Last Friday night (is the Katy Perry song stuck in your head? Well, it definitely is now) , I woke up feeling happy. I mean, duh, it was Friday, the end of a hectic academic week as well as the predecessor for two straight days of not discussing Aristodamus, Menelaus, and other figures of Greek history whose names make my tongue do gymnastics moves. More importantly, last Friday, I was off to the cinema to see Insidious: Chapter 2. Friday night, however, I went to bed feeling uneasy, and not because of fear instilled in me from the film, but because of a comment that was made toward me, one that opened up my closed eyes.
I bought my ticket, went to the concession stand, placed my order, and then waited. After I payed an astronomical
$800 $10.50 for some popcorn, Sourpatch Kids, and water, the attendant said to me, “Ya know, you’re pretty for a black girl.”
Geez. Seriously? You’ve just basically robbed me blind, guy working at the concession stand. Now, you’re giving me a back-handed compliment to add racial insult to financial injury? Now, I’d been told that black women in the Americas face dual-ended antagonism. We’ve got one foot in two doors of mainstream oppression. Prior to this disrespectful incident, I had never really felt that. Call me naive. It’s okay. That, I was. I grew up in a pretty affluent (contemporarily synonymous with “white American”) section of the 6-1-7, commonly known as Boston,MA. My parents sent me to private school and to this day pay my college tuition. Heck, my brother drives a friggin’ BMV. I was living on Easy Street—population:one. Racism was a concept of the past. Didn’t you hear? Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, and Nelson Mandela, they all eradicated it. Good riddance. ” Extra!Extra! Read all about it! RACISM DEAD: The beginning of time—1999 (year of Mandela’s release from prison).
The frightening truth is becoming all the more evident for me. As a black woman (I prefer this to “African-American,” which denotes a different cultural experience for me), I feel like everyone but Jessica is constructing the identity of Jessica. Hip-hop culture, which many interchange with black culture, is a prime example. I have brown skin, so I must be up to, what I call, “hood-boogery” whenever I walk into the store. I chemically straighten my hair, so I must have an inferiority complex. There’s a curvature to my hips and butt, so I obviously know how to twerk. I am by no means “prudish” in my choice of dress, or otherwise body-conscious, so I must have an absentee father whose absence has forced to seek male attention with my physical displays. Girls with my skin color are the “vixens” in the music videos, so I must encourage and welcome your unwanted, scathing sexual remarks and advances. I’m black and pretty, so I am an anomaly.
It’s as if before some people even try to get to know me in the slightest bit, my skin color and racial identity beat my mouth to the punch. In no spoken words, my appearance and racial classification equip certain close-minded individuals with “all” the information about me that needs to be known, regardless of how far from the truth they actually are.
So, I’m forced to ask myself this: how cognizant are we? Racially? How much does the concept of race structure our understandings of and relationships with people? Consider this: It’s the day before the semester starts. You log onto your school’s student site and check the class roster. The first name listed is “Keisha Jones.” What is her racial background?
I’m fervently opposed to stereotypes, but I understand their psychological basis. Let’s not forget that we’re animals (Kingdom Animalia!). We have that basic, intrinsic desire to protect ourselves. If someone is squeezing your windpipe, you’re going to fight back. If a certain individual offends or threatens you, you want to avoid him and all like him in order to avoid being hurt again. So, a black guy robbed your neighbor? Better be weary of that UPS delivery man of Ghanaian ancestry. Again, i don’t agree with it, but I understand it. It’s psychologically explained, and that is why i think that stereotypes thrive and are sometimes so freely uttered.
So, back to the concession-stand attendant. Yes, I am black. Yes, I am pretty. No, those categories are not mutually exclusive. I received a blatant wake-up call. Let’s get rid of racist, stereotypical thinking. We don’t need it. Food is essential to our lives, and as such, we will not survive if we remove it from our lives. Same with sleep and water. Not the case , however, with our concepts of race. Let’s cut the color lines, because they are honestly more divisive than informative.