Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Don't Be Alarmed, We're Negroes

I said the title of this post under my breath (for the ears of the person walking beside me) sometime last year. This companion was an African American friend and neighbor and the situation that brought about my reaction was some new neighbors who were looking around their new neighborhood as we were walking out.

One of the new neighbors stopped dead (not literally) in his tracks when he saw both of us and just stared at us if he wasn't expecting some "chocolate" in the sea of milk. So I said "don't be alarmed, we're Negroes" and my friend who noticed what I meant laughed out loud (which confused the onlooker since he wasn't in on the joke).

What I didn't expect was thinking that to myself in my place of worship last Sunday. Last Sunday was also the day I "officially" joined the church as a member. After the service, I was in the lady's room touching up with three other Caucasian ladies - one senior citizen, two teenagers (who seem to be friends).

I guess the teenagers felt the ladies room was the only quiet place they could have a discussion, so one of them started telling her "adventure" to her friend. I'll call this girl "Jane." So Jane started telling her friend about a community service she needed for her volunteer hours in her high school.

This was how it went: "OMG! (Think Valley Girl) I was the only white person at this place, and I was soooo afraid . . . It was like so ghetto and I don't know like how I'm going to finish my hours, like . . ."She kept on with some of the most stereotypical things I've heard about black people. But I guess she thought I was "non-threatening" or not the "ghetto" kind so she could say whatever she wanted about my race.

These girls were behind me in the mirror and I was thinking to myself "welcome to the house of God! What a day to join the church! " The white senior citizen who was beside me at the other sink kept glancing at me with the uncomfortable conversation happening behind us before she left and I guess Jane's friend noticed the weirdness of the situation (by glancing in my eye), so she took Jane's arm and walked her out of the lady's room.

I was left alone and I kept wondering how I should have reacted to the situation. I went out to ask some info about a function at a booth when I saw the two teenagers at a wall (no doubt still talking about the black people at Jane's volunteer program). Then I thought I should confront the situation.

Me: Hello, I'm M_, I'm quite new here and I couldn't help listening to your conversation about your volunteer program. I just want to say that was a very uncomfortable moment and if ...

Jane: Oh I'm not racist or prejudice (why do white folks think that when you confront them about a subject of race?)

Me: I didn't say that . . .

Jane: It will be like if you were the only black person in a company . . .(can someone tell Jane she has a knack for interrupting, so I decided to play her game)

Me: I have (her shock was written all over her face and it seemed to silence her for once), but I don't have a problem with it unless my white counterpacts want to keep bringing my skin color up. You see I was raised in a home with a father that had a very unique job which exposed me to all kinds of nationalities. From a young age, I knew not to judge a person by the color of his/her skin.

Jane: I'm really not racist (I detected some sincerity in her voice), it's just that this place I'm supposed to have my community hours . . .(her voice trailed off), they look at me funny you know.

Me: I don't think you are (a racist). I believe you're a great person actually (relief washed over her features) but maybe those students of yours might also be afraid of you (like prejudging them) and it might help if you could start by showing the kind person you are; they'll come around.

Jane: Ok

Me: Nice meeting you. (And I made my way out to prepare to hang out with friends and family for the Superbowl).

Jane: You too.