$5 & a shot of your choice to whomever can correctly identify that quote up there. 😉
Today’s the observance of MLK’s birthday and in honor of it one of my newest twitter peeps posed a very interesting question. I answered and the exchange went as follows:
@LiteraryNobody: MLK spoke of racial equality. Do you work towards that goal by not making distinctions between yourself and other races?
@booksonthetrain (my secondary twitter account for the book blog): I would like to say yes to this question, but unfortunately I cannot. I’m in many scenarios where I am the only one of my race far more frequently than I’d like & tend to be painfully aware & sometimes uncomfortable.
@LiteraryNobody: Thank you for your honesty. Have you found that people treat you differently or because of discomfort you may stand off?
@booksonthetrain: Thankfully, it’s more of the latter. Most others that I associate with do not even bring my race into the equation. I find myself kind of waiting for the shoe to drop, so to speak. Waiting for someone to bring up the difference…in a bad way. To kind of “justify” my discomfort. It’s weird, I know, haha.
I’ve spoken about race on this blog before and may have mentioned that my group of friends & associates is rather diverse. I jokingly refer to the contacts in my phonebook as the UN. Growing up, my neighborhood was not very diverse at all. It was an all Black enclave with the occasional person of Hispanic origin or European descent. My first time interacting with a large group of people who did not look/talk/act like me was when I entered high school. Even then, I didn’t really associate with people who weren’t like me. I was cool with people of other ethnicities, but as far as my main crew? All more like me than not.
Going off to college literally changed my life. I cast off what was to be culturally expected and broadened my horizons. I made friends with “the others”. I listened to “their” music, ate “their” food, and assimilated. However I was of the mind that with assimilation comes a capitulation of sorts. I toned down my “Blackness”. Often referred to as code switching, I became more aware of the language I used when I was with “the others” as opposed to my Black friends. I tried to ignore the stares I’d get when I was the only person of color out in a group with my friends.
The more I tried to avoid or ignore the differences though, the more they were highlighted. I had an experience a few weeks back that a friend and I laughed about initially, but in the back of my mind irritated the hell outta me. I went to the movies w/ a large group of girlfriends. Seven White gals and one Black one (me, obvs). Before the movie started most of us wanted refreshments, but didn’t want to leave our items unattended. Myself and one of my friends decided to hang back while everyone else went out. As I sat down, my friend motioned for me to come closer so she could tell me something. The woman behind her (also White) saw me sitting down in the area that we’d saved seats in and says to her (my friend) “I thought you all needed those seats. Are you just gonna let her sit there?” My friend explained that I was with them and I dunno what the reaction of the lady was. We joked that my friend should have pretended like I wasn’t with them and caused a scene, haha!
I was irritated because ok, here’s the thing. Nearly everyone in the theatre saw my friends counting out these seats, right? Then we placed coats/purses/other miscellaneous items in the seats to make sure all were covered. Did she NOT see me talking to people in our group? Did she NOT see me WALK IN with my group? Did she really think that the Black girl would just move their stuff and sit down? Then I had to think of things from the flip side. Maybe she didn’t see me talking to them. Maybe I was blocked by someone else while we were counting and the lady didn’t see me standing with them. Maybe it wasn’t racially motivated and if I were white she still would have said something to my friend.
It’s a constant questioning of motives when I’m in those type of situations. While I would love to say that I don’t think about my Blackness when I’m the only Black around but, that’d be a false statement. When I feel comfortable enough to not place my Blackness as a barrier, things like this happen. It’s a catch-22, really.