Category Archives: Ridiculousness

Talking with White People

At a table of white females telling me to just keep up hope and have my children anyway, and you know what? It isn’t helping me.

I have just told them an edited version of the three possibilities that scare me:

  1. I will raise my children to have them killed for their melanin.
  2. My kids will realize the way the world views them, feel sad, hopeless, and worthless, and kill themselves.
  3. I’ll become so sad that I will no longer be able to properly care for them (translation: something so awful will happen that I actually end up killing myself, emotionally ruining my children for the rest of their lives)

These three possibilities were of course met with surprise, and mild ridicule. It’s very easy to look at someone’s situation from a distance and be like, “Well, don’t give up! You’d be a great mother!”

I think that I would be a spectacular mother, until I wouldn’t. I think that I would be wonderful and caring, until my depression swallowed me and I was unable to care for myself, let alone people who depended on me.

It’s funny how easy it is, even for myself, to make assumptions about people’s lives.
The woman who teaches with my mom, surprised that I’d forgotten my mother was receiving the Teacher of the Year award.
“It’s a very big honor. How could you not know?” she pressed. We were working at a camp for their district’s sixth grade, and I was helping her with an activity.
“She actually did tell me, a few months ago,” I told her. “It just slipped my mind recently.”
“Not knowing your own mother was teacher of the year?” she said, disapprovingly. “You’re very lucky to have her, you know.”

‘Really, lady?’ I wanted to ask her. ‘Am I lucky that my mother called me selfish for finally refusing to comfort her over my own rape? Is it unacceptable that with that, and the waves of black shootings and police brutality occurring all over the place, I may have forgotten an award ceremony?’
But of course, you can’t go around answering people’s judgmental questions with brutal honesty.

That’s the genius of tragedy: your story does not really belong to you.
Of course it’s your story; it has happened to you. You are the one who lives it, thinks about it, cries over it. But you cannot talk about it, without dealing with the people who listen to it. Once it is out of your head and into their ears, they have claim over it. Explaining myself to this woman would ruin the rest of our time working together. Telling my mother what happened naturally led her to expect comfort from me.

My mother, the white lady. Who, without being fully aware of the racial issues in America (or the world) suffers from extreme empathy. Who gave her mainly colored, largely conscious daughter empathic distress. Who is unable to completely mother me when I need it.
And now I’m supposed to take this, and have children of my own? I think I would be worse. If I look into my future and see fuzziness, how can I expect to be there for my kids?

“It’s just too bad,” someone told me. “I’d rather have your kids in the world than some of these other people’s.”
So would I. But it’s largely because of these other people that I don’t want to have them.

Want to make a joke? Tell someone on the edge of hopelessness to just stick it out; try a little harder; don’t give up. At the same time, admit that you don’t actually know how they feel, but tell them that there really isn’t that much to be upset about. Give them non-examples of things to be excited over, and expect that to replenish their energy.

“It’s hard to see the changes you’re making in your own lifetime,” she told me, “But they’re there. Like my mother, for instance, she never used to understand race relations. Whenever I’d talk to my parents, or try to correct things that were wrong, it would be like, ‘Oh, there’s Hippy Lacy, talking her crazy racial peace again.’ But now, with Trayvon Martin and, who was it? … Michael Brown! And all of those stories, they’re in the newspaper. My mom reads the New York Times, and those stories are in there. So now, she’s starting to think, and to recognize that maybe there is a problem, and now she’s sending me articles. That’s progress. All these problems and events are being covered, and that coverage is leading to improvements.”

“You do understand,” I said, feeling so tired, “That in order for any of this progress you’re seeing to come about, people have to be slaughtered. Innocent people have to be murdered, almost every week, and other people have to suffer and protest and exhaust ourselves emotionally. In my school, during the Baltimore riots, we had a blackout of the student center. We dressed in black, and gathered together, to mourn and share our experiences. It was beautiful, and horrible at the same time. Do you know what it’s like to sit in a space, sobbing, unable to go to class or even move very much, and have people stepping around you to get their lunch? Do you know what it’s like to observe the contrast between yourself, feeling stuck, and everyone else who feels unaffected enough by your situation to happily go about their lives? My friends and I are breaking, broken, and your mom is sending you a newspaper article.”
I did not know how to express how offensive I found the situation. I can exhaust myself to the point where I don’t want to leave my bed anymore, and that would be worth it to get a white lady to begin to think. People could put themselves in danger, plan, build, and march, so that a white woman could exert herself enough to put scissors to paper and cut out an article detailing the next murder of a black body. That was worth it.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked. ‘Should I be the next martyr?’ I wanted to say. ‘Should I write a Black Lives Matter manifesto, tattoo it on my body, put it in my pocket and jump off a building? That would make headlines. That would get your mother’s attention.’
‘And what will you do?’ I wanted to ask. ‘You four, sitting in front of me unaffected. Perhaps you think that what’s happening is wrong. Perhaps you can see a headline, and shake your head in disgust. What else will you do? Why am I the only one at the table trying not to cry?’
You,’ I wanted to point to a girl at my table. ‘We go to the same university, and I have never seen you before in my life. I have never seen you socially, and I have never seen you as an activist. You didn’t care about the AfAm department; you weren’t there for black lives; or Muslim lives. You are in Kenya now, but you couldn’t go to the vigil for Garissa. And yet you tell me that I shouldn’t be hopeless, shouldn’t give up? Should I be fighting, to make You proud?’
Once again, it was impossible to speak candidly. I probably wouldn’t have been able to get everything out, anyway. The effort not to cry was rough.
Misery is sobbing in front of people who do not have the capacity to understand how you are upset.
“I only want you to do what you want to do, I don’t want you to do anything else,” she said, hurriedly.

