In My Skin… Ruminations on Race

If you have not taken a gander at Freshly Pressed lately you should. The following post gave me a nasty jolt, Some Real Shock and awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit. I felt a terrible sadness and anger for the author, Shoshana, as she will be dealing with the internal fallout for a long time to come. It brought to mind an equally disturbing movie called The Siege.

Governments have historically demonstrated that abuse of power based on personal, misguided beliefs is an absolute certainty. It is for this reason that we must be very careful of what they deem necessary to ensure our safety at the expense of what is at best, very tenuous liberties. As Black comedians love to say, “Arabs are the new niggas…” In the eyes of the frightened and bigoted – they are right.

After my boil settled down to a simmer, I realized that I empathized with her as well. Whilst reading, I felt removed because she was referring to an event tied to a specific type of racial profiling. In the quiet, I realized that she could just as easily have been talking about the experience of many minorities, or African Americans and the boil returned.

I am originally from New York and I can’t tell you how proud I am of that. If you come up in New York you are fast talking, fast walking, cocky and engineered with a certain toughness. You’ve seen it all and been around all kinds of people and not much affects you. You are also somewhat impervious to dirt, crowds, ghetto blasters, everything big as life and a bewildering array of flashing lights lol. I wear that like my armor wherever I go and it’s helped me more than once.

I lived in New York until I was 32 and when I first let it be known that I was crossing the river to Jersey a loud hue and cry arose – from my black friends. They said I was crazy. They said I should be careful. They wanted to know if I knew that the cops in Jersey were notorious for profiling. My response? Same stuff goes down in New York. Just the thought enraged me as I was keenly conscious of the opportunities that I have which my ancestors, two generations removed, did not. Nobody will ever determine where I live. I determine what is possible for me.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that they were right. I was hyper conscious when driving when I first moved here and ridiculously uptight when passing a cop. And no, I wasn’t doing anything wrong but I know instinctively and experientially that I can’t trust most cops. Two threatened to rape me at 16. Better to avoid those with potential power over you when you don’t know what prejudices they carry. The feeling went away eventually but it was a long time in the coming. Now, I am not so much as cautious as vigilant.

I have had my run in with NJ cops for supposed traffic, code violations, or any little thing they can trump up. Hell, my company truck was stopped the other day because deodorizer was hanging on the dashboard mirror and supposedly that’s now against the law. They’ve gotten stopped and harassed any number of times, because two black guys in a big white truck is evidently a beacon. My attitude? They can go F themselves. I pay taxes, I am a business owner and I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of even the suggestion of fear. Instead, I dazzle them with my wit, pay the fine and keep it moving. Fairness is a moot point.

I have come to understand that I am considered an anomaly which is why my razzle dazzle usually works lol. What do I mean by anomaly? Why, an educated, articulate, African-American, of course. I am not what they expect, thanks to inherited prejudices, general small mindedness, or the glorification of negative images and stereotypes so beloved by the media. Perhaps here I should opine that there are ignorant people of every race but only certain types are paraded before us.  

There are goodies out there who will doubt my veracity, think that I am  exaggerating for effect, or subtly hinting at a history that should have the decency to stay dead but they don’t live in my skin. They don’t see the relaxing of facial muscles and relief when I speak, or cajole my way out of the mental construction that a mental midget in a blue suit, behind a government desk, or even in a courtroom longs to put me in. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

In my skin, I have endured hostile stares in expensive restaurants; been stopped and scrutinized by airport personnel in London, Malaysia and more; been left curbside by taxi cab drivers; had security people follow me, or routinely ignore me. I have viewed with horror, then pity and amusement, the contingent of old, frightened, white ladies who lock eyes with me in some kind of compulsory horror – always in a public place. Then, their gaze will slide away to an invisible dot somewhere. Of course, we can add to that fruitless job interviews where the interviewers love me in print and admire my speech until they actually see me. As a corporate slave of two decades and a female technologist to boot, you can only imagine what I experienced there.

All my life, I have had to endure remarks about how articulate and intelligent I am as if it is an anomaly. I know that some people mean it nicely but I am speaking of those with a completely, different motivation.

With all this emphasis on my skin, I grew up hating it. Even surrounded by open minded people, exposed to various cultures and dating other races, I still hated it until my mid-twenties. Thank God, I finally got a clue that I had been informed by hatred and it festered within.

Every African-American woman knows that her brother, father, son, boyfriend or husband could be stopped for the slightest infraction, or suspicion and carted off. It’s just a very sad and sobering fact of our reality – everyday.  

Of course, African-Americans do not own Racial Profiling or racism. I speak of my experience and hope that it encourages people to think about the politics of hate and actions driven by fear.

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8 thoughts on “In My Skin… Ruminations on Race”

    1. Morning! That’s wonderful, you should. Although your neighbors might look askance at you. I am sad to say that I never mastered that so I will have to confine myself to singing lol.

  1. Hey Empress,

    It bears repeating…”However, it is my hope that through my daily living and interaction with other folks (who I believe also put on their pants, one leg at a time), that others will develop the sensitivity that is required for us to live in harmony and in a unified purpose, somehow. It is in the meeting of the human Spirit that the connections will happen. When more and not less, of us, understand that the world will not be a better place without our working together, then and only then, will we have truly arrived. Until then, I am holding out for world peace!”

