Book Review: Making Friends with Black People by Nick Adams

Yes, it’s another book review. Why so soon? Well, I was in Barnes and Noble the other day with a friend when I came across this book in the humor aisle. The title alone was enough for me to pick it up and flip through it, thinking, “What on earth could this be?” It immediately opened to Chapter 3, titled “To Ebonics and Beyond!!!!”

I bought the book for 14 bucks on Tuesday. Finished reading it on Thursday. It’s that hilarious.

making-friends.jpgIf you read my last Friday’s entry, I went off on this little thing called ‘dialect’ and ‘voice’, and the problems I’ve been having with it trying to get it down right, despite the fact that I’m a black woman. (It’s them book smarts. I got so much of them I never really boned up much on the street smarts.) So when I saw Adams’ book and flipped through it, what went through my head was “Oh, I must get this. Now.” Call it researching my own race, if you will. I figured for the slang along, it will be worth it.

And yes, Adams does go into the intricacies of human slang. But what really drew me into this book was how it went into what black people are as a whole.

First, some interesting things about Nick Adams. Obviously black man, living out in LA. He’s a comedian, but he’s also done some screenwriting and worked at NBC, BET and other media outlets. He’s also married to an Indian, and besides R&B, he also listens to a lot of rock music too. That last bit really impressed me–though I am not a huge Dire Straits fan. But any black man who talks about Dire Straits immediately gets points.

But the book. It’s a very tongue-in-cheek, humorous look at the whole culture of blackness, from music to food to language. Adams writes in a very casual, loose with the expletives style, that is pretty much directed to white readers, but also gives shout outs to the black readers of his book as well. And yes, when I say loose with the expletives, I mean it’s chock full of them. Don’t let the kiddies read this. It could get quite graphic at times.

Of course, Adams starts off by jumping right into the most controversial topic–the ‘N’ word. You know it. I know it. Rhymes with Bigger. Adams goes into the conundrum of how young black people can say it to each other whereas older black people can’t stand it, and white people just can’t, shouldn’t, and really don’t want to even think of it. He’s got an interesting take on it–obviously, he’s right at home using it. He feels his use of it is taking it away from the hate groups. I don’t necessarily agree with that–personally, I hate the word. But it does bring up an interesting thought. As time advances, and younger generations of blacks start using the word with a more positive spin, will it get to the point where the original meaning is lost? It feels like Adams is arguing the case that it will, but he does it in a humorous way:

Since an end to the use of the word is nowhere in sight, I suggest we have fun with it…(lots of amusing N-word anecdotes here). It may seem harsh, but I just love the fact that black folks have taken ownership of the most powerful slur in the history of the English language. We can actually use (N-word–I want it to be family friendly at the Cafe) and other epithets to make white people uncomfortable now. Say it in front of them and you can see white people wince. I’m seriously considering changing my name to Jigaboo Pickaninny just to watch the receptionist squirm the next time I go to the dentist’s office. ‘Mr. Picka…umm..Jiga…umm. Yes, you. The black guy who’s laughing so hard. The doctor will see you now.'”

Adams gives white people a hard time in this book. He also gives black people a hard time in this book. In fact, nothing really escapes. He goes from what to call black people (African-American? Afro-American? Black? Huh?), to bashing black stereotypes (“Yes. We love soul food…all of that stuff is great. We’ve moved on. We eat sushi now.”) to rappers, black and white. He takes on Hollywood, movies, interracial dating, dancing, the media, basketball, crime, affirmative action, television, politics, George Bush, Elton John and Britney. Yes, that Britney–though it shows how such a book can become outdated within just a couple of months. When Adams wrote it, Britney had just started her wacky hijinks with her sudden marriage and annulment. (And for the record, I gotta love what he has to say about her: “Behind all the money, makeup and hair extensions, she’s just a white-trash girl from Louisiana. This is what they do, people. She’s not going crazy. She is fulfilling her destiny.” Yeee-ouch.)

