5.01.2007

The Me Nobody Knows

It's almost been four years since Mr. J and I packed up our belongings and J-Jo (who was, at that time, the same age as the twins are now) and headed north to our current home in the Hudson Valley.

When we first got here, I was very conscious of the fact that I was the only black woman up here. For miles. You'd be more likely to see a wild turkey crossing the street than a sister at the supermarket (yes, we really do have wild turkeys up here).

It was a bit of a culture shock, to say the least. Even in the 'burbs I grew up in, there were other black people. But with time I learned to stop worrying about people's stares and just go about my business. Instead of worrying about how the lady at H & R Block began filing out as single (never mind the ring or the fact that I was seven months pregnant at the time), I got the terrific accountant we have now and never looked back. I ignored the stares at the supermarket. I even stopped caring if the old lady at the pump across from me just jumped in her car and locked the doors after seeing me get out of my Honda Odyssey (yeah, they say most muggers drive those).

I got over standing out. Or at least I thought I did.

Until yesterday, when I took a huge bag of clothes to donate to a local charity-based thrift store. For some reason, I felt the (odd) need to apologize while handing the bag to the lady over the counter, because nothing was ironed or on hangers or anything. She took one look at me and replied:

"As long as everything's clean."

Clean?

I tried to recall what I looked like when I left the house that morning. My hair was pulled back into a neat pony tail, I had on a black peasant top and jeans. And my favorite chandalier earrings (they weren't these or anything, but so what?). Sure, I'd been running around with the kids all morning, but we weren't rolling in the dirt. Of course my clothes were clean. Of course the huge bag of used clothes were clean, too. So why'd she have to go there?

I felt the sudden urge to write Barack Obama, something tells me he'd understand.

One of the biggest things that annoys me about race in this country is that just when you're going about your business just thinking you're a person, somebody has to point the finger at you and shout: "No! You're not a person, you're a BLACK (or whatever else that's not white) person!" As if that's all that matters. As if there's nothing else. As if I owe anybody an explanation, just for being me.

At least she didn't call me "inarticulate".

12 comments:

SF Mom said...

Ugh that happened to me at our local thrift store. "Is everything in here clean?" with an unfriendly look that made me feel like a slattern/dirty girl/not going there again.
But the big question is... where are you moving?

Mrs. J said...

Hey sf mom - email me!;)

Teendoc said...

And you'll probably get the same comments here I did with my "Who You Calling, Girl?" post a few weeks ago. People will let you know that this incident wasn't about race since of course they have been told the same thing as well. Sigh..

I feel you, sista.

Mrs. J said...

That's the other annoying thing about it! You never know if it's that or if the person's just a jerk.

Aly Cat 121 said...

Hush up gurrrl, and if you would been wearing "those" earrings you'da probably been mugged by some whiteboys, HA! (and who woulda believed that?)

I'm sure they ask everyone who comes in that question, cuz "some" folks would bring in dirty old clothes (and I ain't namaing no names). Sh*t you coulda just kept yo clothes and sold them things at a garage sale.

sherri said...

I completely understand. On paper, it may not read "offensiive" but sometimes we have to consider tone and context.

I'm sure they get clothes that are less than clean because 1) people assume clothes will be cleaned by the store and 2) some people are lazy.

I've been a Black woman for 38 years. I'm pretty good with understanding nuance when it comes to race and class. Something tells me that you're pretty good at it also. ;-)

Nerd Girl said...

Humph! My husband's principal asked him just the other day when he requested a day off to take care of our daughter "can't your baby's mama keep her?" Excuuuuse me? I'm sure you meant to say "wife!"

Christopher Chambers said...

Believe it or not, the Hudson Valley wasn't just home to gnomes and elves putting Rp Van Winkle to sleep, or Headless Horsemen. About 50 years ago this summer, there was a nasty race riot in Peekskill (sp?) as chronicled by author Howard Fast. As was the norm prior to the late 60s, it was white folks who lost their minds and up and attacked picnickers. Amazing. Perhaps this lady was a child/grandchild of those lovely natives?

Christopher Chambers said...

P.S.--the flip side is that sometimes I volunteer at our church's thrift shop, and God help me for my temporary fall into Fox News/Rush Limbaughism but the Africans who roll in there with huge bags and boxes and work my nerves. "No, we don't haggle over a $2 pair of shoes...yes, I saw you take the price tag off of that old sticky "Clash of the Titans" video and the price is STILL fifty cents!" My usual refrain every Wednesday night...

ShakerMom said...

As my daddy sometimes wishes "wouldn't it be great if we all (law-abiding black folks who don't play their music too loud & encourage their kids to do well in school) could just live together in our own neighborhoods to never deal w/ white folks again?"

Sigh... yes sometimes it is race and sometimes the person is just an idiot. And telling the difference is tricky. Being able to ignore the stupidity will help keep your blood pressure low (I hope). Even in "progressive" communities like Shaker Heights, one is subjected to white ignorance and arrogance that startles the imagination.

Anonymous said...

As a sista who went from Chicago to Maine, I can completely relate to your experience. Sigh.

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