John Mayer Apologizes for “Trying to Be Clever”

(NOTE: The video of his “apology” is now available on youtube and has been added to the post below)

I thought I had covered the entire Mayer debacle in the previous post, Ode to White Men Who Think They are Black, but the twitter community added new information to the story that reinforces my main argument in the previous post and therefore warrants a follow up. If you have not read that post, which contextualizes Mayer’s comments in a larger communal issue of racism and misogyny this past year and links it to history, then you should start there and come back to this post. (And to those who think that Mayer doesn’t deserve attention in the face of “real tragedy” I would say back that his sentiments help bolster the ideological foundations for these tragedies. Nor does taking time to deconstruct his behavior and its implications for continued investment in oppressive narratives and actions regarding race, gender, and sexuality in N. America distract from the ability to talk about or organize around other events both catastrophic and supposedly trivial.

I worry about how we continue to fail to see “minor” and “major” issues of oppression as related and integral to an overarching system of marginalization and abuse. Mayer’s comments to me are much like the Focus on the Family Super Bowl Ad controversy I critiqued earlier on the blog. The problem with the organizing on the Super Bowl Ad was not the organizing itself, which dealt with reproductive rights for mainstream N. American women, but the way that organizing failed to integrate into larger narratives of both local and global reproductive and queer rights, to embed education about these issues into the response, or to develop pathways to long term commitment to change beyond Super Bowl weekend. The bounded myopia of the Super Bowl response ultimately made the organizing frivolous. Organizing around Mayer as an isolated incident is equally so, contextualizing his comments as part of an insidious and growing trend and pointing toward how this should shift our organizing is not.

For me, the previous post is not just about blogging a current event but also about providing links to history and the present & an outline for discussions we will be having in my class the next few weeks about the colonial imaginary and the meaning of imagined bodies standing in for real ones. This discussion will culminate in a discussion of feminist Andy Smith’s piece on racial passing and sexual aggression through gaming and Baldwin’s impassioned interview in which he asks why white people invented a cling to “n” when “n” does not in fact exist outside of their collective imagination. I have spoken about both of these texts on the blog before and may do so again. I wrote Ode to White Men Who Think They Are Black, and I teach the course, in the hopes of providing or sharpening the tools we need to finally put an end to a legacy of racism, sexism, and homophobia that allows a 1/2 Jewish man to identify with a male anti-semitic white supremacist over that of the women he clearly feels rejected or emasculated by. To me that is as important as anything else we tackle on the blog or in the classroom. b/c ultimately that identification process exposes the deeply problematic links between racism, sexism, and homophobia and the wooing of ethnic minorities into a system of white supremacy at the expense of universal racial equality and how this wooing is done through sexist sexual oppression)

So here is the Mayer update, and yes, unless he digs the hole deeper later, this will be the last post on his ish:


One of the key pieces of my argument in the previous post is that Clinton, Blagojevich, and Mayer rely on the sense of white male victimhood to minimize racism and sexism and their ability to mobilize oppression to feel empowered. This afternoon on Twitter, John Mayer reinforced my thesis through a series of anticipatable moves:

  1. issuing a quick apology for the use of the n-word & saying he was taking time out to think abt his actions w/ out actually taking any time out or showing any real remorse in btwn apologies
  2. failing to apologize for his misogyny and homophobia (it was brought to my attention by the Advocate on twitter that Mayer’s interview ends with a series of homophobic comments about men kissing and rimming that I would argue are also in keeping with the overarching thread of displaced sexual inadequacy that permeates his entire interview)
  3. two tweets about how all he wanted was to be a good musician designed to transform him into the victim of this debacle

These, “I just want to play music” victim stance denials culminated in a pre-concert tweet solidifying his “misunderstood good person argument”:

I just wanted to play the guitar for people. Everything else just sort of popped up and I improvised, and kept doubling down on it…

After only 1/2 apologizing, Mayer still seems to have missed the point about why people are angry and what he has done wrong.

Worse, as the video shows, he continued to play victim tonight on stage in Nashville TN and made a point of introducing his black female back up singers and black male back up band members after saying their decision to be there tonight was not in support of what he said, and yet making sure the audience saw them was a clear attempt to credential his so-called “hood pass” that began the racist portion of his offensive interview in the first place. Bursting into tears on stage, Mayer offered an “apology” that included the following:

in my quest to be clever & to slither out of what I perceive to be constant persecution(emphasis mine) “in the quest to be clever I completely forgot abt the ppl that I love and the ppl who love me … it’s just not worth it to be clever, it didn’t even sound like me,  I played the media game … I’m out, I’m done, I just wanna play my guitar …(this was transcribed by me quickly; pls use link at bottom to hear full “apology”)

Despite his use of the word “perceive[d]”, it is clear that Mayer not only wants to be perceived of as the victim here but that he actually believes his one. His being held accountable for a series of offensive comments trumps the actual (vs. perceived) offenses against

  1. black women he resents so much that he likened his penis to the leadership of an organization who has spent their history raping, disemboweling, lynching, and setting women on fire all the while enacting specific sexualized terrorism against them on a regular basis.
  2. white women he likens to “crazy” people and claims have all the agency not men like him who wield misogyny against them for daring to express their own sexual agency
  3. Washington, a respected black actress, who he openly fantasizes about in a sexual position that he represents as somehow in her nature and completely outside of his

In Mayer’s own words, the problem is not his bigotry against various intersecting groups but rather that he is a likable nerd, who was “just trying to be clever”.

