Many times the tone just simply says, “I do not feel you belong here.”
September 14, 2016 3:15 PM   Subscribe

And Do You Belong? I Do by Solange Knowles [Saint Heron] “It’s the same one that says to your friend, “BOY…. go on over there and hand me my bag” at the airport, assuming he’s a porter. It’s the same one that tells you, “m’am, go into that other line over there” when you are checking in at the airport at the first class counter before you even open up your mouth. It’s the same one that yells and screams at you and your mother in your sleep when you’re on the train from Milan to Basel “give me your passport NOW.” You look around to see if anyone else is being requested this same thing only to see a kind Italian woman actually confront the agents on your behalf and ask why you are being treated this way.”

- Solange Interview Amandla Stenberg for Teen Vogue's February Issue [Saint Heron]
“I think that when you’re a black girl and you grow up you internalize all these messages. Everywhere you look that tell you that you shouldn’t accept your hair, or your natural features, or that you shouldn’t have a voice, or that you aren’t smart. In terms of my evolution I think those internalized messages built up in my mind until I was given the tools to recognize the situation. And understand that no, there’s nothing wrong with me, these are just that these are just messages that we’re fed. I feel like the best way to deal with that has been just to be myself and connect with all these other black girls who are awakening and realizing that they’ve been trying to conform; and the only way to fight that is to be themselves on the most genuine level.”
- Why I Belong As a Black Woman in the White World of Indie [The Guardian]
In the few short minutes before the band comes on, the stage lights illuminate the crowd. It’s only then I become aware that I am a black woman in an overwhelmingly white place. “I’m probably the only black woman here,” I’ll think, and suddenly the whole place feels like an anxiety dream in which I turn up to work completely naked and call my boss “Mum”. This feeling of outsiderness is something Solange Knowles recently experienced at a Kraftwerk gig, along with her black husband, black child and child’s friend. She claims she was targeted by a group of four white women who shouted at her to “sit down”, before they threw half-eaten limes at her. In response to this incident, Knowles wrote an essay about isolation, describing the experience of being a person of colour in “predominately white spaces”.
posted by Fizz (16 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
This reminds me so much of this interview with Cree Summer, whose animation voice work goes back to Susie Carmichael on Rugrats, the perfect opponent to the self-centered Angelica, and whose opinion on "the myth of the carefree black girl" turned out to be the center of the article.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:40 PM on September 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

This enraged me a few days ago when I read about it. The selfie of Solange and her family all happy and psyched to go to a Kraftwerk concert (because FUCK YEAH, fucking Kraftwerk!) just breaks my heart because they should have had an awesome time experiencing awesome music. I wish someone would name the fucking assholes who threw things at them. Who even does that? Everything is so fucking awful sometimes.
posted by chococat at 3:49 PM on September 14, 2016 [24 favorites]

the experience of being a person of colour in “predominately white spaces”.

I'm not black and I'm not a woman but I do understand this feeling as a person of colour. This feeling of being out of place or even worse, being made to feel guilty for simply being different. That is always something that hits me especially hard. That I've some how internalized a feeling that I should feel bad for being different. It's hard to let go of.
posted by Fizz at 3:51 PM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

One of the most enlightening weeks of my life involved being in the reverse position; I was working for a trade organization for black public workers, and ended up being convention staff. It's not the same thing, of course, because there's a huge cultural history in the US that makes it harder to be a lone black person in a white space than the reverse, but but I remember doing things like constantly flipping my badge chain around to make sure that my credentials showed. To prove that I belonged there.
posted by tavella at 4:05 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I once went to some awful thing for work with a black friend and coworker, and as soon as we walked into the room, someone came barreling straight at us and asked her if she needed help finding something. I was pretty used to getting shit for being female in my field, but that was shocking to me. She was wearing her usual dark suit and sensible heels, and was always dressed much more conservatively than I was, but nothing she did made her fit in. But the fact that it didn't even seem to surprise her really drove home for me just how relentless that stuff is. (She told them she was just looking for her mop. She was prepared.) Everywhere she went, everything she did. We went out scouting for day cares for her daughter once, and one place shooed her away as soon as she walked in, telling her they didn't take welfare payments. Just relentless.

We recently got back in touch after many years, and she doesn't bother dressing stuffy anymore.

Side note: To provide a little background on the Kraftwerk concert, their current tour is a 3D show. They hand out glasses and people sit in their seats and watch the effects, which are presented as the major attraction. When we went, there were ushers walking the aisles making people sit down and put their phones away. I don't think anyone tried to dance, but if they did, I'm guessing the ushers put a stop to it. So asking them to sit down would have been appropriate. The trash throwing is the bad (horrible, inexcusable) part, not the not dancing.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:46 PM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Asking them to sit down politely would be the appropriate thing.

