On Race, Class and Church

The rapper Nas once called me the N-word.

I was interviewing him along with a colleague for The Stony Brook Press when he came to perform at our college. I asked him an off-the-cuff question, like, oh you’re from Queens, have you been to this restaurant, and he replied “Nah, Najib!” — that is, if Najib was the N-word. But it’s not.

A few years later, comedian Aziz Ansari called me a Kit-Kat. It’s where you’re brown on the outside but white on the inside. That, too, happened at the same university.

I joke about this with people, usually people I try to impress on the sly, saying this has left me in some sort of cultural paradox. It hasn’t. I think I have a rough sense to know I’m neither black or white, but brown.

But it does leave me wondering about race and identity at least when it comes to the fabric of this country. What is it like to be white? Or black? Or any other race? Is the grass really greener?

Inversely, what is it like when you have to prove you’re just the right shade of whatever color skin you carry?

We live in a strange time, at least that’s what the story of the praise break reminds us.

It’s the tale of an ecstatic dance rooted deep in race, religion and American history. It traveled through centuries of oppression and made its way to present times where it’s been rejected by today’s social elites.

Maybe because it looks crazy? Or maybe it’s dismissed because it unearths some dark reality that we’re not comfortable dealing with? You be the judge.

And a link to the full episode.

Again, we live in a strange time.


What is Some Noise? It’s a podcast about the foolish pursuit for life, clarity and context. You can read more about it here.

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