Thursday, June 03, 2010

Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon?

So this is officially my 100th post. Whoo hoo! For those of you that don't know, I've had this blog since 2006, but I only started telling people that I know in real life about it much more recently. If you're interested, you can click here and see where it all began. I would put up one of those gadgets in the sidebar that highlights the posts by month and year, but I feel like the main thing that would come out of that is an awareness of how sporadic my posting has been.

I initially wanted to make my 100th post a "best of" where I highlighted some of my favorite entries. But if there is anything that I have learned about myself in these four years of blogging, it's that if I wait for myself to get that list together, it could be quite awhile until you heard from me again. And as usual, I have a lot to say, so I think it best to just say some other stuff and write my retrospective post when the mood strikes. Besides, there's no reason that I can't honor my 112th post in the same way I would honor my 100th. We don't always need to be so focused on the round, smooth numbers. Plus, as I always like to say: my blog, my rules.

So today, I thought I would just share a realization that I had recently that I think will give you yet another peek into my psyche as a black woman living in the United States. Not necessarily every black woman's psyche, just mine: yourblackfriend.

A couple of weeks ago I was at a thrift store looking at some books. Since I wrote this post, I have seen the light when it comes to secondhand stores, and now they seem like places where you can get a variety of cool things at rock-bottom prices.

So anyway, I am looking at some books. There is a woman who looks to be a few years younger than me who has a cart (I have yet to find enough cool stuff to necessitate a cart, but maybe one day) who apparently wants to pass by me to look at some other books. But the thing that I found odd is that she didn't say, "Excuse me," she just stood there with her cart. And then the even odder thing is that when I did finally notice her standing there and took a step back so she could pass by, she didn't say "Excuse me," as she was walking in front of me. In fact, she didn't say anything or acknowledge in any way that I was being a polite person by making room for her to pass.

So this is where the being black part comes in.

A white person has this happen to them and has three possible options to choose from: 1) "This woman is rude and needs to learn some manners." 2) "I (white person) am too concerned with politeness and in fact this situation doesn't require an excuse me" or 3) "This woman was distracted with something else going on in her life. She's not normally a rude person, but if she wasn't thinking about how her boyfriend had just broken up with her ( or something equally traumatic,) I'm sure she would have said something." These are all pretty harmless explanations, and one can be chosen without really giving it a second thought. I suppose the second option might be an opportunity for further self-reflection, but that's really a personal decision.

But, I as black person have a handy fourth option that my brain can choose to consider: This woman did not say excuse me because I'm black, and she consciously or unconsciously feels like she doesn't need to say excuse me because I am black.

I think the immediate reaction of some readers at this point is, "Oh myblackfriend I think you're overreacting." Just stay with me, people.

We all know that there are some white people that don't like black people, right? Right.

So knowing that, it is reasonable to assume that if a white person doesn't like black people, they might generally treat black people in a less respectful way than they generally treat white people, right? Right.

So it is at least inside the realm of possibility that option four might be what is going on, right?


The maddening part of this is the fact that I was not in this woman's brain so I have no idea which of the four options was the motivation behind her behavior. In fact, the only way I might be able to prove that it was the fourth one is if there had been a white person standing a few feet away looking at another set of books and as she strolled past him she said, "Thank you kindly dear sir for making room for me to get by with my cart, I really do appreciate the gracious gesture." Then I would have a fairly good idea that something was up.

But things rarely happen that way, so whenever I'm out in public and someone is unkind to me, I have the unfortunate pleasure of wondering (even if only for a moment,) if the reason for that unkindness is the pesky fourth option. And a white person generally has the privilege of not having to concern him or herself with that possibility.

I feel compelled to say that I don't always immediately assume it's the fourth option, and I don't immediately assume that it's not. A number of factors come into play, and I tend to take these things on a case by case basis. The point is that there are still an unknown number of people who hold the beliefs contained in the fourth option, and that's the sad and depressing part.

I feel this was a comment and/or question provoking post, so don't be shy...let me know what you think.


  1. John C6:57 PM

    How, my blackfriend, did I not know about this blog of yours sooner?! I am very excited about this and look forward to being an active commenter (be careful what you ask for :)

    I have been sitting here shadow-writing what my comment will be, but have been somewhat paralyzed with how to start. I find it interesting that, as a white man, I feel an almost overpowering need to start my comment with a disclaimer about my upbringing, race relations history, or some other qualifiers before my opinion on these matters can be heard. Even in this beginning, my attempt to NOT qualify my comments, I find myself sneaking up on statements that would 'earn' me a place at the table.

    It occurred to me, during this internal debate, however, that unless your followers are always the same and diligent at recalling my qualifiers (assuming that my history even makes me worthy), then I would be forced to qualify every comment to every post... ad nauseum. But isn't that part and parcel to what you are trying to accomplish? Open dialogue, where people can ask questions, debate beliefs held, and challenge ideas is the only way we can ever make any progress. Perhaps it also gives you an insight into what a white person thinks when a black person makes a comment about race: "Okay, how do I respond without being offensive?" or "How can I demonstrate that I'm not a bigot before sharing?"

    So, to my actual comment...

    Firstly, we white people have more than three options. No, the 4th option, as you defined it, would likely not occur to a white person, but I think there are other thoughts that could come to mind. I find myself in situations like these more and more and I spend a lot of time trying to decide what is wrong with people and wondering when we lost our [collective] manners. I must admit that the tone of these musings usually sounds an awful lot like "kids these days" which only makes me feel older by the day. But I digress...

