“Our Skin Is Trouble!”

This phrase is borrowed from Mr. Bansi aka Robert Zwelinzima in “Siswe Bansi is Dead” by Athol Fugard, John Kani, and Winston Ntshona. A play I came to know fairly well while vacationing in Anguilla. To say I’m sick and numb is an understatement. What has been happening since before Trayvon, Renisha, Eric, and now Michael has been a systemic and slow devaluing of the Black person. Media has gotten so sophisticated that now we know more, and know almost immediately, but things haven’t changed that much.

I have been trying to formulate something. After all I am the writer, n’est pas? But honestly nothing is coming. My head spins and my stomach cramps up. A week ago when I sat in that Denny’s eating and trying to engage the White man, I kept thinking to myself: “You don’t have the luxury of ignoring some of these fools. You live in the boonies; they could turn on you any moment.” And here we are again. This week has been full of incidences.

My friend Stacie wrote a piece that brought tears to my eyes and pushed me to ring her immediately after reading it. Forget the fact that she was manhandled, the emotional strain of deciding what to do and thinking about what the Police would do/say if they approached a situation like hers, still makes my eyes water. I am being molested! I shouldn’t have to worry about the one who is supposed to protect me! The fact that everyone walked by doesn’t surprise me. People have been conditioned not to get in other people’s business but especially Black folks business. People probably decided that if they were in some kind of twisted relationship, she deserved what she was getting. Just as now with Michael, and earlier, with Eric, there are stories being formulated to say that these unarmed Black men had it coming.

My stomach churns as I write. I have avoided the television and news since I returned to the U.S. In my house on the island, there was a TV in every room and most were all on all day long. It was easy to get hooked on the news from Gaza and fret knowing I couldn’t really relate no matter how I tried; my heart was there, but I couldn’t relate. It’s not easy to sit here knowing that my mother warns me each time I go out walking the back roads. “Don’t wear a sweatshirt with a hood. Don’t put your hands in your pocket. Make sure you smile when you see them. Don’t…” I say “Yes mom. Ok mom.” At first I thought, true people here ask me really dumb questions and mistake me for the other Black woman on campus, but no one would harm me, right? But now I am not so sure.

My encounter on Friday at the diner could have gone either way. In fact, it could have gone terribly wrong if I had told him off. He might have gotten physical and I might have ended up being the one carted off to jail because after all the White man was being “nice” to the nigger. I also recall the stress I went through trying to find a large enough town along the freeway where I knew there’d be some open-minded folks or at least a mixture of people. All this just to grab a late night snack! I shouldn’t have to think so hard!

On Thursday, I stopped at a small diner (yes me and diners have a thing) in West Stockbridge and as I said hello and ordered my coffee, it hit me that barely 50 years ago where I was sitting (an old-fashioned lunch counter) was off limits to people who looked like me. I watched the chef’s reactions as he served me. I wanted to know if he noticed he was serving a Black person. People! This is too much s**t for someone to think about just to get a croissant and coffee! Luckily for me, he was friendly as could be. Coming over to chat and ask if I wanted him to make me eggs. I declined only cos I’d had them that morning. He was not one of those wait staff who made their disdain known to you.

So I’m at a loss for words which isn’t often, but seems to be becoming the norm around these racial issues. “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” doesn’t apply to me. Saying enough is enough is not enough anymore. So what can I do?

I’m leading a “diversity workshop” as part of the slew of trainings the RAs get when they arrive to take their new positions. I have a script from last year that includes the privilege walk and defining race and such. But I feel uneasy sitting here on my posh $65000/ year campus and talking about the privilege walk when my brothers and sisters are being gunned down and the “unruly niggas” who speak up are being tear-gassed.  What can I do when it’s my turn to make a difference? I am spent, but how can I engage these mostly-privileged White kids in a conversation. Am I ready to babysit their emotions? Sometimes it’s easier to just follow the script. I guess I will decide tomorrow. Right now, I need to drink some Bush tea.

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2 comments

  1. It sounds like the weight of all your worlds is sitting on your shoulders. Big hugs to you. I hear what you’re saying about not knowing what to do, and things not changing enough. I wish I could say something more helpful. Sending you love.

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