In need of Negroes 

Excuse me, but would you like to rent a Negro? Perhaps your life has been a little, well, you know, blah, lately. Trust me, we’ve all had those days where we just can’t seem to find our rhythm. Somewhere along the line your dancing shoes turned into work boots, and whenever you try snapping your fingers to the beat your poor little joints start to ache. Your lack of soul has cost you a terrible price, and you don’t know how you’ll ever pay the bill.

So I’ll ask you one more time: Would you like to rent a Negro?

Offended yet? If so, keep reading. Your skin needs thickening.

Not offended? Keep reading. It gets better.

Perhaps you’ve already heard of the relatively new Web site put up earlier this month called rent-a-negro.com. No, this is not a joke. This is a real Web site, and if you don’t believe me you can check it out for yourself. Go directly to rent-a-negro.com, and be sure to include the hyphens. The site, which is creating quite a stir, was created by damali ayo of Portland, Ore. She describes it as a “d.i.y. reparations art performance project.” That should give you a pretty good idea of where the lady’s coming from.

For those who are unaware, the issue of reparations — U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit has pushed Congress to get off the dime and appoint a study commission — is all about seeing to it that every single descendant of slaves is given financial reparations by the federal government. Reparations would be a means of atoning for what was done to our African ancestors, a means of collecting on a debt for 300 years of free labor without which this country never would have developed into an industrial juggernaut and the most prosperous nation on earth. And ayo suggests a a rental service as one way to help pay back this debt.

Hold up! Before you flick that Bic …

Rather than using the 2-by-4 of justifiable rage to slam folks square between the eyes with the very explosive issues raised by reparations, ayo has chosen instead to employ humor as her weapon of choice. Beware, this is humor that will frequently make you feel guilty for laughing. That’s the point. Humor can oftentimes be the best way to open the door for a particular message to sneak its way past your guard. Comedians such as Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and George Carlin have all been recognized as masters of this technique.

Here’s some of what she has to say at her site:

As we all know, the purchase of African-Americans was outlawed many years ago. As times have changed, the need for black people in your life has changed but not diminished. The presence of black people in your life can advance business and social reputation. These days those who claim black friends and colleagues are on the cutting edge of social and political trends. As our country strives to incorporate the faces of African-Americans, you have to keep up. Rent-a-negro offers you the chance to capitalize on your connection with a black person. At any gathering our service can bring a freshness and tension that will keep things lively. This adds currency to your image and events. We all go out for ethnic food every once in awhile, why not bring some new flavor to your home or office … for all your friends and colleagues to enjoy?

If you would like to rent a Negro for a corporate function, the cost is listed as $350 per hour. However, if all you need is a Negro to show up for a little while, then the “drop-in/appearances” rate is a very reasonable $100 per hour. Need a Negro to challenge some of your racist brothers and sisters? Just $500 per event will get the job done. But if you need a Negro to vouch for you as a non-racist, that will run you $1,500. Hey, don’t get mad at me. I didn’t make the prices.

If you have received any of the above services prior to June 1, 2003, you may receive a retroactive invoice for services rendered. You value your reputation, so we know you want to resolve your outstanding debts.

Naturally, I couldn’t wait to rent a Negro for some white colleagues. Having been a Negro for a large portion of my life, as well as a black man, Afro-American, African-American, and all-around brother, this seemed like an invaluable opportunity to help another brother or sister get paid while contributing to the education of those in need. There was a time when I used to perform many of the listed services for free, but I have since retired.

No, seriously. During my college days as president of the Black Student Union at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, I considered it my duty to educate the white masses. After years of attending predominantly white schools and living in a predominantly white neighborhood, repeatedly being expected to be the “answer Negro” for any questions regarding my race, I was convinced by the time I got to college that white folks needed to understand black folks a little better. Since I felt my years of experience ranked me as somewhat of an expert, I decided to open my own office, so to speak. Boy, those were the days. …

Later I realized there’s no such thing as a professional Negro, and white folks weren’t as interested in my services as I felt they should be. I was crushed. I closed my office, took down my shingle, and moved to Detroit. Let somebody else worry about it, I figured. Then along came this great Web site!

Ready to rent? Simply fill out the rental request. You could be enjoying our product within the week!

Let’s see, now … here it asks if I’ve ever used black people before? Nope. Do I have previous experience with black people? Yes. Were those experiences positive or negative? Mostly positive, but you know how we can be.

I filled in the rest of the questions as best I could, then submitted the form. Not more than a second later my request was denied! It said their records showed I had used black people before without paying for the service! Let me tell you, that’s a damned lie! How can a black man be charged with using black folks for free? How can that happen??? WHITE FOLKS USED ME TOO!! DON’T I GET CREDIT FOR THAT??

Assuming there must have been a mistake, I tried submitting the form again. And again. And again. Damn it!

Hey, wait … the computer doesn’t know that I’m …

Well, if that ain’t a …

So who do I see to rent my Negro?

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area writer and musician. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com

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