Oh, to Be White for a Minute "Sometimes I Wish I Was White" has a singer daydreaming about changing his race.
NPR logo

Oh, to Be White for a Minute

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16411941/16411890" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Oh, to Be White for a Minute

Oh, to Be White for a Minute

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/16411941/16411890" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ALISON STEWART, host:

Does life imitate art, or vice versa in our next story? You can listen and then decide. A recent Pew Research poll revealed that hard times are afoot for African-Americans. This is a striking finding. Nearly half of African-Americans, 45 percent born to middle-income parents in the late '60s, are in poverty or near poverty as adults - as in right now.

Now, as for personal attitudes, it's really interesting. Black pessimism about racial progress is at its worst in 20 years. For example, in answering a specific question about discrimination, about two-thirds of blacks polled say African-Americans often or almost always face discrimination in terms of when applying for jobs or renting an apartment or buying a house.

In contrast, the majority of whites polled believed blacks rarely face bias in these situations. Now keeping that in mind, as you listen to a recently released song by a black artist entitled "Sometimes I Wish I Was White."

(Soundbite of song, "Sometimes I Wish I Was White")

Mr. ALLEN WATTY (Singer): (Singing) Sometimes I feel I wish I was white, so I could I feel just how it feels to be treated right.

STEWART: Joining us now is the singer of that song, Allen Watty.

So Allen, what did you think when you were first approached by songwriter Irvin Lee to sing this lyric? How did it feel to sing that lyric?

Mr. WATTY: Well, first of all, I want to say good morning to you and all your listeners and thank you for having me. You know, it's a long story, but I'm going to try to make it as short as possible.

Irvin is a type of individual, a black man, who's a really, really, really prevalent on these social issues.

STEWART: Right. He wrote songs about Hurricane Katrina and the like…

Mr. WATTY: Yes.

STEWART: …for people who don't know. But I want to know how, for you, as the singer, when you had to sing those lyrics, what did it feel like?

Mr. WATTY: Well, first of all, when he presented the song to me, of course, I was driving on the road, and he said I'm excited about this new song that I've written. You need to come down in the studio tomorrow, and we need to start laying it down.

And long story short, he said do you want to hear what the song is about? I said well, you know, like any other song, I say yeah, okay, that's good. So he said I wish I was white. And I had to pull over. And, of course, we had a long, heated argument about how I wasn't going to, you know, say that phrase. I was not going to do that song because, of course, I'm proud of who I am.

And so, he said, well, you need to listen to the song and listen to the way I've written it and the melody. And then, okay, if you feel uneasy about it, then, then we can - well, you know, we'll just put it on the back burner.

So when I got down to the studio, it was well written. It was great. It was like, okay. You know, I do need to say this so we can, you know, start talking, and we can get a process of healing and maybe if the black folks start looking, you know, outside looking into themselves as opposed to, you know, what we're going through as a black people and make…

STEWART: Because, you know, with a title like that, Allen, you're going get a lot of attention. So what kind of attention were you hoping to attract? What's the conversation you want to start?

Mr. WATTY: Well, the conversation is we want to start a conversation with, you know, black people and white people, and just - matter of fact, all races, you know, we need to start a conversation in order to get to see how you're looked upon, you know, against other racial, you know, ethnicities. So, you know, we need to start talking about it in order to heal. We need to say okay, racism is alive, and then how do we heal from this? And then we need start looking at ourselves and say, okay, we need to start ourselves much better so at least we can demand from our white counterparts to be treated better. So, I mean, I wanted to get a conversation started that - we need some healing, because right now, you know, as it said, in the last 20 years, this is thing is hot and heavy about racial issues. You know, nooses going up everywhere, you know, education is not the same, you know, in urban communities…

STEWART: Sure.

Mr. WATTY: …as opposed to - so, you know, we need an even, you know, playing field. So this is a song that, okay, I knew Allen Watty was going to be a pin cushion over it, but I can take it.

STEWART: So Allen, you hang on for one second, because I want to continue our conversation. We need to take a quick break.

You're listening to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT. We're talking to Allen Watty, the singer of the song "Sometimes I Wish I Was White." We'll continue this conversation and get some news, headlines from Rachel Martin in just a moment.

(Soundbite of music)

(Soundbite of song, "Sometimes I Wish I Was White")

Mr. ALLEN WATTY (Singer): (Singing) Take that noose out of the tree. Every chance you get, you keep reminding me…

STEWART: You're listening to a song called "Sometimes I Wish I Was White," and you're listening to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, by the way. I'm in a conversation with Allen Watty. He is the beautiful voice on that song, which has got a difficult message. And we're talking about the kind of conversation that Allen and the songwriter, Irvin Lee, wanted to get out there.

Allen, let me jump on the other side of this. For people who are listening and saying, you know, gosh, isn't this a little bit of a defeatist song? Why don't you guys do a song about Barack Obama or, you know, Paige Johnson, this award-winning equestrian, or Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who heads up the Hayden Planetarium? Why not a more positive message?

Mr. WATTY: Well, first of all, in order for us all to start talking, a lot of times, the negativity has to be at the forefront…

STEWART: Sure.

Mr. WATTY: …in order for, you know, for everyone to get to talking. You know, Barack Obama is just one individual that's trying to be the next president, which is going to be huge on the list. But, of course, you know, he's just Barack Obama. The other issue that you talked about is just one issue in itself. But if you look at as a generational, you know, of black people, it's never going to end. Barack Obama is going to be here and gone.

So, you know, but we as black folks are going to be, you know, here to stay. So, you know, these issues are going to be here no matter how you look at it or not. Now, we need to somehow start talking about it so they can subside, so we can ingest some of it. Because right now, it's at a real thick mute, you know, to where you can ingest any of it. It comes in and you just throw it back out.

So, you know, we need - you know, we needed to start singing some songs about some of these social issues so we can - you know, Irvin and I, we agree that we needed some healing process. So yes, it's a controversial song if you let it be, because I take it - an individual will hear it one way, and then another person will hear it another.

STEWART: Or it could be a conversations starter, which is really what you want people to be talking about the issue. You know what? We're going to put your song on our Web site so people can listen to it in its entirety, which I think is really important. Allen Watty, thank you for taking the time this morning. We really appreciate it.

Mr. WATTY: Thank you for having me, and thank you for again allowing me to let the listeners know who Allen Watty is all about…

STEWART: Sure.

Mr. WATTY: …and Irvine Lee and…

STEWART: We'll link on through all Web sites and everything.

STEWART: To hear more, you can visit the BPP Web site and give us your thoughts on the song and on the issue.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.