Open Letter to Marc Maron, Day 26 (on why I get tired of being the only Black person in the room)
…Speaking of being overweight…
Today I went to a literary symposium at a theater in town. I knew the panelists most likely would be all if not mostly white (it was 100%) and I knew I’d be one of the only if not the only person of color in the room (there was one older Black gentleman there). Still, prepared as I was, I found myself resenting having to walk into that white space. I resented being confronted immediately with the fact that I was the other, of being so conscious of myself when all I wanted from the event was to disappear into my skin of someone who just listens. There’s something about walking into an all-white space that makes me feel like an object. I am so markedly different, I don’t have any control over whether or not I’m noticed. I can never hide.
I resent having to remind myself that I belong in the room simply because I look so different from everyone else in it. True, no one is saying—by action or word—that I am not welcome, but in a room full of strangers unlike you, where is the corner where welcome hides? We are always looking in a room full of strangers for someone who seems like us: skin color is the easiest sameness to see.
I know I am responsible in part. I need to get to know even more people of color who are actively engaging in the arts so I can invite them to be in the room with me. Though it’s an odd thing to invite someone to join me in enduring that feeling of “other” just for the sake of our creative enrichment. I also know that this is not something I was feeling for the first time ever nor was it any different than what many people of color feel when they walk into certain rooms. And I also know if I told my white friends who were there what I was feeling they would have tried to empathize or, worse, they would have tried to console me.
As an artist my mission is empathy. Yet I’m realizing empathy has its limits, doesn’t it? No white person can really understand, bone-deep, what it is to be a black person in this country. I can perhaps forget for whole minutes at a time that I am brown-skinned but I can never really have total empathy for, say, a white man cause I can never fully don that mantle of that certain type of privilege.
There is no answer here. No rallying cry to this particular post. No to-do list, or action plan. This is not a feel-good post nor can I tell you how you should feel about it. I just wanted you to know that sometimes, a lot of the time, I get tired of being the only damned black person in the room.
To be continued…