Thursday, November 16, 2006

Maybe This Post Proves I'm A Racist But....

Today was one of those days that I sometimes have that just trip me out.

I work in corporate America. I'm a "suit chick". Everyday, I get up, I get dressed in corporate gear I simply can't wait to discard as soon as my "9 hours" are paid to the man, and I go to work. I spend the bulk of most days moving in and out of healthcare establishments in and around the St. Louis area where I try to convince healthcare professionals that I am a value-added resource in their offices. Most days, I truly enjoy what I do; and in actuality, today was one of those days. At the same time, today was ALSO one of those days that just trip me out.

With the ground breaking ceremony this week for the first memorial to an African-American on the National Mall, maybe I'm just a little more likely to notice what I will term "racial oddities" for lack of a better term. Today it seemed was a big day for me for noticing just such things.
It started while I was in a conference in one of the cancer centers in which I work. Very often, it comes to pass that I am the only African-American individual in any room in which I happen to be. Such was the case this morning. About midway through the conference, I looked around and realized that in an auditorium in which approximately 40 people were gathered for a conference, I was the only black person present. Now this is as I have said, often the case; and more often than not, it does not even enter into my conscience thoughts. However, as I sat in that particular room this morning, I realized that the Cancer Center in which this particular auditorium was housed was smack-dab in the middle of a residential area of St. Louis that has historically been predominantly African-American, and here I was sitting in a wilderness of white folk. I had an overwhelming urge momentarily, to stand up, interrupt the presenter's lecture, and point this fact out to the crowd at large. Somehow, as most of us seem to do whenever this feeling hits us, I contained myself. Still, it tripped me out....

About two hours later, I found myself at another Cancer Center located in the heart of St. Louis, another predominantly African-American populated area of town, when a similar situation presented itself. I was taking the elevator to the 14th floor to call on an account. Upon entering the elevator, I became conscience of the fact that I was once again the only person of color [read: BLACK] in the elevator. This time, I could not contain myself....I don't know why. First, after the realization hit me, I laughed out loud. I truly could not help myself. An older, white woman smiled at me when she heard my laughter. This prompted me to ask her if she wanted to know what had made me laugh. She nodded, and so I explained, "It just occurred to me that I am the only black person in an elevator filled with 9 white people. None of you seem to have noticed, but for some reason I did. I find it funny that even fifty years ago, I would not have been allowed to consider entering this elevator with the rest of you, and if by some chance I had chosen to enter anyway, the trip down would have been much faster for me than for the rest of you." Maybe it was mean on my part to remind them of their ancestors' ugly past. Maybe it was racist of me to trap them in my own brand of racial ugliness. Maybe it was just stupid, or a combination of all three. Whatever it was, it was as if E. F. HUTTON had spoken in that elevator....everyone was listening, and a pin dropping would have made a deafening thud.

I have often wondered if white folks ever notice it when there is only one black person in a room filled with them. I wonder if they ever wonder if we feel out of place or uncomfortable; and if so, if they ever make any overtures to try to alleviate some of our discomfort. Now I will be the first to admit, that most of the time I DON'T EVEN NOTICE; but still I wonder, do THEY ever notice at all. Being a woman who has many close friends who happen to be Caucasian, I have often considered how they would feel if invited to personal events/celebrations of mine [i.e. family picnic, wedding, etc.] where they would be the only or one of few white folks present. Usually, I invite them anyway; and whenever I do, I make a concerted effort to make them comfortable and to include them into a welcoming group. I don't know if the same consideration is given to my comfort or inclusion when the situation is reversed.

Well, to finish relaying today's adventure:

At this point, the doors opened, and though we had only reached the eighth floor and there were several other floor numbers selected between the 8th floor where we were, and the 14th floor where I was headed, all but one of those people got the hell out of that elevator on the 8th floor [including the woman who had been so charmed earlier by my laughter]. Hmmmmm, I wonder why? Maybe, I'm not the only one tripped out by these racial oddities sometimes....I guess I tripped them out too!

Oh well, what the hell....maybe this post proves I'm a racist but I wonder....

9 comments:

chele said...

It doesn't prove you're a racist.

It shows me that white people are afraid of a black person who speaks her mind. Why the hell did everybody get off the elevator? What did they think you were going to do? Sheesh!

I don't believe they notice when there is only one black person in the room. Why should they? They are not consumed with our (possible) discomfort. I don't think they care. I think they may make a mental note not to say anything racially offensive because there's a Black person on deck.

LadyLee said...

I agree with Chele, it doesn't prove that you're racist... You're just observant... that's the word- OBSERVANT.

safa said...

Funny experience when I was in grad school: At the beginning of class the professor (Mr. Bernstein)asked us to look around the room and see if we noticed anything odd about the setup of the class. No one said anything. He finally said, "we have three rows and three columns of seats and their are only 3 black students in this class and today they all happen to be sitting in a straight row"

I laughed b/c being one of the three, I noticed it as soon as I sat down but never imagined that he would say anything or even notice. This was a group counseling class so he made a point of having us notice these things.

ShantyMinister said...

Hell yeah white folks get nervous when they are outnumbered ! It's as if they worry Black folks will take THAT opportunity to exact back on them what they have done for centuries (to others-- not just Black folks).
Like you, my sister, I am often the only one in a conference room (especially the only AA woman)-- let alone the only "one" in the office.

Literally just last week I had a white co-worker talk about how he had to go to "the southside" (aka the Black area of town) to talk to a client who happened to be a Minister of a Black church. This white guy called on the Minister on a Sunday! The white guy's reaction to his experience in a Black church (for the first time, of course) was quite hilarious and sad. Sad, because it's as if the white guy expected cussing and seminars on thievery to going on when Black folks get together. [shaking head]

Over the years, I have invented games to play with (or at the expense of) white folks. I admit to doing this strictly to amuse myself (and sometimes ridicule white folks.) I call it, "Fun with White Folks". Like the time one of my colleagues was telling me about his precocious 3 year old who had run through all the commercially available Flash cards for her age group and then some. So I decided to make up some custom flash cards for the little girl. The cards had words/phrases like: freedom fighter; counter revolutionary; oppressor, white supremacy etc. on them. You should have seen their faces when they went through the stack of 30 or so cards. It was so worth the effort.[shrug] Hey, us sistas wanna have fun too ! Right ?!

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remorji said...

I think from an early age we as black people are reminded constantly about our color, be it direct or indirect. You are not a racist, we notice each other. I don't know about you, but whenever I'm driving and happen to pull up to another car with a black person, I instantly speak. It is breed into us to seek out our kind. Maybe because we share the same struggles of we look for people that are just like us. I like your blog if you have time check out my blog "sittin on the big porch

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Safa said...

Just checking in and hoping all is well with you and yours!

DJ Diva said...

yeah...ditto...I'm closer to you now Sharon