Fast forward to the next morning:
A woman, a researcher, is in our living room telling us about Kenya, past and contemporary. She is a white American woman married to a Ugandan man, who has been living in Kenya for 47 years. An interesting lady, a funny lady, a cynic.
“Why is it,” she is asking, “That no matter how carefully I try to explain these things, and how precise I am, they don’t get it?” She is talking about Africans, diseases, and information about the spread of AIDS. She says, referring to Africans, that there is always a skepticism or a rejection of what cannot be seen. Because Africans cannot see the bacteria and tiny organisms that give them the diseases, they will not believe in the ways that prevent them from spreading their existence. Thus, no condoms or caution when it comes to sex. It’s interesting that she does not seem to see how this issue of skepticism or rejection of what cannot be seen can also be applied to Americans. Perhaps not in terms of health, because they know that health concerns can affect them personally. White people and issues of race, though? I can tell you to your face about problems, about my deteriorating mental health, and you won’t get it. You won’t completely believe me.

We’re back, and the last white girl is comforting me.
“Just remember your dream, and the eighty-three year old matriarch,” she’s telling me. “You can’t give up. Because that has to happen.”

I wonder what it’s like in her head.

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The Second Part of the Last Night

“I was getting ready for bed,” I told him. It was partly true, but not especially helpful.
“With him in the room?” my cousin wanted to know.
“I guess so,” I said. It was lame, and we both knew it. I can’t outright lie in important situations. Call it a character flaw.
“Go to bed,” he said disgustedly, and went out onto the terrace.

By this point, we all know I’m a spiteful person. I knew it would look immature for me to point out that he wasn’t my father, and couldn’t tell me when to go to bed, but I sure as hell was not about to go to sleep right then. For one thing, no one was tired. Without everything else going on, I had to finish packing. More importantly, MC (we’re going to refer to my cousin as MC) was really upset, and I wanted him to say why. Not that I couldn’t guess. He’s an extremely possessive person, and had been rather protective of me the entire week. With the exception of times he’d been off drinking or smoking, I had not been left alone with his friends, and he’d even turned down fun activities like parties and swimming with friends whom I could tell he thought were into me. The only reason This Guy had gotten past MC’s protective fence was that it was his apartment in which we were staying. I was sleeping in his sister’s room (we hooked up in his sister’s room. I guess that was okay with him).

I followed him outside, figuring that if I could get my cousin to confess to his overprotective instincts, we could have a healthy conversation about his internalized misogyny, and how he needs to recognize that I’m a Person. That I can make my own decisions regarding the people in whom I’m interested, and that I’m not going to be charmed by every friend who finds himself interested in Me. I’m not stupid, or overly acquiescing, and I’ve had increasing experience in getting guys to leave me alone. People need to stop acting as though male interest equates male entitlement, and automatically results in male satisfaction. That’s what I would’ve told him, if he hadn’t immediately told me to go back to bed, and denied that he was feeling any type of way about the situation.

“I’m fine, everything’s good,” was all he would say.
“You’re clearly Not fine,” I told him. You’re just being a stupid man, unwilling to admit to any of your feelings, and creating more drama right before I have to get on an airplane! I thought. To add to the complication, The Guy chose this moment to join us outside.

“This isn’t just some skank you can use!” My cousin told him. “This is my cousin! You respect her! Fuck with my family, and I’ll kill you. How’s that for serious?” He stared at The Guy for a minute, then left.

I was so shocked, and pissed. I was aware that by telling The Guy that I wasn’t a skank, MC was completely putting me into the position of Being A Skank. Clearly, if I hadn’t been related to him, he would have viewed me with less respect. My value as a person should not be tied to the identities of my family members. It also shouldn’t be tied to my sexual expression, but I guess female sex positivity and the problems of slut-shaming have yet to be accepted in that apartment. Furthermore, I was annoyed that MC seemed to have put me into the Victim’s Position. I was someone who had been “fucked with”? This Guy was getting warnings and threats (which were ridiculous, given that TG is about twice the size of my cousin, the majority of him being muscle) for going near me, and I was just an innocent flower whose chastity needed protection from someone who wasn’t even myself. There’s never a good way to explain Not Flirting and Experimentation without making yourself seem like an asshole and minor sociopath, but I had serious problems with the huge power flip that had just taken place. All of a sudden, I was a girl who had been tricked by some player, who also had to beg for her male guardian’s forgiveness, and finish packing, and eventually sleep before leaving for at least a year. I was thinking about all this when TG came to sit next to me.

“Did you tell him?” he asked.
“He kind of already knew,” I replied.
“How?”
“He came into the room, right after you left, and I wasn’t wearing any pants.”
“Oh.”
“What happened??” This was another cousin, who lived downstairs. He’d just come outside. Why was he in the apartment? This situation was so ridiculous, and I didn’t feel like explaining it, so I started to laugh, instead.

“You’re here? I didn’t know you were here!” I told him.
“I’m here!” he said. “What happened? I just heard MC say ‘I’ll kill you’? What happened?”
“Nothing,” I told him. “Go to sleep.”

He went back inside, and what followed was maybe thirty minutes of silence, with intervals of conversation. I was doing a lot of reflection. TG was confused, ever-dramatic, and somehow still in the mood.
“I just have one question. I just want to know one thing,” he kept saying, before asking his question. The questions went all over the place.

