The last verse was inspired by a real-life discussion I overheard at a bar in Baltimore. A black man and a white woman were discussing a recent sports event. He called herbabyplayfully. She called himstats boy,meaning, I guess, someone well-versed in statistics. The conversation escalated quickly into a loud yelling argument, as he did not feel he was a boy of any kind and that word had racist overtones. Maybe the recent election means my song is on its way to being obsolete. I hope so.
I singled this passage out because I wanted to note something about how the use of diminutives plays out here — what kind of lines get noticed here and what kind of lines get ignored, and what kind of words get a remark and what kind get a free pass. Of course, whatever the white woman may have intended — and I’m sure she didn’t think of what she was doing, and I’m sure she used that as part of an attempt to defend herself, but it’s actually part of the problem —
racist overtones is a really mild way to describe the cultural freight that accompanies calling a grown Black man a
boy. The man she was talking to was not a
boy. And there’s a history there that makes it important not to forget certain things. But neither is she, a grown woman, a
baby. And if you think there isn’t a history there that makes it important not to forget certain things, well, you need to think harder.
We don’t know what the man and the woman said in their
fight so I have no way of knowing whether she allowed herself to be upset about that; I do know that if she did, Suzanne Vega didn’t think it was worth recording the fact that she did in retelling the story. I think it’s interesting what gets singled out as worthy of remark, what gets singled out as the sort of thing that somebody might be upset about and that might be imporant to understanding how a
conversation could end up as a
fight. And what gets dropped as beneath that sort of attention. I think that’s interesting. And I think that’s sad.