My Dinner With Jerry

I grew up in a suburb of the District of Columbia, a conservative city, with conservative parents, in a predominately white district. My life was pretty sheltered to many of the things that were going on in the world around me. In fact, I had no idea that people were other religions besides Christian. I couldn’t comprehend that people didn’t believe in God, or thought there was another God than the one I heard about every Sunday. I lived in the same bubble that many people in my town did, and to us this was a very normal and natural thing. That is why when I chose my interviewee I chose Jerry Maynard. Jerry was born in the late 1960s in a predominately black neighborhood, and grew up in a liberal household, in a liberal neighborhood. He is the exact opposite of the life I have lived, and even though we are so very different, I respect him and consider him a friend. I thought that with the two exceptionally different subcultures colliding and still finding a way to coexist, he would be the perfect person to interview on his views of how the world has changed since he was a child, and grew up in a country of division and bigotry.

Jerry’s first memory was from the time that he was a young child, around the age of three or four. He recalls going to the barbershop with his father, and being absolutely terrified. He recalled this moment recently when he had to take his son to the barbershop, and the sound of the clippers was making his son cry. He remembered his own experiences with his father, telling him that the barber wasn’t going to hurt him, and the clippers were there to help him. He told the same things to his son, that his father had told to him. This is a moment of passage in many African American boys lives. According to Melissa Victoria Harris-Lacewell many African Americans use the barbershop as a forum to discuss politics, race, gender, power and inequality (Harris-Lacewell, 2004) much as was demonstrated in the movie Barbershop.

It was the experiences in the barbershop that made Jerry want to get into politics, and the discussions of politics and government lead him to understand how different cultures choose their leaders. In 1993, Joel Lieske wrote that there was a new theory about how regional subculture differences could help people understand how state and local governments work and the different rules and laws they observe and the people that participate in them (Lieske, 1993). Jerry now is a city councilman in Nashville, TN and wants to one day be mayor. Without any coaxing from myself or mentioning the Joel Lieske quotes, Jerry spoke about this phenomenon. He said that there were segregated neighborhoods. They were either predominately white neighborhoods, or predominately black neighborhoods, and the people who ran those neighborhoods, and owned the businesses in these neighborhoods would typically vote for, hire, give loans and breaks to people that resembled the neighborhood. He spoke of a time after he graduated college as a political science major, and applied to work for a bank in Chicago. The requirements that were necessary to be hired were one needed to be a finance or an economics major, with a 3.3 GPA or higher. He had the 3.3 GPA, but didn’t have the right major. He recalled the outrage that was caused when he was hired without all the necessary requirements, but after working there for a while he realized that all of the white college graduates that were working there with him also hadn’t been finance or econ majors, and many of them didn’t have a 3.3 GPA.

Jerry pointed out that Sunday, of all days, is the most segregated day of the week, which I also found during my research was a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Always has been, he says. Blacks go to their church, whites go to theirs, Muslims go to theirs, and Hispanics go to theirs. Even though Sundays are still the most segregated day of the week it isn’t how it was back when he was growing up. There has been an exceptional expansion of tolerance and an expansion of religions in the United States. When he was growing up Catholics were considered a minority and many of them had been discriminated against, and now there is a great amount of integration between the churches. The integration has become so prevalent in fact, that the Southern Baptists have elected the first black leader, which is promise for the future of integration and diversity (Harris & Hunter, 2012).

It was due to the extreme diversity that Jerry decided that he needed to educate people on the stereotypes that people saw in him. The media made it exceptionally difficult to change the viewpoints of many of the white people he encountered throughout his daily life. Until the Cosby show there were never any black role models on television. The stereotypes that were shown to people on television affected the way that people would talk to him, and it would often lead to compliments for him on how articulate he was for a black man. A study was done that stated while all subsultures have their own individual beliefs and ideas, but what is shown on televisioin affects the way that all of them are seen (Jandt, 2010). He had to explain that not all blacks were like Huggy Bear from Starsky & Hutch. He remembered white girls in college whose dads had told them that they needed to stay away from black men because they will rape or beat them. Many people were fearful of black men and a lot of that had to do with the media that was portrayed to the masses on television. He wanted to be able to tear down the stereotypes that people had against him based on the color of his skin and what the media had portrayed him as. It was difficult, because as he discovered, and was written by David Turner and Ian Jones, “Although personal characteristics are most powerful in person perception, where scant pertinent information about an individual is available, we tend to rely on stereotypes” (2007).

As Jerry spoke he seemed to be excited for the future. There is now an African American in the White House, which he never thought he would see as a child. There are many African American congressmen, and a few governors. The world has become much more tolerant and accepting of so much that only a few short decades ago would have been considered implausible. He also admitted the most significant change that he has seen in day-to-day life had absolutely nothing to do with race, religion, tolerance or acceptance. The greatest difference in today and when he was a kid is the access that people have to information and the speed in which this information is available. It’s not just making long distance phone calls anymore, instead you can jump on your computer and talk face to face with a family member thousands of miles away. The extreme jumps in technology has improved communication and has made preservation of homeland much more accessible (Barkan, 1995). Jerry told me a story about how when he was a young kid he had gone out to L.A. on a family trip. While on this trip, he heard of this new rapper that he absolutely fell in love with. The rapper was M.C. Hammer and Jerry immediately went out and bought the 12” copy of Feel My Power, which I had never heard of before, thinking that Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em was his first album. He brought the 12” back to his midwest town and got the DJ of a local radio station to play some of it on the air. They had never heard anything like it before. Today, he lamented, that all someone needs to do is put his or her work on YouTube and suddenly it is available for the entire world to see or hear. It is an amazing time to be alive, he says.

Jerry is an inspirational man who continues to try to shatter the stereotypes that he has been saddled with over the course of his life. He knows that when he sits down in a restaurant there are servers that don’t want to wait on him because many people believe that black men just don’t tip. If he receives good service, Jerry makes sure to tip 20% or sometimes up to 40% just to help destroy the image that people have in their mind about his culture. He looks forward to having his children contiue to shatter the stereotypes that have been placed on them through kindness and education, being able to reach out to both communities and open the lines of communication so that one day we are all truly seen as equals.

Leave a Reply