A few days ago, a good friend of mine (call him Jeff) phoned to tell me that he had become a pimp. Well, those weren’t his exact words. What Jeff said was that he had gotten involved with hosting parties where men were charged a cover, and in return allowed to choose a sexual partner for the night. The women in the room were pointed out for their skills, and the men would select a partner and get busy.
Jeff is a modern-day pimp, running a weekly whorehouse and here’s how the whole innocent thing started.
About a year or so ago, Jeff decided to move from New York City to the Midwest in search of a more prosperous life. He was newly married and has a daughter aged four. He buys a beauty shop where his wife works. His family lives in a beautiful house and new car. And the three of them live happily ever after.
Struck with a love of flossing (spending to affect an image of an affluent lifestyle), he gets in over his head financially. Miraculously, a golden opportunity arises to make a little extra cash. One day while working at a hair salon that he owns, Jeff explains to me that he was constantly being asked by the young black women who frequented the shop to bring a bunch of “ballers” (men with money who enjoy flossing) together and host a party so that they could make some money by performing sexual acts. The name of such an event is a called a bust-down.
“A bust-down?” I laughed. “That is hilarious. Surely, you’re not serious.”
Oh, but he was.
So now Jeff’s making money hand over fist, and called me recently (excitedly) to talk about the possibility of bringing a fleet of girls to New York (a world tour, is what he called it) to expand on his newfound fortune. He also spoke with my best friend, Carla, to see if she could get her boyfriend to gather a group of his friends together for an intimate night with his stable of women.
“Are you nuts?” she responded. Jeff is like a brother to Carla. She admonished him for his actions calling him a pimp.
“They (the women) came to me,” Jeff reasoned, “nobody is being coerced or forced to do anything. Really.”
“You are still taking advantage of them. But I can see how you are trying to rationalize your actions,” she offered, “but you know that you are wrong, so knock it off.”
Suffice it to say the world tour is off. At least for now.
This bit of news stuck me as being very sad. Jeff pleaded his case. He stated that hip-hop had helped to create an environment where men and women do not trust each other, so romance was no longer a factor. Now it was all about getting one’s own.
The women don’t trust men, but want the money and the men didn’t want love, they wanted sex, is what he said. Each had what other wanted. Essentially what Jeff wanted desperately to believe that he was right, but refused to take any responsibility for his actions.
I sat with these thoughts for weeks. Hadn’t pimp culture been big in the 1970s? I brushed the dust off some memories and set my focus on a house near my childhood home where I grew up in Toledo, Ohio. The one-story house was frequently rented out by an array of transient folk, one prominent group being pimps and whores—or at least that that’s what they were called by my parents—often with a side order of kids in tow. My siblings and I were forbidden to play with their kids, but we did so anyway. We had no idea about the activities of our friend’s parents, and simply wanted to have fun. Besides, their parents were very nice to us kids and never once tried to make us junior pimps and whores in training.
That said, even though I liked these flashy, boisterous individuals with a penchant for wigs and leather and animal prints, I harbored no fantasy of being a pimp or a whore. Seemed like a hassle and all, what with all the yelling and fighting, and occasionally getting your Cadillac’s windows broken in the middle of the night. Fast-talking, always jiving, always trying to get a deal going somewhere with someone, perpetually a nomad. Despite the glamorous exterior, being a pimp or a whore was hard work.
Now, I know there were children who saw this life as “superfly,” and have likely went on emulate these two icons. With that in mind, I had to give a little more thought to Jeff’s remarks about the sad state of loves between the sexes. I agreed: things seem to be at an all-time low, particularly if the barometer was current R&B and hip-hop. In this current climate of “Lil’ Kim/Puffy, ” a cultural sensibility which promotes superficiality and excess, romance (however problematic) appeared to be confined to the pages of many contemporary black novels, at least those with cartoon illustrations on their covers. And when was the last time you saw a love story featuring black men and women on the silver screen? That’s right, you haven’t. Far and few between, the images that we are all constantly being fed are that of loose, bitchy, and good-diggin’ black women and unreliable, shiftless and violent black men.
Despite his Jeff’s narrow (and convenient) viewpoint, it held grains of truth which are disturbing. First of all, if you are fed stereotypical images of black people all of your life it can become the lens in which you view the world—and yourself. Imagine what goes through the minds and hearts of young people, souls still forming their view of themselves, of the world, who watch BET. Who listen to how violent and irresponsible black men are (or will eventually be) and how black women are all gold-digging bitches concerned more about their looks than anything else. These half-baked images dance on television, in the music on the radio, in the books, and unfortunately in plain public view by people who willingly slip into the clothing to affect a certain image because—what the fuck—it’s cool, it makes money, it commands respect.
Clearly this is not us; this is an “us” getting by in order to save face. And we all know much it hurts and damages our minds and bodies to be reduced to a thing, a stereotype, a big, flaccid penis, or a bloated vagina. A darkie dancing, a nigger hustling just to get by. As that visionary Marvin Gaye once remarked: this ain’t living, no this ain’t living, no, no, no, no. This pimp/whore crap, reader, is just getting by.
I think of the film American Pimp, directed by the Hughes Brothers, and recall the candor and romantic view of pimping. The film was so convincing, so alluring, so attractive, I wondered if I had chosen the wrong profession. Seemed like a great life, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that these men were just plain stupid. All that creativity, charisma, and intellect used only to beat the next man down with the body of a broken down, undereducated black woman whose body seems to belong to everyone else but her. But let’s be clear: I am not speaking about victims here; I am talking about choices that do more to reduce your life to dollars and little sense. Pimps are no better than pastors who pimp a flock of congregants, or a politician who exploits the supports of his constituents. Cry racism, miseducation, poverty, fine. That’s precisely why I am writing this to the would-be pimp/whore or one who would profit from the misfortune of others. I am confounded by what I see as a waste of ingenuity and ways of knowing. Surely, there’s got to be better ways to be.
I think of Jeff, and I wonder where he’ll be in a year or two, and not if, but when the law catches up with him and his band of merry prostitutes. I wonder what he will tell them: that he, a Columbia-educated man who decided to peddle flesh and that it’s ok, really because these women came to him, so that nobody was coerced, and it’s alright because he used the money for good things like the house and car notes, food, vacations.
Most of all I think of his daughter and unborn child, and wonder how he will explain to them that their father, a Columbia-educated man, became a pimp, and that it was ok, because these women came to him, nobody was coerced, and it’s alright because he used the money for good things like to house and feed them.