“Did you ever kiss MC?” he wanted to know. Did I ever WHAT? I thought.
“You mean, like peck him on the cheek the way everyone kisses each other in greeting, or like the way I kissed you?” I asked to clarify.
“Like, kiss him.”
“Well, he’s my cousin,” I emphasized, “So, no.”
“I just think you two are really close. Like he’s oddly close to you. Sometimes I really thought you had. And I think that’s why he’s so mad.”
“You think he’s jealous? Of you? For kissing me?” This was too much to handle. He really couldn’t be going in this direction right now. I shut down that conversation, and we went back to silence.

“I’m not blaming you At All, but why did you do it?” I wanted to know. “Why did you kiss me? I could’ve just left. The flight is in a few hours.”
“Because I’m attracted to you,” he said. “I couldn’t just let you leave. I’ve wanted to do it since I saw you, but I wasn’t sure how you’d react. You’re quite scary, you know.”
“I know,” I said, glad that he remembered.
“I even would have done it this morning, on the balcony,” he told me. I thought back to the morning, when MC and I had been outside. I’d been in my oversize sleeping shirt, and TG had come up behind me and kissed my cheek. At first, MC had started at seeing “some shirtless guy kiss [his] cousin”, but had relaxed when he recognized who it was. Funny how quickly things change.
“Would you have kissed me if I hadn’t done it?” he asked.
“No,” I told him quite honestly. It clearly hadn’t been as necessary for me as it had been for him.
“Then I’m glad I did it,” he said.

“You know what the worst part about this is?” TG said.
“What?” I asked.
“I’m still attracted to you,” he told me. It had been less than an hour. I would hope that I didn’t become unattractive within an hour’s time.
“That makes sense,” I told him.
“But now it’ll be hard for me to come back later,” he lamented.
“You still want to come back later?” I was incredulous.
“Yeah, don’t you want me to?”
“No,” I told him. For some reason I felt like laughing, but didn’t. It wouldn’t have been happy laughter, anyway. “I don’t want to do anything right now.”

“You know, I’ll probably never see you again,” I said.
“What, why would you say that?” he wanted to know.
“Well, do you really think MC will let me be around you when I come back to South Africa?”
“He’d have to,” he said. “It would suck if I couldn’t see you again.” There was a pause. “Would it suck for you, if you couldn’t see me again?” I had to think about it.
“Yeah,” I said quietly, although I wasn’t sure. At this point, I’m becoming more used to people fading out of my life, and I’d only known him a week. I’d already made peace with the fact that I wouldn’t see anyone from Cameroon again, and I’d been there for four months. Still, he’d been good company, and I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. Funny, that even though I was supposedly the victim in this situation, I was still looking out for the victor’s feelings. That’s some mess of bullshit. I would miss him, though, so it ended up being the truth.

When MC finally came back, he’d obviously been crying. TG left the balcony, and I set about trying to pry my cousin’s feelings out of him. Difficult does not begin to describe it, for multiple reasons.
I don’t have much tolerance for people who say they are fine when they are clearly not. I know that this is something of which I am guilty of doing, but only because I have a system by which I abide when it comes to this.
If I’m upset with someone, I will lie to them twice about my feelings. If I’m still not okay the third time they ask, I will either exit the situation so as not to have to lie again, or put up a finger to show that I am too overcome with my emotions to speak at the moment, but will attempt to organize my words to bring them up to date on the problem. Making a point of showing someone how upset with them you are, but refusing in words to admit to the existence of a problem is one of the stupidest wastes of time and energy of which I can think. It honestly does no one any good. Not the person who wants to try to fix things, and definitely not yourself. Why do people sit on their emotions? It only makes them feel worse in the end. When people refuse to tell me their problems, I’ll eventually change the subject, or leave them alone about it. You can stew in your unpleasantness by yourself.

This was just harder to do with MC, the leaving him alone part, because of the intense time pressure. I was leaving soon, and I didn’t want to leave with my cousin hating me for some nonsense. No one needs that. I kept wheedling him.

“If everything’s really okay,” I finally said, exasperated, “Then you won’t care if I go kiss TG again. What would you do? Should we find out?” I was so close to doing it, too. Part of it was for spite. The other part was also curiosity. I’d had increasingly more time to reflect on the first kiss, and I was trying to figure out if it had been sweet, or nefariously calculated. I wanted to kiss him again, to see how it would feel, but my wiser side told me to stay where I was and not be a brat.

“It’s all fine,” he said. “It’s all fine for you. You can just go back to America. I have to stay here with him, and when he brags about you to everyone, I’m the one who’s going to have to hear about it.” I realized right then that although I loved him, my cousin was a bit of an asshole.
“You’re not upset about me at all,” I exclaimed. “You’re upset about yourself! You’re mad because you think of me as some conquest TG made, and not as a person who thinks and feels and does things and has a will of her own. Did you even ask me if I’d wanted to kiss him? Did you think at all about my own power as a person?” I considered explaining The Experiment to him, again, but decided that would probably lead down a long conversation about asexuality and more of his misogyny that I didn’t have the energy to address. It was late.

“You know, you don’t actually talk to me,” was what I ended up saying. “Or, you tell me your problems, but you don’t actually know anything about myself, or my life. You think that when I don’t want to watch movies where Idris Elba is about to abuse women, it’s because of some annoying feminism on my part. You don’t understand what my triggers are, because we’ve never had a deep enough conversation for me to express my scariest thoughts to you. And even now, you’re too caught up in your own hurt, irrelevant feelings of betrayal to actually hear me as a valid person arguing for myself.”