As shown above, despite Adams saying (almost apologizing in some places) that this is a humorous book, underneath the humor there’s got some real biting commentary and harsh criticism, both on the white and black side. Some of the most interesting chapters come from him being semi-serious in discussing the media world, particularly in television and news. Having been behind the scenes in both areas, his strongest feelings come out in these areas. He really rips into BET, exposing their practices in putting their ‘content’ on the air (and in the process, making me release the guilt that I never was interested in watching it–their ‘content’ was worse than I thought). He tears into the news media, particularly the Jon Benet murder and the Columbine shootings, things he doesn’t feel newsworthy because such things have been happening in the black community for years, yet the news doesn’t even blink. This is where the angry-black-male part of him rears up, despite his still casual tone. (“The same people who cried crocodile tears over the dead bodies at Columbine turn a blind eye to these stories, and to the social problems that cause them, every single day. The message that is being sent here is loud and clear. Our children are more important than yours…But this isn’t new. White people have a long history of ignoring an issue until it smacks them right in the face.”)

Despite everything that gets called out in this book, there is one group that Adams conspicuously omitted. I kept waiting for it to show up, but it never did…and that was black women. Sure, he bashes people who listen to country music, the Jefferson theme song, God (I didn’t like that chapter as much, though he had a hilarious chapter afterwards on the pros and cons of other religions). And he does mention specific black women, Halle Berry, Jamaica Kincaid, But black women as a whole group? Not one word. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because, it being a book that’s geared toward white people, he didn’t feel the need to black women out as a group to bash. Maybe it’s because he’s talking about race relations from a black man’s point of view and he didn’t feel the need to go into the black male/female relationships without confusing his white readers even more (and outraging his black readers even more). Maybe because it appears he only dated white women. Maybe because black men and black women just seem to be angry at each other and he didn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole.

(And before you start flaming me, check out this interesting CNN news article, which talks about black women getting tired of black men dating white women, so now they’re beginning to date white men. Oy, oy, oy, now there’s a nice read. Almost makes me want to write a book in answer to it. But you know what? Being married to a white man myself, I’m not going to touch this subject. Nope. Not gonna do it. If Adams didn’t want to touch it, then neither do I. It’s way out of my league. I’ll leave it for the Angry Black Woman to dissect.)

This was not a book that had me nodding in agreement to everything he said. At some point, I think I even started to argue with the book–I think it was when he started talking about black books being relegated to the black section of the bookstore instead of in the normal literary section. “Untrue! There are stories who do that, but there are also stores who do put contemporary black authors in the literary section, you stupid N-$*@!” After a while, the constant N-words and F-words do get a bit overwhelming. Plus, there were times where he went off on a rambling diatribe, which were still hilarious, but way off-topic. But I do have to say, language aside, I really, really, really enjoyed this book. It made me think. It also gave me insight on black language as a whole, which helps me with my writing, so I think the $14 was completely worth it. And finally, it gave me great insight and confirmation into my own race–that I don’t need to be watching BET and those trashy black novels (you know the ones I’m talking about) to prove to myself I’m black. It gets 5 watermelons out of 5. Hey, if Adams gets to take the N-word back, I’m gonna take watermelon back. It’s good for you, healthy, full of fiber. Just don’t expect me to sit on my porch and eat it barefoot. I’ll use a knife and fork, thank you.

Finally, one more observation on just how cool Adams rights. Just before Adams launches into his BET diatribe, he writes, “…I won’t tell you any of those stories because that would be overkill. But, I will tell you one story that most accurately depicts their preposterously parsimonious ways.” Parsimonious. Where did I see that before…right! In Sideways! My last book review. It just goes to show how in one book, that word is used in a horrible, pompous and pretentious way that set my teeth on edge, while in another, that same word can be spun in a tongue-in-cheek, humorous way, with alliteration to boot. So tell you what, Nick. For using that word, I’ll forgive you for leaving out all us black sisters. That’s probably a book in itself anyway.