An early morning after yet another sleepless night, I went to local coffee shop to grab a pick me up before a full day of work. I anxiously ordered mocha ( my thoughtless choice) and carefully walked towards the back of the coffee shop.
SCRRRREEEEEEEECH a shrill voice cuts the air. No. I thought. Please no. I slowly turned to see a very nice family sitting down at the front. the baby was screaming.
SCRRRREEEEEEEECH scraped the voice inside my ear. I took a few deep breaths attempting to not physically cringe, covering my ears and whimpering every time it happened. I took my mocha to the farthest back I could go, put my headphones in, and breathed a sigh. I desperately wanted to keep my rage in check. (We’ll get to that in a second.)
Two sips into my mocha and I’ve left the shop, leaving my still warm coffee on the table.
Why am I telling you this story? If you are still confused, I’ll give another example. A few months ago I’d had a long day and went to a quiet Ethiopian restaurant for an early lunch. That hope was disrupted by some of the rudest white women. They were loud, demanding, ignorant, and disruptive. The woman who worked there and I bonded over their rudeness a few tables over and they still ignored her. They were having too much fun on their lunch date to the ‘exotic’ restaurant to notice how every brown person around them was uncomfortable. The sad thing, I see this all the time. Another example, two loud white men entered a quiet Japanese restaurant. They were demanding, Their laughter and remarks echoed throughout the restaurant, their drunkenness was disturbing everyone around them but mostly the workers who brought them sake bombs. The barely hidden disgust on the waitress’s face went unnoticed as she said nothing. I saw it and seethed feeling helpless and just as unseen as she felt.
White people, why y’all gotta take up so much damn space?! Can you really not see how it affects everyone around you? I’m at my limit with this and I, in so many ways, feel utterly helpless. Minorities, black people in particular, aren’t allowed to do these things. Not only must we make way for the white people around us, but we must suppress our own feelings out in public, and be unseen for the comfort of the white people around us. During moments like these I think back to when I was an extra in a movie and the director told us that for the scene to work we needed to crowd round the main character, but find a natural way to move out of his way as he moved through the crowd. On film he was pushing through a crowded room, in reality there was essentially no crowd at all. Some of us get the film version and don’t even know it.
Every moment of my life in white culture is contrived. “Problematic” parts about myself and feelings are suppressed for my own safety. I walk through this world on eggshells knowing that I have to always be the respectful black. And you know what, I realize it’s a leftover from the Jim crow etiquette but I also don’t know another way to live. White Americans, do you know what living like that is like? Probably not. Although I’d never wish it on you, sometimes I wish you could see all the ways in which black people are made uncomfortable for your comfort in ways you don’t even know exist. I wish that sometimes white Americans understood what it was like to always see scorn reflected in the eyes of the people around you, of people making assumptions about you and feeling too fearful to speak up. I’m not shy, I just feel unsafe.
The twisted thing is that, if black people act like white people at anytime, we are labeled. We are animals. We are disruptive. We are don’t care about compromises. Back in April a group of POC went to dinner together. And as a part of our cultures we let our feeling and passion out. It felt safe to fully be ourselves. I, on the other hand, was having an anxious reaction during this dinner. I was closest to the only other table in this tiny restaurant. I felt nauseous as I could feel their eyes and judgement. I could hear the little things they said which they thought we couldn’t hear. I saw the closed off body language, could feel their annoyance rolling off of them. Their leader and I got into a staring contest. He backed down but I could still feel his eyes. Why were we labeled disruptive and yet the bachelorette party that was VERY drunk on my plane a year ago, was fine. They were having fun, We were not gently moving out of the way of those people and they dared to be annoyed. I’m not allowed to tell white people that they are being disruptive. I can’t speak up for the others. It’s why I constantly have a ‘white boy’ with me when I actually need to get things done. If I stay close enough to them when the crowd parts for them I can come along too, hopefully bringing others with me. White people are allowed to, are expected to, be able to be as big as they want anytime. I assume I’ll be ignored except to spew malice in my general direction.
If you care about the unseen people in your life, and happen to be white, here’s some things you can do.
- Call each other out for being nuisances. Minorities aren’t allowed to do so, somebody has to.
- Step back and notice if people are adjusting for you
- In minority spaces, be respectful. Don’t know how? Order carry out.
- Didn’t mean mug black people having fun, mind yo business
- Teach your children how to behave in public (if you don’t see black kids doing it, yours shouldn’t be). You brought them into the world, you can take them out. Or at least outside.
- Racist jokes happening in the room you are in? Don’t allow that shit. We hear it, and see you.
- Redirect help towards us in stores, restaurants, banks, etc.
- Listen when your friends tell you something.
- Go with your friends to gyno appointments (better to look like a couple than a single parent). (Yeah, that one is personal. People assume shit.)