“Well, whatever,” he told me. “You can do what you want. That’s what you do. I don’t care.”

I looked at the cousin I loved, the cousin who’d seemed like a magical rescue angel last year, and looked over the balcony, thinking about how I’d been using South Africa and my time with him as an escape from thinking about my actual problems. But the problem with escaping from your problems is that you attempt to hide any traces of them in order to avoid dealing with them, and our great relationship was based on a foundation of shallowness, which was probably being ruined over this shallow hiccup. I wondered if I was about to lose my cousin and my place of refuge, and realized that it was Christmas. I started to cry. I was about to go home to what was now the worst time of year from me, when the real loss of my other cousin, the one person I’d been able to share my scary thoughts with, is inescapable. In a few hours, I would be going home to nothingness. I would sit in my room and be surrounded by Edward’s absence. I would come downstairs to my mother trying too hard to keep holiday cheer going, guilting me through the activities I would not have been doing with her anyway, were he still alive. I would leave, and try to imagine him behind me on the stairs, eventually giving up in recognition of my need to stay sane.
I didn’t want to deal with any of that. I wanted to stay here, and pretend that I wasn’t replacing him with the people around me. But if the people around me hated me, or just didn’t see or respect me as a person, then I would have a double emptiness with which I’d have to contend. I was so tired, of everything.

“Edward,” I said into the hands now covering my face, “Why would you even let me come out here, if it was going to end like this? I thought I was progressing. Is this what it’s going to be like forever? Why, Edward?”

I did not care how confusing all this would be to the ignorant MC, who had a three-second understanding of my family history. If this seemed dramatic to him, then it was just my turn to be the dramatic one. At least my issue was real, and pertaining to myself, and not a simple problem of lust or stupidly misplaced masculine pride. I continued to cry.

“Hey,” said my cousin. “You know I love you, right? And I’d do anything for you.”

That was nice.

“Then talk to me,” I told him.

To the White People I Just Don’t Like (Racial Unhappiness from Early Cameroon)

(According to Clara, anyway)

For two weeks, I let you touch my hair because I wanted to be friends. And by touch, I mean pull, grab, braid (even if it meant forcing my head into uncomfortable positions while I was trying to converse with someone else), twist, and hold up to your own faces and heads. That isn’t touching. That’s an exhibit.

Think about that.

For two weeks, I told myself that it was okay. In trying to get closer to you, I allowed you to make me feel strange, and different. Other. Cameroun out here telling us that we’re all the same, and every day I’m a fucking attraction for you all to remind me that we aren’t. And even when you realize that maybe what you’re doing isn’t good, you keep doing it, because you “just can’t help” yourself. And so my comfort, and my personal space are compromised in the name of your interest, your satisfaction, your finding a reason to talk to me and around me.

If we were anywhere else, I wouldn’t have had anything to do with you after the first time that happened. Because I know myself, and my worth, and I’m worth goddamn more than existing for other people’s occasional pleasure.

But we’re in Cameroun, and there are only nine of us, and I don’t want to “bring the same problems over, when we’re all American.”

But we’re all fucking American, and you all brought your micro-aggressions over anyway. And I’m going out to lunch with you, and listening to problematic statement after problematic statement. I’m getting roped into doing things that require spending more money than I want to, and when I try to stick up for myself, I’m being a cheap problem. So let me be quiet for a little bit. Let me try to be your friend. You’re nice people, I realize. You just make me feel severely uncomfortable at least twice each time we hang out. Continual discomfort, with occasional flashes of anger.

After a guard questions our citizenship, because we don’t look like you. Whose right is it to start making jokes at our expense? Yours, clearly. And we’ll let them happen, because we want to be friends, even though each joke is an aggressive chant, a differing refrain. You’re not like us. You’re not like us.

Don’t tell me that African babies “are the cutest babies”.
Don’t comment on “the alien hairstyles” you see.
Don’t turn to me to see if what you said was racist. We both know you were racist. You just want me to say that you weren’t.

But let’s be friends. Let me sit here and listen to you, and validate what you say with my silences. Let me hate myself, and you, a little bit, inside. You’re good people. You have good intentions. Let me bide my time and wait for an opportunity where it’s safe to point out something Wrong.

Here we are! In a conversation about gay rights, you tell me that I should really understand, seeing as we colonized them and forced religion onto them.
Oh, so there’s a “we” now? Now that responsibility is on the line, I’m allowed to be part of a “we” with you? Never mind that I am absolutely NOT part of this “we”. Never mind that I’m “them”, and that my father was colonized by your fucking “we”, never mind that HE had religion forced into him until he forced it, and You, Out. Never Mind the fact that you are only using my, my father, my family, my tribe, my country’s continued pain as a way to make yourself sound worldly and knowledgeable in a simple conversation. You don’t give a shit about us. How do I know that? Watch.

“Um, I’m not a part of that ‘we’.” Simple. Smiling, conversational. What a funny point I just brought up!

Now watch You get offended. Watch You blow up at this. Watch Me cause You pain by telling you that while you were in fact pretending to take responsibility for some distant event, its effects are currently staring you in the face.
And now we need to have a conversation about how I don’t make you feel comfortable in conversations? How you know that I’m offended, and have every right to be, but I have to be nicer when I address you, and I can’t just be as aggressive as I want.

