Benny Jay: Black Like Me

April 6th, 2010

In a tribute to the great Sammy Davis, Jr., I mentioned that I thought he was the Rat Pack’s most talented member.

Big mistake….

I’ve been hearing from outraged Frank Sinatra fans ever since.

Just the other day, Big Mike said I favor Sammy over Frank because Sammy’s black and, as everyone ought to know by now, I “want to be black.”


Well, I guess I should have known it’d only be a matter of time before some white guy played the affirmative action card. Like any accolade a black man gets is a special favor for being black. You know, like he can’t just be the best.

C’mon, on Big Mike – you’re better than that.

Okay, just to make a few rather obvious points….

Number one. I don’t want “to be black.” I don’t even know what that means. That implies that there’s a prototypical “black” I want to be.

I mean, Clarence Thomas is black — I certainly don’t want to be him.

I don’t want to be Jules Winnfield either. He’s hit man, played by Samuel Jackson, in Pulp Fiction, the movie by Quentin Tarantino.

Big Mike calls Winnfield “the very apotheosis of cool blackness.”

Mikey, Mikey, Mikey – the man’s a hired killer! Are you saying that all cool black people are killers?

For the record, I don’t want to be a hired killer. I don’t even like getting into fights.

As long as we’re on the subject, I don’t want to be anyone in Pulp Fiction. I don’t even like the movie. In fact, I disliked it so much that years went by before I saw another Tarantino movie. And I only did that cause Mike, my video store guy at Dark Star, told me Jackie Brown was one of the greatest movies ever.

He was right. Glad I took his advice.

By the way, Samuel Jackson’s in Jackie Brown. He plays another killer. But he’s not my favorite character in the movie and I most certainly don’t want to be the character he plays. Though I do like his hatmy wife bought me one just like it, as a matter of fact.

My favorite character in Jackie Brown is Jackie Brown, who’s played by the great Pam Grier, one of my all time all times from the 1970s. As always, Pam Grier is sexy, beautiful, and smart.

So if I want to be anyone from a Tarantino movie, it’s Pam Grier. If you see me wearing a slinky dress and high heels, you’ll know why.

That said, Big Mike did get one thing right — I’ve gone through much of my life wanting to be one black guy or another.

It’s not that every black guy is cool — oh, no, far from that. It’s just that I wanted to be like the ones who were.

It started in the early 1970s when I decided I wanted to be Norm Van Lier, the starting guard for the Chicago Bulls, who was, no doubt about it, the coolest cat around.

Threw me into an existential dilemma: How could I want to be Norm Van Lier if he was black and I was white? I got so confused. Like a gay guy who marries a woman, I  pretended I really wanted to be Jerry Sloan, the white star on the team. Eventually, though, I came out of the closet – started wearing Norm Van Lier T-shirts, writing his name on my shoes and everything.

After that the floodgates opened, and I realized I could be anyone I wanted to be – white, black, or Asian (I still want to be Bruce Lee). What the hell – these are my freaking fantasies!

Over the years, I’ve wanted to be — let’s see — Reggie Jackson, Duane Thomas, Dick Allen, Dock Ellis and, of course, Muhammad Ali – just to name a few athletes.

In terms of music, I’ve wanted to be everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Jerry Butler.

And don’t get me started on actors. For years, I wanted to be Sidney Poitier. At the moment, I want to be Denzel Washington. For the record, he was better than Russell Crowe in American Gangster. And if you don’t like it – you can kiss my….

This is not to say that I’ve given up on white people. I also want to be Bob Dylan (as the song says). The Coen Brothers. Paul Newman. Woody Allen. Larry David. Ben Stiller. And, yes, George Constanza from Seinfeld. What can I say – I love George Constanza. The man cracks me up.


In fact, now that I think about it – Big Mike really had it wrong. I don’t want to be black. I want to be Jewish.

Oh, wait – I am Jewish.

Aw, hell, I’m all mixed up – like everyone else in America.

Anyway, there you have it. True confession time. I bare my soul for The Third City and all our thousands of readers.

Feel a lot better about it too. Almost liberated. Sort of like John Lennon.

Speaking of guys I really want to be….

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