    I do find it a little sad and depressing that you, or anyone, would find themselves thinking option 4 often - or at all, but I also think there is the matter of choice. Humans, whether by evolution or design, have the unique ability to create our own reality. Sometimes this manifests in delusional ideas of self worth (all those tone deaf Idol contestants believing they are going to be big stars comes to mind) or more commonly, we tend to chose to believe a version of reality that causes us suffering. My breakthrough came in regards to my self image and my struggles with my weight. I believed for a long time that girls didn't like me because I was fat and therefore unattractive. It never occurred to me that I might talk to much, or remind them of their least favorite relative, or that they actually might prefer girls. In my world, if a girl I was interested in didn't reciprocate, it was because I was fat. Now, that might have been true for some of them, but what good did it do me to assume it? Nothing. In fact, because it was my greatest insecurity, it just caused me to hurt more (like rejection wasn't enough :)
    Once I had insight into this knee-jerk reaction I had, I was able to take control of it. The truth is, my first thought was still the old one that had haunted me all those years, but the power came from recognizing that it was my own creation and choosing to believe that "she" just wasn't the right one for me.

  2. John C6:57 PM

    Part 2:

    So, maybe the girl at the thrift store was a racist. Like you said, you can't know for sure. And if assuming she is makes you unhappy, assume something different. Make up a story that doesn't anger or upset you and save your fight, save your fire for an opportunity to actually make a difference. Like when racism is known and addressing it can change a situation.

    Whites are always saying that people of color "go there" or "pull the race card" too often or too quickly. I think that a lot of that is whites not wanting to take the necessary, long, hard look at a situation, but I believe that there is some validity to the notion that if someone jumps to any conclusion too often or too quickly, they start to see that conclusion played out everywhere.

  3. Mozel Tov, Mabrook, Congratulations on your 100th blog black friend. You are amazing! Thank you for the thought provoking post that provoked so many questions in me. Does the mere uneasy feeling that perceived bad manners could be race-based bias prove that perhaps biased behavior truly exists? I mean if you never experienced race-based biases would you even suspect it? Does the advice of our white friend, John C, who suggests to assume good pacify a need to not stir the pot? Could it be more important to have the uncomfortable conversation about the prevalence of prejudice and bias and racism even if it is an assumption? Could cart lady possibly not say excuse me to anyone? Maybe white people have no manners? Oh no wait...I'm white and I say excuse me a lot, too much. Yesterday, to achieve a quick dinner, I was rushing myself and my four year old daughter through the grocery store. This is not an easy feat because she is a curious being and no simple task is, well simple. I am tired, rushed and grouchy exerting too hard to corral a being who is much more wily than I. A man who is black passes me and we make eye contact. I usually say "hi" to anyone to whom I make eye contact. I didn't this time. I immediately felt bad and hoped that he didn't think I was acting with bias either because of his race or gender. I over-thought my action and wondered if I would feel as bad if it were a white women. My worrying stooped when I had save the display of fruit roll-ups from my daughter's grasp. So I wonder, will there be a time when race relations are organically, comfortably symbiotic enough that self conscious efforts to appear non-racist, and suspicious assumptions of racist behavior occur less? If that should be a goal, my Utopianism would like to believes it should, how do we progress as a society to achieve a relationship without prejudice and bias, and even beyond tolerance?

  4. I would like to say something intelligent, but all I can think of is how long I've been reading your blog! We've been blogging pals for awhile now! :)

  5. I have people cut in front of me in line all the time, bump into me while strolling anywhere all the time and people actually pass by me almost knocking me over to get into the elevator or inside the building in which we are both headed.....and not hold the elevator door or store door for me............

    This happens all the time......I'm white.

    White/Black/Red/Blue/whatever color he/she may be......they are all just grow more and more rude by the day.

  6. Anonymous8:03 PM

    Carema brought up an interesting point--I find myself being more friendly to black people than white people sometimes because I semi-consciously want to prove that I am not racist or overcome the automatic perception of bias. Bad? Good? I don't know, but it's there.

  7. OK so I wrote a long comment, did a preview, and then could not find my way back to the editor to change it. Now it has disappeared. Sigh. Now it did it again and saw the little link in the preview saying editor. Double sigh.

    I would assume that the person was expressing some racism, or racish attitudes. And apart from that I would deal with the rudeness to take care of myself: to dispel my anger or fear. If I decided to call them on it, I would focus on their behavior and its impact on me without speculating on their internal attitudes.

    If it were racish, this would also be valuable for them, to pop their bubble of privilege and interrupt their denial as a strategy for life. If you did that to me, I would be devastated, want to disappear, apologize profusely, and . . . Well, I wonder what I would make of it the next day.

  8. rebecca - you have made a huge logical fallacy. myblackfriendsays has not disavowed that people can be rude regardless of their recipient; only that it is a possibility it is because of her race.

    otoh - myblackfriendsays - i disagree that there is no fourth option for white people.

    first, i would add two options for all people "there is something (besides race) about my appearance that has made this person decide s/he is better than me"; this person is from another country (and i DON'T mean black, latin etc) - for instance when i was in italy - people stand on top of each other in line and push to the front - - i've heard it's similar in some asian countries . . .

    but to get back on topic. as a white person, if the rude person in question is a poc - i will wonder if it is because i am white. i am not making a one to one correlation in terms of what this means - - i make no crazy claims that this amounts to reverse racism. but i will think - maybe they just don't like me because i'm white. i'm happy to go on if someone requires more to my explanation - at the moment that rings of justifying in my head.