There no way to know for sure if the trash throwers would have asked a white family to sit down using a different tone, but if you have seen the sun rise every day if your life there is no reason to think it won't rise tomorrow.

I see this with my wife and daughter all the time. My wife has brown skin, and speaks Spanish with my daughter. My daughter is light skinned, and likes to answer in English.

We have list count of how many times other mother's asaum my wife is a nanny, and how rudely they demand things from her. And even after she says she is the mother, the rudeness remains.

Some mom walks to another white lookin mom and says with a smile: Sorry, could you park the stroller outside the fence? It is silly, but strollers are not allowed inside.

Same mom yelling to my wife the moment she opens the gate: No strollers allowed inside! Leave it outside!

It used to upset us a lot, but just like the author we learned to ignore it and have the best time possible for the sake of the kid.

For my part, most people here tell me I look 'european, like Italian or something'. I know it is petty, but I love walking to these moms with a smile, saying hello, then in my most Mexican accent asking 'do you have a problem with my wife?'. Sorry.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 5:20 PM on September 14, 2016 [33 favorites]

I'm white. My friend is black. Went shopping with my friend in the suburbs. I bought something with my credit card, no problem, no ID, thank you ma'am. My friend bought something with her credit card, same store, needed two forms of ID, clerk examined her signature closely. She's much more respectable than I am.

My white daughter worked in a suburban Rite Aid in an area that had black people living in it going back to before the Civil War. Instructions from manager to follow black people when they came in.

I've told white people those stories over and over and they mostly can't think of anything to say, because they can't deny it when I tell them. I thought to myself, nobody should need confirmation from a white person that it happens.
posted by Peach at 5:38 PM on September 14, 2016 [22 favorites]

I read a lot of this and was all, "what the fuck, did some people just time travel in from some shitty past period to act like that?" Except...yeah.

Is there anything us evil white people can do to help make PoC more comfortable in "white" spaces? Besides not acting like total shits, that is.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:43 PM on September 14, 2016

Doroteo Arango II, I have too many stories similar to the kind you just shared.

• The time I was mowing my lawn in Texas and we had a for sale sign up in our yard and some old white lady pulled up to the curb and said: “Is your boss home, I'd like to inquire about the house?”
• The time I was running in my neighbourhood and because I was super into my song and didn't want to respond to some random kids yelling stupid stuff, they just assumed I didn't speak English and told me: “Go back to your country.”
• The time I was at the front desk of the hotel I work at and some drunk guy who was checking in at the station to my left with my co-worker started to drunkenly yell at me: “Allejandro, Allejandro, Allenjandro!” assuming I was Mexican/Hispanic for whatever reason and that it was ok to yell those things at me. Only to have his friend who I was checking in, apologise to me and say: “I'm sorry about my friend, he's drunk.” As if that makes it some how ok because if he weren't drunk, he'd keep that racist shit in his brain.
• The time I pulled up to pick up my mother from her work and was mistaken for an illegal underground cab driving service that operates in our city: “You with Speedys?” “Umm, no.”
• That time someone told me the didn't want to be served by me at the hotel because: “You people are always kind of rude, is there anyone who is not Indian available?”
• That time my barber told me that she didn't want to move into a big city like Toronto because: “I could never live there, too many Asians, they're everywhere.” Only to have a close friend of mine tell me later in the day on the phone that, “She probably didn't mean it that way. She was thinking more of Chinese Asians, not you.”
• That time, I bent down to restart my computer in the middle of a transaction at a bookstore I used to work at and have the customer say: “Are you praying to Allah?”

*deep sigh*

These things just pile up, they accumulate. And each time some new racist or bigoted situation happens to me, its like picking the scab on the previous scar and opens it up all over again. I'm glad that Solange wrote this piece. It's good to see these things laid bare for all to see. It's not ok. It pisses me the fuck off. I try my best to think of my friends and family who support me and back me up. But, sometimes I just want to peel my skin off.
posted by Fizz at 5:43 PM on September 14, 2016 [42 favorites]

Is there anything us evil white people can do to help make PoC more comfortable in "white" spaces? Besides not acting like total shits, that is.

Listen. Watch. Speak up. When you see someone else behave in a way that you know is not correct, call them out on it. Call out others on their bullshit bigotry/racism whenever you experience it. And pay it forward. Have them do the same with their community and circle of friends and family.
posted by Fizz at 6:46 PM on September 14, 2016 [14 favorites]

That sucks fizz, sorry.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 6:57 PM on September 14, 2016

The time I was mowing my lawn in Texas and we had a for sale sign up in our yard and some old white lady pulled up to the curb and said: “Is your boss home, I'd like to inquire about the house?”