    Beautifully said! What especially resonated with me is your statement about the human Spirit which I was explaining to a friend just as your comment came through! I keep telling Sparks we must keep hope alive lol…

    Thank you for the subscription and sharing your viewpoint. Tipping my hat to a fellow NYer. Whose Bad? 🙂

  2. Good day, Coco! Alas, I’ve made my way over to your lovely blog, and confirmed that yes, indeed, I am a subscriber. Yay me!

    Anomaly – I love/hate that word; however, your use of it these Ruminations on Race is right on! Also, it is the best descriptor for the perception that many have of women like you and I. Like you, I’m African-American, via the Caribbean, NYC, and now Chi-town! I’m smart (damn right, I am), educated in some of the best institutions, from the inner-city of NY, live in a very affluent and well-maintained suburban community, and somehow manage the ability to collectively string together a few sentences in my response to Life and the phenomena therein, as well as render some inspiration every now and then. Who knew that would be considered an anomaly? And here I was, thinking that this was all a part of self-actualization! 🙂

    I’m all too familiar with the nuanced reception and perception of folks like me. Folks don’t always know of all that is me, and I’ve really become OK with that, more recently than ever. I realize that it isn’t my job to convince, cajole, or persuade anyone beyond their prejudices; however, it is my hope that through my daily living and interaction with other folks (who I believe also put on their pants, one leg at a time), that others will develop the sensitivity that is required for us to live in harmony and in a unified purpose, somehow. It is in the meeting of the human Spirit that the connections will happen. When more and not less, of us, understand that the world will not be a better place without our working together, then and only then, will we have truly arrived. Until then, I am holding out for world peace!

    Thank you for sharing this reflection.

  3. Gypsy,

    “The blessed are too busy judging” lol. How spot on is that? I’m all spun out and vented :). Thankfully, I am now in love with my skin, inside and out. Thanks for the compliment. You, too, are a beautiful study in contrasts. xox

  4. Racism is an endless spinning circle. Achieving nothing yet refusing to stop. Your skin is beautiful, How ironic my whole life I have been pasty white like a vampire wondering what it would be like to have the gorgeous dark skin of those I saw as more genetically blessed. Your skin is beautiful on the inside as well.. however only the blind see truth, the “blessed” are too busy judging

    xx

    1. I don’t know which one of the two of you to fall in love with first!

      I happen to be a member of the first generation to benefit from the “Black Flight” of the 70’s… black families migration from the inner cities to the suburbs as economic “progress” began it’s slow trickle towards an imitation of financial equality.
      Some memories are still less than pleasant, so, when my “soon to be ex” asked me about leaving Washington D.C. to move to Georgia the ONLY thing that was inspired in me was thoughts of a future filled with having to prove myself over and over and over again to people that could care less what the out come of my attempts were going to be.
      I have similarly found job announcements in the paper, called to set appointments for interviews, impressed with my Yankee dialect and Catholic school annunciation, knocked them dead with a quick list of my broad experience over the phone…

      only to walk in the door “KNOWING” that this interview was going to be a slam dunk and be told that there is no position available when I ask face to face.

      The Landlord of my home informed me that my next door neighbor, in a rage, had asked him…

      “how could you let some “ni****s” move in next door to me?”

      With a smile on my face, my response to the landlord…

      “Oh really? I hadn’t noticed that he had a problem of any kind”

      He was MY next door neighbor (and I say that with pride!)

      After seeing me clean 3 van loads of trash up, tear down the rotted wooden deck on the back of the house, begin clearing the overgrown back lot attached to the house, raking leaves and cutting grass a full 30 days before he ever met my family
      HE would bring MY children fruit from the farmers market when he bought food for HIS family.

      This MAN shook my hand and looking me straight in the eyes told me he was SO happy that I had moved in next to him. When 10 years later he died,

      I wept.

      My response to my landlord continued…
      To be prejudiced is to pre-judge what you have no personal knowledge of. My job is to teach the uninformed about “WHO I AM”.

      For those resistant to my teaching… all I have to do is out live them!”

      pe@ce

      1. Beautiful, Mutuo. I LOVE that story and your swag :).

        Your experience with your neighbor illustrates beautifully my own attitude and defense. I almost understand generational racism, meaning older people who have had limited exposure to other cultures. I believe that they should have the power and wisdom to rise above their “teachings” and as a human being know that ethnicity is no indication of a person’s worth. Think of the breadth of the human experience that is denied them. That is, of course, not as important as the people they have “hurt” with their bigotry.

        I have friends from every walk of life and it changed who I might have become. I ignored the bigotry in my own family and rejected the ideas taught to me and I’m very proud of that.

        I, too, moved next door to an older white couple and endured their racist attitude. It took about 3 years to wear them down and become fast friends. I saw past their attitude and recognized them for who they are and was happy that they could eventually do the same for me.

        Interestingly enough, their adult children would come by and scowl at us in the street. I actually heard the wife carrying on her daughter about all the wonderful things we do and how hardworking we are. She, too, could see the ugly look of bigotry that marred her daughter’s face.

        Just last week, the wife fell in the street putting out the garbage. She was lying in the gutter bleeding as she had broken her noise. Her husband broke his hip last year and could not come out to help her. My boyfriend saw her from the window, ran oustide to help her and called an ambulance. Imagine his surprise when the three children walked up to him and thanked him for the help we have given their parents over the years. It only took 11 years. It was nicely contrasted by the cop who arrived and seeing a black man standing over an elderly white woman kept repeatedly booming, “What happened here?”

        I hope the world changes but think that’s really idealism at work. Change is way too slow and people are too thoughtless. I believe that people secretly enjoy being superior to others and it is this that beats at the heart of prejudice.

        Peace

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