Sunday, July 24, 2005

you couldn't be black for a day

i was talking to a friend the other day at work who was having a bit of a meltdown. he had an "incident" with the security guard at the front desk. when my friend entered the building, the security guard made him sign in -- something he's never done before, probably because it isn't usually done on the evening shift. when he pointed out the people re-entering the building that weren't having to sign in or out, the security guard said that they were all taking smoke breaks. then my friend checks the book to see when the last person entered the building and it it was something like a full 20 minutes before he filled in his john hancock. this was odd because it was the time of day that required a shift change. right about then, everyone is coming and going through the rotating doors in a flurry. "what's your name?" he demanded to know. and then he was off to the races.

my friend had run to his desk and whipped up a letter that he intended to forward to management. he read it to me emphatically as he paced back and forth, quite frustrated. "why was i singled out?" he kept asking. "why me?"

all i could think was, if something this minor sets you off this much, you couldn't be black for a day. you wouldn't make it past noon! your head would pop off of your shoulders before lunchtime, you'd be so angry...

so i told him this. after he balked, i explained.

if i wrote a letter of complaint everytime i was harassed, singled out, picked on by some authoritative somebody or whatever, whether it's a toy cop or a real one; if i sent out some sort of missive whenever i recieved bad service or rude service or no service; if i got wound up every time somebody had an adverse reaction to me -- from clutching their purses and bags and leaning away from me when i step into the elevator or when i walk next to them on the sidewalk, to the wierd dirty looks i get sometimes, just because (and i'm a pretty girl, for crying out loud! i'm a dazzling young urbanite! imagine the vibe a black man gets...); if i flared up whenever i got that "what is she doing here?" fish-eyed stare they give you sometimes when they can't figure out why you're at their posh event when you're not entertaining them or serving them anything; if i got mad everytime an available cab locked it's doors and sped away or swerved around me to pick up some white somebody a few feet away from me; i tell you what -- i would be doing nothing but writing letters. i would have written my fingers down to the elbows. i would have killed at least one or two people by now. (seriously.) i would most definitely be the angry violent black woman they already assume that i am.

they treat me like this, and then when they get close enough to me, they want to fetishize me and treat me like an object and touch my hair! and then they don't understand why i won't let them!

i gave him scenario after incident after breakdown after illustration of things that happened on a regular basis to me and others like me. it was like he'd never heard of racial profiling. in the end, his "why me?" became "i never thought about it like that" which dissolved into "i see what you mean." how could he argue such a thing? i mean, it's been going on for so long and it's just so obvious. eventually, he was telling me about embarassing stupid things that happened to his black friends. and then he asked me an interesting thing: why aren't you bitter?

i've often wondered the same thing, myself.

i suppose i should be, especially when things keep happening the same way over and over and over again, sort of like in the bill murray movie Groundhog's Day. i get upset, sometimes. when i see things in the paper or on the news, it's like a strange warning shot: someone i know could be next. what am i saying? i could be next. i don't understand why city officials and others who supposedly know so much about such things say that there's no such thing as racial profiling when black folks know plenty of people who've gotten harassed and beaten up by everyone from the cops on the beat in their neighborhood to jersey troopers on the turnpike for driving while black. or stopped somewhere in the city and handcuffed and taken downtown because they "fit the description," only to be released a day later from central booking because "somebody made a mistake." now that we're in the age of terrorism, things will get especially dicey.

when the guns start going off by accident and killing people, that's when i kind of lose it.

over time, i've learned how to set boundaries and pick my battles and not let a lot of what is essentially crap get to me. but the bottom line is, i have to pray my way through every situation and surrender all of it to God -- because if i carried around that much anger, i don't think i could function very well as a person.

still and all, it's strange to think that in the blink of an eye, one's life could very easily be at stake, just because of the way you look.

my friend never did send that letter, by the way. i wonder why?

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