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.