Under the Overpass: High-Tech Hollerin’


You have just walked under the overpass and, down here, we’ve been mourning the loss of a dying art form: hollerin’. To holler or not to holler was a question that froze many a young brother in my Long Beach neighborhood. When a girl, who moved you, came within hollerin’ range, anxiety appeared too. Wing-tipped butterflies emerged. You wanted to honor the feeling of being moved, but didn’t know if you could spit game that could move her too. In the LBC, your hollerin’ would fall on deaf big-hooped ears, if the macking was lacking. I’ve seen sisters laugh in brothers’ faces when verbal approaches lacked verbal dexterity. I’ve also been the laughee.

Although I’m speaking about a Black heteronormative context, I’m sure the art of hollerin’ was valued by Black same-gender lovers as well. Black Long Beach’s appreciation for charismatic wordplay was not proscribed by sexual preference.

The holler or not to holler moment was magic. An acknowledgement of the pre-rational connection between select human beings. The attraction between strangers felt a split-second before it was acknowledged. The chemical reactions given language: I’m feeling you. Chemistry’s embodiment in shared space. A sister’s spiritual presence. And, at times, her large posterior. Have mercy.

In that mystical hollering’ moment, there was a recognition: I’m about holler at my maybe-future-lady. Or not. My fear could let her pass. That’s where anxiety entered. In that shared moment.

The ubiquitous presence of social media dating sites has sounded the death knell for the holler moment. Now, Black folk are more likely to first meet in a tweet than on the street. Hollerin’ just ain’t the same when the character of your mack hand is judged by 140 characters.

On some real talk, all hollerin’ ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes the nomenclature used is not clever, respectful or appreciated. And if it is, some sisters simply don’t want any stranger on the street engaging them in unsolicited conversation. Furthermore, the art of hollerin’ can (and often does) easily devolve into trying to talk a sister into bed. A conquest sport. hollerin’ culture can also lead to casual misogyny that, along with being offensive, is destructive to Black loving relationships.

The aforementioned issues may be behind the rise of dating sites like Tinder, OK Cupid, Meet Black Christian Singles and Blacksingles.com. These social media products take away some of the initial anxiety of meeting someone new—and completely eliminates the need to holler in the moment on the corner of 21st & Lewis or 43rd & Degnan.

Tinder is the newest, most innovative and most intriguing of these products. It’s Facebook meets High School Yearbook meets If-you-like-me-mark-the-right-box-note from the 2nd grade—all on your phone. The visually-driven app uses information from your Facebook account and a GPS function to create a world where you “swipe right” on pictures of people (within a given radius) who you hope are swiping right on you. When there’s a mutual right-swipe, the app alerts the members of the match and sets up a textual meet-and-greet. Voila! You’ve reached the hollerin’ moment sans the hollerin’ anxiety. Your thumbs are doing the talking. She’s not gonna laugh in your face, unless you’re wearing a sock puppet on your thumbs.

Since Tinder matches are driven almost exclusively by appearances, the application is notorious for its hook-up potential and reality. It’s been described as a “Booty Call video game.” Call of Duty for skeeters.

Interestingly, the advertisements for Tinder feature quite a few Black folk, but they’re never with each other. This, however, has not stopped Black men from engaging in its gonad gaming function. The implication of brothers on Tinder? Follow me. Think, Change the Game. The NBA with John Havlicek, and after Michael Jordan. Comedy with Bob Hope, and after Richard Pryor. Boxing with Rocky Marciano, and after Muhammad Ali. Dance shows with American Bandstand, and after Soul Train. Twitter. Nuff said.

Gaming brothers have gone HAM swiping for the High Score.

It’s not in me to knock a player’s hustle. It’s not the Underpass way. Instead, I offer this food for thought or thought per swipe: What is the impact of Tinder on the tender-hearted?

At the other end of the spectrum is Meet Black Christian Singles. It allows brothers to holler in the name of Jeez-zuss. It’s an online dating service with an explicit “Christian-motif.” The site has users fill out an extensive questionnaire that purportedly increases the possibility of finding a “soul mate.” The commercials are compelling. They feature testimonials by people looking and sounding like they are very much in love.

Since so many African Americans are churched, Meet Black Christian Singles seems to have a special attraction for Black folk. Being explicitly hetero, it’s where church women go to meet Christian men, and where Christian men go to meet sisters they can spank on Saturday night, and thank the Lord with the same raised hand on Sunday morning. Brothers with gold crosses around their necks and Magnum condoms in their wallets. These are often cats who genuinely want a “good Christian woman”—eventually. They just need to work their way up and down a few pews until they find the right one—and the right one on the side. The drawback: it gives Black “Christian men” a bad name. Women’s faith in the church—and God—can be altered when brothers are running through sisters like undersized safeties on Fox NFL Sunday.

The true tragedy?: Ministers can be the worst. Have mercy.

Blacksingles.com and OK Cupid are the middle ground. BS.com can be just what its acronym describes, but unlike Meet Black Christian Singles, it’s more honest about its intentions. You can sign up looking for love or phone calls after 11 PM. Seek to spoon or pull ponytails. Or both (nothing like spooning after some pony tail–pulling). BS.com is the closest approximation to macking on the block. The diversity of interests. The realness. A little something for everybody in the neighborhood. A place where “What you need?” is a proposition, affirmation and confession.

OK Cupid is similar but it trends younger. Maybe because it’s a newer service. The users seem more social media savvy. Hook-ups happen here, but so do the occasional Meet Black Christian Singles-like-testimonials.

Taken collectively, these four sites are a reminder of African Americans’ need for connection. Physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual. We’re seeking ways to see ourselves in other people—and have other people see us. Recognize us and our beauty. In a world bent on showing us we’re not beautiful by shooting us. And our children. We want to be liked and not just with a thumbs up, when our drawers are down. We want someone to feel us. That’s why hollerin’ on 21st and Lewis or 43rd and Degnan is important. Even with its problematic gender dynamics. In the holler moment, you’re feeling someone so deeply that you risk being ridiculed. Risk being the laughee. But you holler anyway. Hoping your maybe-future-lady will holler back, here, under the overpass.

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