White girl, if I leapt out of this chair, took my extensions and used them to slap you in the face (mimicking the hair flips You use as a sign of superiority), it wouldn’t be aggressive Enough. Bathe me with your tears; I didn’t bring anything to collect them.

Fuck that, though, and fuck This. Clearly I can’t win by smiling around you, and the pebbles are building up on my back. I can’t hope to educate you, so let me stay away for a bit. I have a friend. I have a single friend here with whom I don’t feel afraid to be honest. If he gets out of line, I can put him in his place. There are no politics, there are no boundaries. With him, I can be me, and I won’t have to worry about any bullshit fucking sensitivity feelings.

Can we take a break to talk about how ironic it is that nine times out of ten, the people telling me not to be so sensitive are doing it so they don’t have to wallow in their own discomfort and sensitivity? It’s easier if I’m the problem. Right?

Next time you tell me that sometimes you wish you could change your race, so that you won’t stick out as a white person, I’ll leave.

You don’t realize how beautiful it is to be comfortable. I’m sure you Think you do. You don’t.

We can still be cool, we can still talk, we can call each other friends.

Don’t accuse us of self segregation. I’ll still be around you. You can still come to me with questions. Ask me to explain things, and I will. You won’t pay me, and this isn’t my job, but I can help you out. I won’t do it on my own. You’ll only understand racial politics, and comfort, and internalized racism, if you decide for yourself that you want to. And then I’ll explain things to you, and you’ll understand.

Or you’ll just pretend to understand, then go and tell everyone else that I don’t like white people.

So what now? I’m just a little old antisocial reverse racist, I guess. What should I do?

Do you want me to be with you, and be upset with things you do, feeling like less of a person, invalid, unimportant, hating myself for not being able to say anything? Or do you want me to call you out (except calling out is too aggressive, so let’s say I’ll gently point things out) when you do things that are problematic (except in saying that, you really mean that you never want me to say anything, so that you can continue to do the same things with the bonus of feeling like you’re a good, socially just person)? I was told that if I can’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all. Telling people they’ve offended you isn’t nice, and telling people that they’re racist is mean. So can I just go away for a bit, coming around when I feel safe, and am okay not telling the truth?

Nahh because apparently, not constantly being around people isn’t nice, either. How do I win this game, and still feel like a person? How do I play while keeping my self respect? Who’s the ref? I’m guessing you’ll want it to be one of y’all.

So tell me what to do, white people who should be my friends, and as a woman of color, I should only be happy to do it.

Talking to White Girl

“I don’t want a video of me giving a lap dance to be on some white girl’s phone,” I said. Honestly, we weren’t even friends. We would go back to our different schools on the same campus, and she would have that. Would other white students, strangers, see it? That’s just what I needed: to be sexualized by more white people. People had finally stopped expecting me to twerk on command. Enough time had passed since The White Boy Who Tried To Colonize My Vagina had demanded I send him sexual pictures of myself (and looking back, Why did he feel so justified in doing that? Had he seen a different video? Had he just assumed?). I didn’t need anything new popping up now.
“Some white girl?” the white girl repeated, clearly offended I’d mentioned her race. It’s funny. Black people know that they’re black. Hispanic people know that they’re Hispanic. Casually tell a white person that they’re white, and nine times out of ten they’re dumbfounded that you can tell races apart. “I’m a person, you know,” she said defensively, white tears already forming in her eyes. I sighed.
“Oh, I know that,” I told her. Believe me, I thought, Doesn’t no one doubt that white people are people. In fact, when speaking politically correctly, white people are the only people. You have African Americans (qualified Americans), Latinas, Asian Americans (qualified Americans)…no one else has ‘people’ next to it other than White People.
I don’t dance for white people. It’s a principle. I’m not here to entertain. If I dance for my friends, that’s one thing, but if we aren’t friends, you have no right to possess what I’ve done. Enjoy yourself in the moment, then let it go. It’s Not For You.
“Listen,” I said, trying a different approach. “There is a history of women of color being sexualized. I don’t want to add into that.”
“There’s also a history of simply women  being sexualized,” she said, and this was so exasperatingly White Feminist, I didn’t know whether to groan or laugh. I decided to do neither.
“That’s true,” I told her, “But it’s a little worse when it comes to women of color. That’s their role.” I hurried on, before we could get into a ‘black women are beautiful v. ALL women are beautiful’ situation. I also needed to ignore the fact that despite attempting solidarity with the ‘all women being sexualized’ bit, her filming me without permission and feeling entitled to keep it wasn’t exactly feminist. To point that out would derail the conversation. “Why do you think people were so upset with Miley Cyrus?” I asked, inwardly groaning that I had to bring this girl up again. “It’s not because they thought she was a slut, despite what some people were saying. (Some white feminists, I thought, but didn’t say to her. No one wanted the white tears to fall.) It’s because of the wall of women of color she had behind her, the oversexualized women of color who were only used to validate her sexuality as a white woman. This is a problem.”
“Yeah well, I deleted the video, so I don’t get what the problem is,” the white girl said. It was funny. Her head bobbed from side to side, she barely looked at me, her teeth were slightly bared, and her voice was mean. I was talking slowly, quietly, looking straight at her, my hands at my sides. Watch me do everything you’re doing right now, I thought. You’re already telling me that I’m being aggressive as I am. Is that a default? Are all black men thugs, and all black women aggressive?
“You and I just don’t get along, and I don’t see why we need to interact.”
“I agree,” I said, “But for different reasons. I still need you to try to understand why you weren’t in the right.”
“Oh, so you just understand everything, Khalilah? You just have all the answers to the situation, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t know everything.” But I understand more about the situation than you do, white girl.
“Well, if you’d just asked politely, I would have deleted it the first time. You need to be nice when you want people to do things for you.”

