will shrivel up and blow away before I'll part with them.
Owen, Vince: We long for those things. It's a misery to black woman why our strength, the strength that kept our people from extinction and which holds the community together yet, makes us seem manly somehow, as if no white woman has ever roughened her pink hands or survived rape for her family's sake. Or been a bitch. Why is it so hard to fathom that we can raise our children alone (if need be, rarely by preference), work two jobs and still look good in a miniskirt. Still want to look good in a miniskirt. Sisters are simply not seen as either ladylike or, to put it bluntly, fuckable. Rapeable, certainly, as the history of slavery and Jim Crow prove, just not fuckable.
I realized this in the 1980s and '90s when, because of my career choices, I was usually the only woman and only black around. I'd say nothing as my office mates, the men I partied with and who backed me to the hilt professionally, would grouse about the lack of women. I was smarter and better-looking than they were. I was, to take a page from my plain-spoken Vince, hot. I wore uncomfortably tight clothing. Makeup and sheer pantyhose. Nail polish. Jane Fonda for daaaaays. My heels were so legendary, my nickname was Spike. Oh, Debra dressed shamefully in the summertime. But to most white men, to the men who occupied the world that my life choices drew me to, I was invisible. When I finally married at 40, it was to the first man who'd asked me out in five years. I had been holding out for a brother but, realizing that was even less likely to happen, finally let that go.
Even when I was a seven-months-pregnant behemoth, I was invisible as I hefted a load of packages to the post office at Christmastime, as I struggled with a pallet of sodas at Costco. I was even invisible in the Tiny Tim confines of the modern airplane. I could hear crickets as I struggled to get my bag into the overhead. Two seats away, an elderly white lady was swarmed by white men helping her with hers. They politely excused themselves as they tried to hurry past my bulk to her. It was all I could do not to cry. I did cry the time two white men "erased" me in a shoebox-size Dunkin Donuts in Logan Airport. One had filled the tiny room with his luggage, his restless kids and a complicated order. I waited politely in line behind him. As he was trying to get organized, he noticed the white man in line behind me and apologized profusely for holding him up. Then he waved him gallantly on to the cashier. White man No. 2 had to step over my luggage to reach the counter. However racist white men may be, a nice rack should be the great neutralizer in an encounter that will only last a minute. You have to give racism its props; it's the only force proven to trump what a hound dog the average man is.
In the '80s and '90s, I reacted to my sexual invisibility vis-à-vis white men with faux feminist sarcasm and wannabe black nationalist contempt. But I'm 46 now and far less full of bullshit. I'm not angry. I'm hurt. It's not that I want white men to want me. I want all men to want me. I want to be seen as desirable, if I actually am. As available, if I actually am. As fuckable, though you should be so lucky. But, because I'm black, I'm somehow seen as a gender crasher, an imposter fronting as a real woman. Liable to get the sexual bum's rush at any moment. No wonder so many of us are bitches. It protects us from rejection if we make it impossible to get anywhere near us in the first place.
Sitting there in the dark, halfway through the "Wedding Crashers" montage, I realized that I was jealous of those girls just setting out in life and thought I was getting over it. I had made the most of my youth; it was someone else's turn now. I went all Mother Earthy and wise and found myself watching them with something like a maternal respect and approval, like lagging back a pace so my daughter could take her first steps or cheering as she hit her first home run. I was passing the torch, one risk-taking hottie to another. Or so I thought. In the end, all I was allowed to do was watch how "real women" live. Every woman will be able to picture herself in that parade of female pleasure, female power and eternal youth. Every woman but the black ones.
A basically sweet, silly movie has me, late in life, reconsidering my impatience with nitnoy black separatism -- black dorms, Miss Black America pageants, "The Wiz." I still believe that true separatism is not a viable option for a group comprising only 13 percent of the population, but perhaps a psychological one may well be required to maintain our mental health. As with OJ and Michael Jackson, white folks have turned on me when I've been among the most "assimilated" of Negroes, and I went slinking back to the hood. I've been soothing myself, post-"Crashers," with marathon sessions of the Soul Food compilation. What a relief. What a refuge. In that parallel universe, that majority-black fantasy land, sisters can be mere women, just women, any woman. Ones with "hair like a black girl's" or ones with weaves. Light, bright, damn near white, chocolate and everything in between. Straight. Gay. Working-class and multimillionaire. Godless and God-fearing. Bitchy and sweet. All different, all little concerned with white folks, all getting laid since the brothers there (unlike in the real world) can't take their eyes off us.
For us mules of the world, it's too bad that world doesn't exist either.