Jillian Parker is a recent graduate of my alma mater, Howard University. She is also a singer who just released the video for her song, "Mr. Football," a Taylor Swift-esque ballad about...you guessed it, a football player. The lyrics are SNL-skit worthy ("He runs back to me/runs back to me, runs back to me..." Get it? Because he plays football, hi-YO!). Parker's voice is not my personal cup of tea and it's safe to say we won't speak of her as part of Howard's Donny Hathaway/Roberta Flack musical continuum. That's not a crime so much as it's a sign of the times and the current American musical landscape. 90's babies, I cram to understand you.
However, the video (and the sheer existence) of "Mr. Football" shook me up in a major way and I know I'm stepping into the lion's den by saying so...
The video is shot entirely on Howard's campus and shows the singer kicking it with her HU lacrosse teammates and crossing paths with the football team. She connects with a particularly tall, dark and fine member of the team and we watch them frolic around the school...until she shows up at his dorm room and another girl answers the door. He pleads his case (See? He runs back to her), but she leaves him out in the cold.
Jillian Parker is White. Her on-screen boo, like the vast majority of Howard students/alumni, is Black.
And I am bothered by this video. Bothered.
Someone has already stopped reading at this point and decided that they are justifiably angry at my discomfort. Because for a lot of people, if the reaction to mixed couples is on the other side of "It's great!" or "Live and let live," then you're a bigot. Alas, it's not that simple. My personal feelings about interracial dating are complicated. Which isn't so uncommon, nor should it be surprising—race is complicated. And the history of romantic/sexual relations between Black and White people is certainly complicated. Do I instantly roll my eyes when I see a White woman and a Black man holding hands? No. But do I feel uncomfortable watching Parker and this big, dark Black guy walking around Howard's campus through camera angles that were clearly intended to 'artistically' juxtapose the difference in their colors.
I won't pretend that had this video taken place on Georgetown's campus, it wouldn't have had triggered any sort of reaction in me. I just would have likely dismissed it rather quickly. But Howard is hallowed ground—for me and for a lot of Black people. Our school is known as “The Mecca,” short for “The Mecca for Black intellectuals.” I think of all HBCUs in that way. Safe havens. Not the place where White girls go to find desirable men.
Jillian Parker performing Mr.Football
In a world where Black girls are often made to feel less desirable, my alma mater is a space in which sisters are the norm. At Howard, the majority of the handsome straight boys on campus are checking for us. At Howard, we are the standard of beauty. Black moms send their boys there hoping they'll bring home nice young sisters after their own heart. You don't hear "All the athletes here like White girls" at Howard like you do at certain PWIs. That's still significant, that's still special. That's still necessary...right?
That's not to say that White students are or should be unwelcome at HBCUs. They have always been there and they always will be. And many of them leave having had an eye-opening lesson on the true impact of racism and race relations from those who have suffered the most as a result. The White Howard students/graduates I have encountered over the years seem to value what they came to understand about Black life during their time in college and as members of the lifelong HU network. For that reason, I'd wager that most of them would not have made a video like "Mr. Football." And that includes those of them who have dated or married Black people. It just seems that someone who spent a good deal of time at Howard would understand how that imagery would read to a lot of people. In fact, I can't help but to wonder if that was the point: to be provocative and spark controversy. Or to make a statement about some sort of 'new' Howard culture. The director was a Black guy, which surprises me NOT AT ALL. Sigh.
If I mention having complex feelings about interracial dating, someone will accuse me of "reverse racism" (because members of an oppressed minority and the privileged majority are all 'even stevens'?), or bring up my support of LGBT rights (sexual orientation isn't a choice) or remind me that President Obama is biracial (because we'd never have a Black president otherwise, apparently; also, because you have to tie President Obama to everything). The world is not black and white, no pun intended. And for me, this is a subject that has a lot of shades of gray. As