So here we were. This white girl was teaching me how to properly behave myself in White World, where you have to politely beg people to consider respecting your rights. Where telling someone that they have to delete something that doesn’t belong to them is the height of rudeness. Where speaking seriously is aggressive, but yelling, “Jesus Christ…you need to chill out!” is not. Where you aren’t allowed to do anything to better yourself, improve your situation, or have any sense of pride, because it either leaves white people out or makes them uncomfortable. Shutting a program down because it’s ‘reverse racist’, and refusing to listen to someone because they’re ‘aggressive’ are the new forms of oppression.
And honestly, who are we even kidding? How can we be surprised when people who have been silenced and oppressed for centuries are even slightly hostile? Do you know one of the reasons the Rwandan genocide happened? The Hutus were tired of being forced into subservience. All of the coups, all of the uprisings, they’re violent. You don’t go up to your oppressors and say, “Excuse me, but would you please give up the majority of your privileges and respect my opinions and see me as a valid person so that we may actually be equals?” It won’t work.
They say, “The Revolution will not be televised.” Some say, “The Revolution will not be on World Star.” I think it should be added on that “The Revolution will not be polite,” because it seems that people do not understand this yet. Particularly those with power.

She’d had enough, I could tell. She was about to leave, and she wouldn’t know anything.
“They tell us to respect SHOFCO youth and the people of Kenya, because we’re coming from different situations, and we don’t understand how we can be offending them,” I said. “And we do that. But we don’t practice it with each other. You and I, we come from different situations, and you won’t understand that. We go to different schools.”
“You’ve said that already,” White Girl said. Offended again, because I guess she thought I was unnecessarily emphasizing our racial differences. I put on my Educate White People Cap, and slipped into my softest, most possibly docile voice.
“When I got accepted to Wesleyan, behind my letter was a page that said, ‘We have great programs for students of color – LIKE YOU.’ That was my first label. Then, they sent us to our separate WesFest – “
“Wait, they were separated?” She was interested now. “Like, at different times?”
“No,” I said. “Well, yes. SOC WesFest was two days before, last year. Otherwise, it’s just separate events.”
“That’s fucked up,” she said.
“Yes,” I agreed. “So then, you come to campus only knowing a small amount of people, And now, I don’t know if you know this (you probably don’t) but the administration pushed SOC into five majors only: English, Psych, Soc, Economics, and AfAm. But as you may know, we only have one and a half professors left in African American Studies. It’s a failing department. That’s why we had all the protests and the march, because what they’re doing to us isn’t fair. And,” I gave a sad laugh, “It was pretty much only students of color who showed up, except for maybe three white people. No one is there for us, and in our majors we’re stuck learning about institutionalized racism, and recognizing micro-aggressions, and smaller-scale racism, but no one else knows and we’re left to deal with it. And then everyone else wants to know why ‘they only sit with each other’ and why there’s ‘self-seggregation’ as if we weren’t behaving the way the administration set us up to! Wesleyan doesn’t care about its students of color.
That’s where I’m coming from, and now here, it’s worse, because there’s no one on this trip to understand me, except maybe Roshanna. And every indication is that we aren’t supposed to be here. People only say ‘howareyou’ to us half the time on the streets.”
“But isn’t that what they call white people?”
“Yes, but we didn’t know that.”
“Ture,” she concurred.
“And besides, that doesn’t always lessen the feeling that we aren’t welcome. People who smile at you, won’t make eye contact. They put their hands out for you and withdraw them when they see us. We aren’t counted…even by SHOFCO! They only praise ‘the great work the mzungus are doing,’ and it’s as if we don’t even exist. We aren’t important.” I was almost talking angrily at this point, so I had to pause and calm down.

“So when I dance on my friend, my friend, and someone else records it, and refuses to listen to me when I tell her she needs to delete it; refuses to see me as a valid enough person to respect – “
“Okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t understand,” the girl said.
“I know that you didn’t,” I told her. “I’m not trying to be condescending.”
“I didn’t know it was like that,” she said. “I wish you’d have said that before.”
“White people don’t like being told about the racial undertones of situations,” I explained. “It makes them uncomfortable.”
“Well, not me!” She said. “I want to know when I’m being racist. I don’t want to be racist at all!”
“Alright,” I told her.

I chose not to point out to her how messed up the situation was. That in order for her to listen to me, I’d had to be as nonthreatening as possible. That despite the fact that she’d wronged me, I’d had to stop and apologize multiple times throughout the story to appease her, and allow her to keep listening. That I’d had to stand below her and make sure she was comfortable before she could take me seriously, despite the fact that this was a part of my life I was talking about, and so had always been serious to me. And most annoying of all was the fact that I’d had to play educator in the first place, and that the amount of contrition she felt was directly related to how personally I wanted to let her know about my life. The situation was racially fucked. I decided to let it go, for the moment.
“I think we’ll be able to get along better, now,” said Martha.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “So do I.”

Third World Black America?

I went to the Union Square vigil last night, the National Moment of Silence for victims of police brutality. I spent a minute chanting with the protesters, but decided that I wanted to hear what people at the vigil had to say, rather than walk through NYC. It was nice, being surrounded by people I did not know, who had all come out to support the same cause. There were a lot of us. We were a community with potential.
Community.