Once again, Mayer minimizes the realities of racism and sexism, and homophobia, in order to erase the very real ways in which he mobilized them to access a certain kind of masculinity with which he thought we would identify. He did nothing wrong, it was the media who manipulated him and his own dorky desire to be “clever”, never mind that the only people who find racist misogyny and homophobia clever have to be invested in it in some way. Don’t spend too much time thinking about how discussion of his sexuality and identity led him to start insulting women and gay men and included examples of ways that he has actually tried to sexually humiliate the latter in public while fantasizing about the former in private. Because if you do, it’s hard to imagine a link between “dorky musician” and sexualized aggression or attempted violence, unless of course you are invested in white heteropatriarchy that recasts your victims as perpetrators and you as perpetually innocent. The ease with which the quotes listed in the post below spilled from his mouth belies any attempt to disregard them as foreign to his normal demeanor in the same way that his racist penis cannot be detached from his racist misogynist thoughts about black and white women in his racist, sexist, homophobia head. He has one body and he has, at least in this interview, one very clearly delineated train of thought that is similar to other men cited in the larger post.

Sadly, apparently some of the white women in the audience, completely taken in by their own racism, and possibly internalized sexism, missed his comments demeaning them. Since “woman” almost always defaults to “white women” in mainstream discourse, the fact Mayer began by insulting black women meant his white female concert fans neither cared nor saw it as a “women’s issue” long enough to note that they were included in his insult-laden interview. Unable to identify black women as women or see how misogyny against them led to misogyny against white women, white female fans continued to chant “we love you” as Mayer tearfully tried to rewrite his/story. Their own investment in fandom, cleverly cultivated by an ageist-sexist capitalist campaign that began with the invention of “teenage” and “tween” and the specific gendering thereof, further distanced them from the feminism that should have taught them to think more of themselves, their bodies and desires, and their rights in sexual and emotional relationships. This is why I say we need to decolonize feminism and start taking a good look at how women’s oppressions are both specific to each group AND also intimately tied together in my larger post on this issue (see below or follow link at the top).

You can watch the apology above for as long as it is on youtube or the non-youtube controlled version here, I cannot embed it b/c it isn’t on you tube.


15 thoughts on “John Mayer Apologizes for “Trying to Be Clever”

  1. I read the entire interview last night and there’s so much there, it’s difficult to know where to begin. I agree with all you’ve written but what’s most interesting is what you say at the end about the white women in the crowd. I’d like to think they haven’t read the interview in full, because what he says about women in general, and more precisely about sex with women, is vile and not just restrained to black women. There is deep-seated misogyny there that just cannot be explained away with a half-assed apology (or ignored altogether). I do wonder this, though: the discussion of this controversy (not by you but by others) has focused solely on Mayer’s racism to the exclusion of his misogyny and homophobia. It’s not that I don’t think the racist aspects are minor but I don’t like how racism is the one thing everybody agrees is bad, let’s castigate him for it, and let’s move on swiftly. That interview is revolting from sentence one as Mayer reveals himself to be so deeply insecure that he uses people of all sorts as vessels on which he exerts his superiority, usually sexually. That this is just an unfortunate slip into racism gets him off the hook.

    • yes, I agree his misogyny is critical here and I would add that his racism is deeply embedded in that misogyny both in relationship to his versions of masculinity and his relationship to women. A lot of ppl on twitter, mostly black women, were trying to make sure this was central to the discussion.

      the erasure of both women and queer communities from the discussion is disconcerting. I didn’t get a chance to read the entire interview before my first post & I was shocked that only The Advocate was talking about the homophobia when everybody was talking Mayer yesterday. So much to unpack.

  2. First, thank you for your astute post. I like your website and find it fantastically educational. I admire your skill of saying (by blogging) tiny things that others will not take time to mention.

  3. Hi, Prof.

    The part of your post which resonates with me the most is the fact that most aren’t connecting to the sexism, misogyny and homophobia, in addition to the racism. Which makes John C. Mayer a really sleazy character. The fact that Mayer is all of these things, and that some people – both Black and White, male and female – want to dismiss his actions as “mistakes” is beyond incomprehensible.

    • yes and the worst part is this tunnel vision on the part of the media means that they keep pointing to his use of and then apology for the N word as if everyone should be over it by now b/c he said sorry, but he didn’t say sorry for 90% of what he said and did. And based on the apologies he has issued in the past 48 hours, I think what he is really sorry for is being caught and having to endure public backlash when he thought ppl would laugh along with him. And that alone makes him heinous in my mind.

  4. conducted a series of national media studies to obtain Americans’ ratings of celebrity apologies in 2009 and 2010. Results found that that John Mayer’s apology for his statements in an interview with Playboy was rated the lowest in regard to perceived sincerity levels. Also, the majority of viewers (88%) thought it was inappropriate to use the “N” word during Mayer’s interview with Playboy
    More in depth results can be seen at:

    • please try scrolling down, otherwise contact wordpress or your browser company; w/the exception of the occassional missing photo (try reloading page) there are no problems on this end.

  5. By far the most concise and up to date information I found on this topic. Sure glad that I navigated to your page by accident. I’ll be subscribing to your feed so that I can get the latest updates. Appreciate all the information here

    • sadly, John Mayer got such an overwhelmingly positive response from all his white fans (including a large portion of female fans) at his concerts after the incident that he is back to wise cracking on Twitter and thinking he did nothing wrong but try to be cool and fail at it …

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