Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked


March 22, 2008

The Assimilated Negro Speaks

Patrice Evans tells Gelf what it's like living in a blogger's paradise.

Adam Rosen

Blogs are like opinions; everyone’s got one. The digital revolution may have brought democracy to millions, but—mind you—sweet liberty is not without her price (in the form of Arrested Dogvelopment, for example). So within the literary cacophony of ranters, ravers, and nipple-shot posters, how do we effectively separate the viral from the chaff?

It helps to be funny. And Patrice Evans, also (and better) known as The Assimilated Negro, has been bringing the funny since late 2005, when he debuted his blog, What began as yet another indistinguishable block of HTML transformed into a wit-laden clearinghouse for those interested in dissecting and subverting modern race conventions.

Patrice Evans
"I felt we needed more of the 'negro who went to prep school and is now hopelessly confused' voice out there. So, voila!"

Patrice Evans

The fickle internet masses have spoken, and TAN’s informed opinion—that of a black dude who grew up in New York City and attended both prep school and one of the country’s greatest vanguards of collar-popping, Trinity University—has been sought in a dozen or so publications, including Time Out NY, The New York Times, McSweeney’s, EbonyJet, College Humor, and Jewcy (!). At one point, he was even Ambassador-at-Large for People of Color at conspicuously non-pigmented outfit Gawker.

In the following interview, TAN riffs on Hillary vs. Obama, didacticism in humor, and why he can’t comment on the most recent season of The Wire. (You can hear TAN, comedian Kumail Nanjiani, and longtime Onion writer Todd Hanson talk about their work at Gelf's free Non-Motivational Speaker Series event on Thursday, March 27, in New York's Lower East Side.)

Gelf Magazine: First things first. Why Assimilated, uh, Negro, and not, say, Assimilated African-American? Surely you know that the word Negro makes white people intensely nervous, especially the ones upholding the assimilation ideal.

The Assimilated Negro: Well, I really like the acronym TAN. It's short, sweet, and has some nuance in the context of race. Ideally people would be familiar enough that TAN wouldn't need to be explained, so you don't deal with the awkward stuff. It's also cumbersome writing it out, like I'm exhausted after hammering out my theassimilatednegro email address.

GM: Why'd you start The Assimilated Negro? Were you writing anywhere else?

TAN: I had a CD/book project I was shopping. I wasn't writing like what I'm doing now, but I did freelance writing. In any event, I felt we needed more of the negro-who-went-to-prep-school-and-is-now-hopelessly-confused voice out there. So, voila!

GM: Where are you from originally?

TAN: NYC. Originally raised in the South Bronx, the South South Bronx. During the prep years we lived in the LES. After school I lived most of my time in East Harlem, SpaHa.

GM: My cousin goes to Trinity. Going there must have played a part in the path to TAN-dom.

TAN: Um, yes. I put up a post with this guy who dressed up in brown face or something. That never happened while I was there, but still the pictures and comments sort of capture it all.

GM: What's the threshold for being considered properly assimilated?

TAN: I don't know. But that's sort of the thing I find funny in exploring. Like when you're in Harlem wearing seersucker shorts, is that some sort of automatic assimilation certification? In any event, I think trying to figure that out is the setup for a lot of humor.

GM: Do you think your site is more didactic or humorous?

TAN: I don't know. I mean I hope it's not "didactic," jeesh. I try and be smart and funny somehow, and usually fail and end up being depressingly didactic. And that response from me, is it humorous or didactic?

I don't know…I've become more conscious of people reading, and using it as a calling card or sample, so I think if I post five things this week, I'd guess at least three of the five play for a laugh somehow. In general I prefer the sound of laughter to the sound of thinking.

GM: Does the success of blogs like yours and Stuff White People Like suggest a positive development in race relations?

TAN: I think so. I asked about the generation gap in my interview [with Stuff White People Like founder Christian Lander]. I think that plays a role as well. Blogs and new media in general seem born of this "will to truth" that exists at least in spirit if not reality. We want to know what's "real," and these new sites are the latest in trying to ferret that out. I think by and large the people who visit these sites are racially progressive people. Whatever that means.

GM: The notion of the Democratic primary as a showdown between sexism and racism seems to be gaining a lot currency. Do you think this is a fair appraisal?

TAN: Yeah, I think people are trying to downplay it because it's so obvious, and no one wants to be categorized as a "racist" or "sexist" or anything-ist, so people have to say "it's about a lot of things." But when you consider the two-party system, any two Democratic candidates are not going to have that big of an ideological difference. And with so much money invested in the machinery, it's just silly to get overly worked up about the difference between Hillary and Obama. Except (!) for what they represent as symbols for women, black people, minority groups in general. They both represent revolutionary change, paradigm shift, in who they are, not in what they will do within the political machine. The only heartbreaking thing that can happen is neither of them winning (which seems more and more possible everyday).

"When you're in Harlem wearing seersucker shorts, is that some sort of automatic assimilation certification? I think trying to figure that out is the setup for a lot of humor."
Anyways, yeah, I don't think people are aligning with candidates over their race, but I do think the "debate" is often more about the politics of sexism and the politics of racism and how that plays out rather than the candidates themselves.

GM: How often do you get mail from someone who’s offended by your site, or a foaming-at-the-mouth racist?

TAN: I don't get that much hate mail. I get a lot of random mail. Weird thoughts, links, whatever. I get people who hate on me personally, without any race involved. Just like I suck as a person or writer or whatever. But I don't get all that much "Die Ni**a!" stuff. Ironically, sometimes that makes me feel like I'm a failure.

GM: What'd you think of Season 5 of The Wire? (I'm from Baltimore. Sort of. Just a smidge outside…but my grandparents still live there).

TAN: Don't tell the Negro police, but I haven't seen The Wire. I'm someone who wants to see the whole narrative from the beginning, and I don't watch much TV in general, so I've just avoided it until I can watch from Season 1. But there's so much written about it and hype that I feel I know the series. And of course, being black, I do know the series…intimately. Quoting Malkovich from Being John Malkovich, "It's my head!"

Adam Rosen

Adam Rosen is a contributing editor of Gelf, and host of the Non-Motivational Speaker Series.

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- Comedy
- posted on Mar 25, 08

Regardless of whether TAN is catchier than TAA, I, as a white guy, am not even close to calling a black guy a Negro, regardless of whether he gives me permission or not. Race relations are moving forward but we're not quite there yet. I equate it to my friend's parents in the suburbs of Baltimore, MD - when at their house, it's Mr. and Mrs. R, despite their attempts at less formal titles, such as, oh, their first names.

Assimilated African American -- I salute you.

- Comedy
- posted on Mar 25, 08
Brian's sister

I think Brian might be posting that comment out of fear that his website "The Assimilated Armenian" is in danger of copywrite violations.

Article by Adam Rosen

Adam Rosen is a contributing editor of Gelf, and host of the Non-Motivational Speaker Series.

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