One morning on the walk through Kibera, there was a sort of mob forming at one of the intersections of our path. It seemed ominous, although its animosity was not directed toward us, but at whatever was happening at its center.
“Mzungu!” One man called out to the volunteer in front of me, “Come and look at this!” Other members of the crowd laughed, but we didn’t pay attention. We had to get to school, and despite being curious about what was happening, the vibe coming from the people gathered was scary.
We later found out that we had passed by a stoning. Someone had been caught stealing, and when this happens, the perpetrator is stoned to death. In this case, they stopped before the guy was actually dead. It was still slightly unnerving to hear about.
The way that it was explained makes a lot of sense, though. Kibera is a community. An actual, beautiful community, “where everyone looks out for each other. If someone is having a party a few houses down from you, you go to it, even if you don’t know them that well. You go, because they’re your neighbor. When you buy, say, a radio, that’s only possible after taking the time to save up for it. Once you have it, it is precious to you. If someone steals your radio, they are also stealing your security. You cannot trust them, because the same people who steal from you will also come into your house and rape you. A community without trust between its residents is not a community at all, and Kibera can’t function the same way unless that trust is restored. So the community must punish the person who breached trust severely enough to ensure that it will never happen again. They do not trust the police to help them, because they know the police are not their allies; they only hurt, and never help.”

Throughout the experience, I would be annoyed with other volunteers for looking at things that were happening in Kibera as sad aspects of a developing (some people actually still said Third World) nation that was behind the United States. Certain people actually seemed to believe that in four weeks, we would make everything better and set a good Western example for the people we supposedly helped. Meanwhile, there seemed to be no reflection on the United States’ own issues.

This was one that I almost missed. I didn’t really think about it until, while listening to speakers at the vigil, I found myself wondering about Mike Brown’s body lying in the street. When you find a body in the street, who do you call? Who do you expect to move it? It’s funny, because my automatic reaction would be to think of the police. You’re supposed to be able to call the police when you find a dead body, and they’re supposed to rush over and then do their detective thing, find the killer, and put the killer to justice. Right?
Right?
But what if the police put the body there in the first place? That sounds crazy.
That sounds crazy. What if the police shot the body and left it there to rot in the middle of an active street? And what if they shot the body for no viable reason? What if the police are actually killers?
Who do you call now?

There are those stupid Youtubers who have their racist “In the Hood” pranks, where they harass black people into beating them up. One especially stupid one involves them going up to random black guys and snatching the cell phones out of their hands to “check” the time. They Know it looks like they’re stealing the phones. They Know they’re going to be beaten up. They Know they’re creating extremely fucked up situations, but they keep creating them because they Don’t Know that they’re participating in yet another form of racism.
If you can get shot for being black, are you really going to call the police when a shrimpy white boy takes your phone? That’d be stupid. You have to take care of it yourself because you don’t even have a community to stone with you. Black people are not enough of a community yet. I have hope. It can be done. If black people continued to come together and didn’t just wait for the next abominable killing that made headlines, there Could Be a community.

But for right now, it seems that we’re behind Kibera. This must be when what Monsignor Ivan Illich meant when he told volunteers to stay in America and fix its own inequalities first. Who will fix this?

Embracing Patriarchy to Escape Patriarchy, and Yourself-Sacrificing Coordinators

It’s Friday, and I’m walking back from KSG to the spot from which the bus will pick us up. I’m working out a budget in my head. Who I still need to buy gifts for, where we’ll be going over the weekend, what I owe people, the ride to the airport. Will I extend my stay? That’s money. Is it worth it? Will it affect my job? Being worried about money sucks (thinks the American walking out of the slum).

My thoughts are interrupted by one of my coordinators, who suddenly jumps up beside me and clenches my shoulders.
“No, stop, stop, he’s really scaring me!” she cries, which would be startling enough if she wasn’t also suddenly pushing me into the path of an oncoming man.
“I love you!” He is slurring his words and yelling, arms reaching. “Why are you leaving me all alone?”
I try to get out of his way, only to realize that my coordinator is wrenching me in place. She’s using me to hide, pushing my body toward his to block hers. Or as a trade? Is she trying to give me up to save herself?
“BABY! Dn’t leave me, ALOOOONE!”
The man is getting closer, still yelling. My coordinator is still pushing me toward him. Residents are watching us and laughing. Having got me into this slightly dangerous situation, she clearly isn’t going to save me. So I have to save her? Fine. I shove her along the path, trying to move away as quickly as possible. I can’t decide if it’s safer to ignore him and keep moving, or to tell him to go away. Looking around for help, I see Jake behind us.
“Will you please do your job as a man and make him go away?” I ask, but he doesn’t understand. As a trainer for the teachers, he’s only been with us a few days, and it’s clear that no one has let him know about the level of patriarchy here. He doesn’t get that right now, what will be safest for me is for the man to think that Jake is in charge of me, my coordinator, and the rest of the female volunteers.
“Hey, man, why don’t you leave them alone?” Jake says, weakly. Yeah, that’s a real stay away from my property warning. The man ignores him and keeps coming, shouting his ‘love’.
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. Esther, the angel, our saviour from SHOFCO Youth has showed up. She says a few words to the man in Kiswahili, then turns him around and pushes him back down the path. Thank you. We’re okay.