This happens to my dad. My parents live in a nice house in a wealthy area in San Diego. They're not wealthy - they just bought their house ages ago and the area gentrified around them.

Anyways, my dad is Mexican and he likes to work on the garden in front. Real estate agents trying to find houses to sell will drive by and ask him if his "boss" is home. My dad likes to playfully reply "No. He not home. Come back later." He's been hoping one of them comes back and meets my dad answering his own front door.
posted by vacapinta at 7:37 PM on September 14, 2016 [22 favorites]

These things just pile up, they accumulate. And each time some new racist or bigoted situation happens to me, its like picking the scab on the previous scar and opens it up all over again.


I worry of late that the next incident will not only open the scar up all over again but also finally -- after enduring these types of things for nearly four decades -- fill up my rage meter and cause me to snap.

And it's not just the incidents themselves that hurt and enrage, it's also the gaslighting PoC (and women and especially WoC) get when the incidents occur. "No, race didn't play a part in that incident," say the moderates, the centrists, the small c conservatives, and the people who are "pretty far to the left, buuuut...." They loftily tell us, "I'm sure there was something else that caused that person to treat you that way. But actually, when you really think about it, it was something you did that caused it to happen -- if you'd just acted less like the stereotype we have of you, things would've been fine." (See also: the reactions by that same group of people to pretty much every "officer involved shooting" with a black victim before hard-to-deny video evidence surfaces. And for a subset of them, even then....)

Like I told one of my white friends a few years ago, my dignity is assaulted on pretty much a daily basis, and I've been swallowing my pride for years. At a certain point, a person gets full. Then what happens? Do I become the very stereotype they've been hitting me with for years, the loud, angry, dangerous black man? Or do I collapse under the weight, and then there's nothing where lord_wolf used to be?

I admire and respect Solange for her self control here. And I continue to feel utter despair over the disparity in treatment she and other black women get compared to any of various white women celebrities we could name (something she alludes to in the piece).
posted by lord_wolf at 7:44 PM on September 14, 2016 [34 favorites]

I'm white and visibly poor. Last weekend I had a rare treat in being able to go and see a friend perform in a play. I was stoked to see it, and dressed in what I thought was an understated and relatively conservative fashion (for me, this involves a knee length black skirt, a black blouse and black ankle boots) I thought I looked nice. Apparently not. The venue was in/near the hub of Vancouver's DTES. When I stopped outside to smoke a cigarette, a couple of cast/crew also came out to smoke, and looked at me like...I don't know, a sex worker? A junkie? A street person? despite my smiling at them. I was treated much the same by the woman of colour at the door, who made sure to tell me loudly that I'd need a Fringe pass and that it would cost five dollars, something she did not do to anyone else in the lineup. Later, a group of people looking for four seats together looked right through me when I volunteered to move down so they could sit as a group. After the show, I walked outside and then thought I'd go pop back in to see if I could say hello to my friend. As I walked in, behind two groups of well-dressed middle class people, a man stepped in front of me to block my entrance and rudely demanded my ticket. When I said that I'd already seen the performance and was hoping to say hello to my friend, he grudgingly told me "All right, but I'll be watching you. Don't think you can see the next show for free. " Now, I know this is in no way equal to the experience of people of colour, but it hurt like hell. I'd thought I looked good enough to 'pass' in this situation, but it was obvious that I did not. (And yes, I get my share of being followed in stores by security, too, a thing I try to ignore). I'm so sorry that other people get treated like this solely in virtue of the colour of their skin. It's insanely unfair. (and yeah, even in this thread I see people being classist without realizing they're doing it and that sucks, too. There should be no discrimination toward people based on their race, or class.)
posted by alltomorrowsparties at 8:46 PM on September 14, 2016 [11 favorites]

That time, I bent down to restart my computer in the middle of a transaction at a bookstore I used to work at and have the customer say: “Are you praying to Allah?”

Allah responds to tech support requests? CONVERTS INSTANTLY.
posted by srboisvert at 9:04 PM on September 14, 2016 [22 favorites]

The thing about being different, is that it's all a matter of context.

The person whose differences you notice inhabits lots of other spaces in addition to the one in which you see them. Within some of those spaces are other people who don't really register that "difference" at all. You, observer, don't belong to those spaces. You are a stranger at the edges of another person's life. You notice difference because you don't have enough experience to do otherwise.

The next time you're in a room full of whatever kind of people you consider "normal", glance around. Notice the differences between individuals. Would any of those differences catch your eye if you had to engage with that person? Would they make you doubt whether you could trust them, whether they were capable, or whether they were deserving of love?

All those "normal" people? They inhabit lots of other spaces too. Just like you do. Just like the person you noticed was "different".
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 1:48 PM on September 15, 2016

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