The African race is a rubber ball. The harder you dash it to the ground, the higher it will rise. ~African Proverb
Life as a woman of color isn't easy; it's not for the faint of heart. But as trying as it can be, I would never (ever) trade places with a black man. Ya'll can have that with my prayers, blessings and admiration. Even as we are staring 2010 in the face, the ideology of a true "post-racial" society where all are treated and greeted equally remains beyond our reach. Almost beyond our imaginations. With the ascent of Barack Obama to the Presidency, the whispers of true unfettered possibility danced hopefully in our hearts. The belief that "anything was possible" hovered wistfully in the cold January air as the 44th President took his oath. Yet in the back of our minds, every person of color knew that while his success knocked some bricks from the wall, the wall remained.
I once had a friend tell me that being a black male in America is like being a soldier tap-dancing through a loaded minefield. You know the mines are out there, but you never know where or when the next explosion is coming. Sometimes they are small and survivable, sometimes they blow you off the field and you have to start over again. Some don't survive the blast. The hits that hurt the most, he said, were the unexpected ones from soldiers that are supposed to be on your team. He used this analogy to describe his irritation at all the "man-bashing" he felt from sisters in the media, in the blogosphere and in his own life. "How can I walk a path with you if you keep cutting me off at the knees as I approach?" Ouch, I thought. Just ouch. This is a man that I considered to be very confident and virtually impervious to whatever slights the world hurled at him. Turned out he had just learned to cope by acting as though nothing could touch him. [Author's note: A black female should never be the thing that brings a black man to his knees.]
Beyond that struggle, there is the daily perception issue that black men are faced with. Langston Hughes once stated (I'm paraphrasing) that there would always be people who are unable to perceive the difference between him (a slightly built non-threatening writer) and a Zulu Warrior, large of build, spear in hand ready to defeat all enemies by any means necessary. In other words, there are some people who just see whatever they perceive a black man to be whether they are looking at Colin Powell or Stokely Carmichael. A BougieTale to illustrate my point:
On one family vacation, the entire BougieFam (in-laws and friends included) was enjoying a meal at a lovely dining establishment. Service was not all that it could be but we were enjoying the camaraderie and paid it little attention until my sister-in-law needed a new napkin. BougieOlderBro decided to get up and get one for her. Now God bless BougieOlderBro but this dude has elevated the preppy look to a whole new level. There is not a khaki pant, a buttoned down shirt or a tortoise-rimmed eyeglass that he hasn't admired or owned or planned on owning. He is tall, kind caramel colored and almost always smiling (goofy!). Point is, you and I would look at him, stamp the Buppie label on him and be absolutely correct. However, as he got up and walked towards the serving station, a Caucasian gentleman snapped at him and asked for more water and some silverware, and could he hurry it up. Our table froze. BougieOlderBro just laughed, grabbed a waiter and relayed the person's request. His wife went off, "Do you KNOW who he is? He is a SURGEON! He trained for FOURTEEN years not to be bringing you water!" BougieOlderBro's wife is not of African-American descent and we had to calm her down. "It happens," we told her. "Well it SHOULDN'T!" She still gets mad thinking back on it now. The point is, how many times a day does someone assume a white guy walking across a restaurant is the server?
Another BougieTale: Me and my ex, Gene were travelling. As we approached the ticket counter, I switched over to the Platinum line to check on getting us upgraded, he was standing behind me. A woman walked up beside us and said to him, "Are you in the right line?" He smiled and said, "Yes." She pressed on, "Are you sure, because this is the upgrade line." He smiled again, "Yes, that is what the sign says." She continued, "Are one of you Platinum status?" I, of course wanted to break off a little rant but he cut me the "don't start nuthin'" side-eye. He leaned into her, pointed at me and said, "That's why I'm travelling with her, she's big time." Then he and I laughed, between the two of us – he definitely had the higher profile. She still looked a bit nonplussed. We were next up to the counter and were placed on the upgrade list. Ten minutes later, as we sat in the Admirals Lounge, the same woman came in with her husband and cut eyes again. Gene smiled, waved and said in a loud friendly voice, "Hi, are you heading to Phoenix too?" By the time we got on the plane (and were seated in first class right next to these two), Gene had them eating out of his hands. Later he said, "When you kill them with kindness, it shifts the balance of power."
One last BougieTale: I was driving in a ritzy section of Dallas and was pulled over by some police officers. I'm not embarrassed to say that I pulled every (PG-13) feminine wile out of the book to smile and beguile my way out of that ticket. It worked. Two weeks later, I was the passenger in the same car now driven by a male friend. Pulled over again, same officers but they asked my friend to step out of the car. One officer had his hand resting on his weapon while the other checked his ID and eyed the car with suspicion. I climbed out of the car and started talking to the officers, calling them by name. At this point they eased off but still wrote him a ticket. He was going exactly seven miles over the speed limit; I had been driving close to fifteen miles over. Le Sigh.
Beyond the folks flipping their door locks, clutching purses or sending nervous glances and dealing with DWB (driving while black); our men have to tap dance that minefield in the workplace as well. I have heard countless stories from my friends and brothers about how they have to modulate their tones, present their ideas in a certain way, address conflict with the diplomacy of a State Department veteran and basically make themselves as non-threatening and as team-playing as possible. No wonder they are sometimes exhausted at the end of the day from just being.
Ladies, I'm not saying you have to let a man walk all over you. I'm just saying before you snap, walk a half-mile in their wingtips and go head let them hold the remote for a minute. When a man is wrong for something, feel free to call him out. But every now and again, cut them some slack; give them the benefit of the doubt (plus beer and a sandwich). They will appreciate it more than you know. Gentlemen, I salute you for continuing to walk that field. I salute you.
Comment as you will.