I’m feeling weird about having embraced the messed up gender structures, if only for a second, in an attempt to save myself. Especially when it didn’t even work out. It seems I’ve been conforming a lot to things that are against my beliefs, just to get by here. I keep biting down on things that I’d otherwise proudly be saying. It’s part of the reason I wouldn’t be able to stay. My feminism is too radical here, even at KSG. I feel like shit for thinking this, and for being able to leave, as I currently walk out of the slum for the day. There it is, though. I like to think that I’ll find a way back to Kibera for a bit, but it still wouldn’t be permanent. I’m lucky enough not to have to stay here, yet.

And my coordinator, what is she doing? She’s finally let go of me. We are no longer struggling with each other. She’s gone.
I look behind me, at the line of white volunteers. She’d come from the back, running around all of them. Why did she choose me? Was it my race? Was it random? Why did it happen at all? She’s supposed to be in charge, protecting us. It is not supposed to be the other way ’round.

What the fuck was that?
She pushed me into his way.
She pushed me into his way.
Why?

Dress Code Ranting

The school year is over, graduation has passed, and for the moment I’m at home. It’s weird being back. I can’t say that I particularly like it, but compared to a lot of people’s situations, mine isn’t bad. My friend is talking to a guy who spends his entire summer in his room, reading textbooks. He’s afraid to leave his house, which has already been raided, because he doesn’t want to run into trouble in his neighborhood. I feel perfectly safe walking anywhere where I live, no matter what time it is. This is good, because recently I’ve had to walk to and from work a lot.
So I feel safe. I don’t feel particularly accepted, though. I feel like I don’t fit in with my environment. Looking back, I don’t know how I bore it through middle school and high school, where conformity is everything. I always thought it was my mixed race and fashion choices that made it hard to fit in with people. Now, I think that my thoughts had a lot to do with it, too. They just don’t click with other people’s, and I’m spending too much time repressing rants that I know will just make me look Crazy, Angry, or Weird.
I was at the mall with my friend. I knew that I had to visit her, and I also had to get long skirts for Kenya and Cameroon, so I decided to lump the two things together. It’s weird the things you resort to doing when you know you need to spend time with someone. Having lunch gets old, and an at-home visit was out of the question. What would we do, just sit and talk the entire time without an out? Recently, our most in-depth conversations have been about boys. As an asexual, that’s saying something.

My friend was telling me all about how she and her boyfriend had gone to the beach.
“Yeah, we went to ______ beach,” she was saying, “There are a whole lot of them out there. We’d never go to Coney Island, though, because that’s too ratchet. We saw all these girls wearing short shorts with their butt cheeks hanging out! He saw them, and he was like, ‘If I were their parents, I’d never let them out of the house,’ and I was like, ‘I know, right? Why do they think they need to try so hard?'”

For a second, I really hated her. Then I remembered she was my good friend. “Why do they necessarily need to be trying hard if they’re wearing shorts?” I asked her. “Also, weren’t they at the beach? If anything, they probably just eren’t* trying hard to be covered at all.” She started to respond, but I was annoyed, and also starting to think out loud.
“This is why I love Wesleyan. At Wes, I can wear whatever I want, and no one will think I’m doing it for anyone else. I can actually express myself and not be judged, you know? I have a friend whose cheeks are peeking out all the time. She doesn’t do it on purpose. It just happens, and then she fixes them, but she doesn’t stress over it because she knows that clothes aren’t made to fit black bodies, and there’s nothing she can really do about it.
The thing that sucks is that once you leave campus, everyone forgets about that. All of a sudden, you’re dressing to attract the interest of men. It’s like everything that you do is to put yourself on display for the world, despite the fact that you’re actually dressing because you’re confident, and you like the way you look.”

The ironic thing was that at the moment, I was wearing a leopard-print jumpsuit and red blazer. I looked fierce. Or I looked ridiculous, depending on your mindset. My friend was trying to talk again, but I cut into her. Again. Her voice was too weak, anyway.

“I really don’t like this place. People here have such small mindsets. Everyone just regurgitates things they’ve heard without even thinking about them, like the idea that girls who wear short shorts don’t respect themselves, or whatever nonsense the patriarchy put into their heads as another method of disenfranchising women. You honestly can’t win. Either you cover yourself up and are ashamed of your body*, conforming to a subservient and acquiescing standard, or you dress freely, and have to deal with sexual harassment that people will say you deserve. But it’s like that Everywhere! Oh, I miss my campus. The worst part is that I’m sure some girls are trying hard when they wear little clothing, and they aren’t just dressing for themselves. But aren’t you also trying hard when you induce sweat and discomfort, just so that you can seem chaste and respectable? Didn’t you use to wear crop tops and belly shirts and little shorts before your boyfriend told you not to do that anymore? The problem is that you don’t know who’s thinking what anymore, and in the meantime, everyone’s busy judging everyone else using stupid little unthoughtful examples, and it’s actually like everyone just has the same, copied-over mindset. Oh, people who don’t think are the worst!”
This had turned into a full-out rant that could have been somewhat insulting to my friend, as without noticing, I had implied that her mindset was stupid and she didn’t think on the same level that I did. I wondered if she was upset.

“I know,” she told me. “That’s why I can’t talk to as many people at home these days.”

 

*I understand that not everyone who covers herself is ashamed. Being completely covered is liberating in its own way, and I’m actually really looking forward to that when I’m in Cameroon. I just don’t like the idea that women who cover themselves are morally superior, or better marriage material, or whatever other bullshit.