…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…
…Or maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all except I was lonely and there Joaquin was 20 feet high on the screen and looking deeply kissable? Maybe it means—though good Christian women who are trying to work on their relationship with God aren’t supposed to feel this way—maybe it means I just need to get laid. Sigh…
Joaquin’s not my usual drug of choice. I’ve gone through a number of crushes over the years starting with Matt Dillon when I was a tween (though I don’t think “tween” was yet a word when I qualified as one). In recent years, it’s been Matthew McConaughey, Christian Kane, Michael Fassbender. I was on a George Clooney kick for about a decade, but that faded a few years ago. I read a few interviews with him where it struck me that he was a man who always needed to be in control of the situation, or at least that’s how it came across in the interview, and his control freakism was a huge turn-off. (What do they say—you dislike in others what you dislike most about yourself?)
What I’d really like to write in this next paragraph is something about how looking at the personalities of the men I choose to crush on has been revelatory to me about what I value and don’t value, at least theoretically, in a man I might actually meet and have a relationship with. But the elephant in the room I rarely talk about is that they are all white. Yes, I think Lenny Kravitz is gorgeous. Ditto for Boris Kodjoe and Idris Elba. But they’re not the ones I’m planning a meet-cute with.
No one wants to be THAT woman–the woman of color who prefers white men. Lord knows I do enough in my life that has made numerous black people over the years tell me I’m not really black. So to point out another piece of evidence you can use to prove that case is not really in my best interest. But while I still hesitate to own this fact out loud (you have no idea how much I want to hit the delete button right now), I have, in fact, thought a lot about why that’s the case.
I don’t consciously think white is right or better or smarter or some magic pill to happiness. (I add “consciously” cause let’s face it, we’ve all bought into the advertising about skin color, weight, height, accent, etc. in one way or the other to some degree even if we’re not conscious of it.) But I really do think that a great deal of my choice for the other is that I’m choosing someone who doesn’t look like my father. Or like my uncles. As if by choosing someone who doesn’t look like them I’m somehow guaranteeing that I won’t get cheated on repeatedly, emotionally abused, devalued. In many ways my uncles are great men (and, to hear his friends tell it, so was my father.) But what I learned from them as a little girl, when they’d forget I was in the room and smart enough to figure out what was going on, what seeped through my skin and right down to the bone as they joked about their affairs and their illegitimate kids, was that men couldn’t be trusted. And since all the men I was around at that time were brown men, since I saw the facts of why men couldn’t be trusted or depended on in nearly every interaction with my father, I internalized that even further as brown men couldn’t be trusted.
I’m not still a kid. The reality is I’ve been asked out by a few brown men recently and I’ve said yes. And some have turned out to be cheaters (what fun to get an e-mail from the angry wife of a man you thought was single!) and some have turned out to be nice men who just decided not to call for a second date. But still in my fantasy life, it’s still the white man I’m yearning for. I’m not sure if I should be concerned by that, or, given what happens in reality, not worry about it. Am I prejudiced against my own people? Does your fantasy life develop out of what you experienced in childhood and to that end should be taken with a grain of salt? What am I supposed to do with all of this evidence that I have a preference for white men? Where am I supposed to put that shame and that guilt? Should I even carry that around with me given that I don’t put that preference into action? Is this even something I need to be grappling with?
(PS You’re on my list of crushes, too. But I thought it would be weird to write that. And yeah, I was right.)
To be continued…