Triflin' Negroes Like Jerome Adams, Explained

Illustration for article titled Triflin Negroes Like Jerome Adams, Explained
Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

So I guess you’re back with the explainer thing for good, huh?

I wouldn’t say that. I didn’t watch The Color Purple until 2011, so you know I don’t like to commit to things.

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That makes no sense.

Neither does RZA calling himself Bobby Digital but doing his IG Live battle through a Sony Pressman. But it doesn’t have to make sense to be true.

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OoooooooooK. So who is Jerome Adams?

Jerome Adams is an anesthesiologist who’s been Surgeon General since 2017. He’s also from Maryland, grew up on a farm and kinda sorta looks like a guy in a ‘90's black movie who left the main character’s cousin for his (white) grad assistant.

You mean the “Michael Beach”?

Yes! He’s definitely from the Michael Beach form of “traditionally attractive lightskint men who embezzle their children’s trust funds for essential oil pyramid schemes.

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Hmm. That seems unfair. Feels like you’re projecting personal qualities onto him based on the fact that he was appointed by Donald Trump.

I’m not! (At least, not yet. I’ll get there soon.) I’m just saying who he’d be cast as in a black movie from 1999.

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But, you have to admit that there is something...off with each of the black people placed in prominent positions by Trump. Ben Carson hasn’t been awake since season 2 of Insecure. (And sounds EXACTLY LIKE KEVIN COSTNER when he speaks. Seriously. Go listen to him speak and then listen to Kevin Costner speak. It’s the exact same voice.) Omarosa is somehow a church lady now. And Jerome Adams will steal your porch steps while you’re on vacation.

Seriously though, the sort of black person who’d volunteer to be politically aligned with Trump has some severe sensibility and morality deficits. You need them to be able to sacrifice your soul for a seat at that wretched table. Basically, you need to be triflin’ as fuck. And Jerome Adams is proof of that rule.

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Makes sense. So why is he in the news today?

During a press conference Friday afternoon, Adams made a direct appeal to blacks and other people of color to “step up,” asking us to “avoid alcohol, tobacco and drugs” to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

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This alone is a bizarre and dangerous thing for the surgeon general to say, for no other reason than the fact that we know that structural racism is why the coronavirus has a disproportionate impact on us, not behavior. And we know Adams is aware of and spoke on this too, which makes his statement just odd. Maybe he went off-script. Maybe he has a charge implanted in him that shocks him whenever he’s not blaming us enough. I don’t know. I do know that what followed was even more absurd.

What happened?

Adams continued by asking us to “do it for your Abuela, do it for your grandaddy, do it for your Big Mama, do it for your pop pop”—a stream of ham-fisted racial colloquializations that imply that the only way to communicate to us is by speaking “our language.”

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You can almost picture him thinking “These nigg(er)s won’t get it unless I remind them about Big Mama’s high sugar.

What’s so bad about that, though? I mean, he’s just using the language that many of us use ourselves.

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Because you can’t divorce language from context. This is the head medical officer in the country, speaking to the entire country and choosing to infantilize the most vulnerable and hardest-hit communities during the greatest public health crisis of the last 100 years. And that he works for the Trump administration—which came to and remains in power by substituting the dog whistle with a bullhorn—matters. He spoke to us the way they believe we need to be spoken to. He might as well have just squirted some hot sauce on the podium, too.

This is also why it sounded so damn unnatural, like a bot who learned how to speak by reading 100,000 “black” tweets. Even if he wasn’t the surgeon general and was just my cousin Jerome at a game night and said “we need to step up for Granddaddy and Big Mama,” I’d wonder who killed him and replaced him with a black male Bhad Bhabie.

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You know, this reminds me of the criticisms of how Barack Obama speaks to young black people, and that...

I’m sorry. I can’t hear you. The signal’s breaking.

Oh, I was just saying that when he’s in front of us, it seems like he speaks down sometimes, and ...

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Yeah, the signal’s dead now. I’m sorry. I gotta go.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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wafflesaadiq
Waffle Saadiq

Im Shucking and Jiving and stanning and grinning”