I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that I am African-American (Black American – an American citizen of African decent by way of the Atlantic slave trade of the 16 – 19th centuries). I am a product of a household that was run by a single female for the majority of my life. I was exposed to a wide variety of cultures, philosophies, religions, and points of view. I developed a wide variety of tastes, appreciations, and a wonderfully accommodatingly open mind. To that end, I often find myself in situations where I’m the only person of any kind of color.
Socially, I’ve lived “in-between” all my life. I had a smattering of friends that fit into their own cultures, cliques, and fan-doms with ease but I wasn’t ever “enough” of any one type to fit into a single group – my inability to embrace just ‘one’ way of being, doing, thinking, etc. kept me on the fringes. Consequently, I had friends of different cultures (race or other) for whom I was the only”Black” person they associated with.
Though the interests changed, my socialization hasn’t changed. Hip-Hop dance club? That’s this friend over here and his crew; Dub-step, electronica? Gotta call my daughter and her crew. Ren-fest? Dr. Who marathon? Cheesy monster movies? Writing? Yeah, for whatever floats my boat, there’s an existing group that I can slip into for the moment. Aside from that one unifying like – I tend not to have much else in common with the group so after we’ve enjoyed an evening of frivolity, I fade back to the Lair until the next time.
It’s when I’m the only spot of color in the group that things really get interesting. There’s a palpable reaction from people when I show up to something and find myself to be the sole representative of my entire race in this country. Most smile, try not to look surprised, but I notice the stares, the hands over the mouth to hide the whispering (as if I can read lips). It used to make me uncomfortable. Having to be on my best (read “slightly unnatural” because I was hyper aware of how the slightest action might be misconstrued based on the filters through which it was being observed) behavior; making sure I didn’t do anything that might be thought of negatively. But now? I rather enjoy upsetting people’s expectations, busting a bit of their preconceived notions. I’m still well-behaved, but I’ll be damned if I care whether or not you think Black women are all loud, ‘ghetto’ / ‘ratchet’, neck swaying, finger poppin’, uncouth…etc, who only like Tyler Perry movies, and who’s musical tastes only involve hip-hop and R&B.
Wondering where this little bit of life’s observations came from? Well, I went to see Celtic Woman this past weekend. To borrow a phrase from a fav British movie of mine, “It didn’t half cause a fuss” as my date and I approached the venue. There wasn’t any open hostility or the “your kind doesn’t belong here” vibe (I’ve gotten that once or twice; not a good feeling) instead it was a, “wow, I didn’t know THEY liked this kind of thing” look of surprise that flashed over most faces. We were nicely dressed because that’s what the old folks taught us – when going to the theater, you get dressed-up. My date and I both were raised by what I’m sure was the last generation of people who had etiquette classes in high school.
Anyway, we were nicely dressed, speaking softly to each other and generally behaving like civilized humans who were out for a nice evening. We got whispered about as we passed by (I’d like to believe it was because of my shoes – they were
awesome; or maybe it was the tattoo on my leg…whatever) and point-blank quizzed by a couple of the brazen older folks in the crowd, on whether or not we’d ever heard Celtic / Irish music before…in our lives! It was hilarious. My date silenced one older couple’s accusatory questioning by mentioning the number of years he’d been listening to the genre and his favorite singer, of whom the couple had not heard. I put the brakes on a woman when I responded to her inquisition by mentioning how much I enjoyed listening to the Celtic show on NPR (comes on Sunday evenings I believe, don’t remember the specific time). I wish you could have seen the expressions on their faces. I liken it to what most folks would do if suddenly the tattooed, saggy jeans wearing Black boy on the street corner suddenly began singing an aria in a perfect soprano.
Yeah – like that.
Anyway, the show was wonderful. In case you’ve never heard of the Celtic Woman show, here’s a little background for you :-). Click…expand your horizon a bit. You’re welcome.
6 thoughts on “The Only Chip in the Cookie”
Great post! Growing up in a small town in the South, I remember the few black students who defied stereotypes were often viewed with suspicion by both blacks & whites. In any case, as I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to really appreciate those who break stereotypes. I love it when I meet someone who is so different than “the norm” for their age/race/religion/gender, etc. I’ve also learned that a black man dressed in “gangsta” attire can still be a perfectly decent, generous human being who just might like opera . . . I love people who surprise me like that! And Celtic Woman is awesome. I can’t believe people were so openly questioning of your being at the concert (& yet I do believe it). To me that is just so rude.
Thank you :-). I have a lot of fun blowing stereotypes out of the water, lol. As for the questions…I tend to make exceptions for anyone who seems to be genuinely curious and then open to the answer. Mind you, had I thought for a second they were asking the questions in order to exclude us in any way, I might have taken offense, but in this case, the vibe I got was mellow. They may have had some prejudices, some preconceived notions, but they were ready to listen to what we had to say.
I’m glad they seemed open-minded!
Once again your understated style comes through. I never used to think about whether someone’s skin color or ethnic background mattered until I was in the situation where I was the only white chick in the place. Well, me and my daughter. I had several hours of looks, stares, whispers, some who didn’t bother to whisper but make rude judgmental comments. I realized then how much of an issue it can be when you are in the minority.
When we first “met” online, I had no idea you were of color nor did I care. What impressed me was that you conduct yourself with class and style. (That old fashioned upbringing I think has benefitted us both!) You have a unique voice that is charming, endearing, and intelligent. What business is it of anyone’s if you like a variety of music, movies, activities, or sports? There are certain aspects to my personality that are strongly influenced by my upbringing that come out in a “red neck” no nonsense outlook and then people are shocked when I say I don’t like country music or country line dancing. PLease – everyone doing the same step in the same direction at the same time? Where’s the fun in that?
Anyway, I’d like to think there were more people who are open-minded than those who are judgmental. There are some, I Know there are because most of my friends are not the judgmental type.
OH, and those shoes totally rock! I have shoe envy – you know how I love my shoes girlfriend!
LOL – hugs. I’ve lived my life with this kind of scrutiny and it’s rare you find people willing to admit to their curiosity, let alone being willing to have it satisfied with information that goes against their preconceived notions or prejudices. But I’ve managed to always find the one or two with the open minds and that keeps me from feeling as if there is no hope that one day, I won’t be seen as such an oddity…at least not for the color of my skin and the interests I’m pursuing. I think my (questionable) sense of style though will always be a trigger for the side eye and whispered comment. lol.