Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Excerpt: Waiting Under A Rug (Essay)

Studying me from across the room, she stiffly straightened her back and pursed her lips. From the moment our eyes met I knew what would happen next, but Trey didn’t. Still smiling valiantly, he gave his mother a nudge and extended his arm towards me. “And this,” he beamed, his green eyes twinkling in the light, “this is my girlfriend, TK!”

Still reaching for a handshake, I parted my lips into the biggest smile I could muster without hurting my face. “It’s so nice to meet you, Carol!” I chirped in the sweetest voice imaginable. “Thank you for inviting me!”

A sudden look of disgust washed over her as she glared at my hand. She tossed a furtive glance to her son and the valiant smile evaporated from his face. By the way his eyes fearfully looked up at me, I could easily guess what his mother’s look had meant.

Throughout the eight-hour drive to Memphis from Dallas, I had mentally prepared the lines I’d say. I had literally spent hours memorizing every aspect of my boyfriend’s family to make a good first impression. Every outfit in my suitcase had been carefully scrutinized before packing. But as my hand still waited for her handshake, it suddenly occurred to me that none of that mattered anymore, and I smiled despite myself. The irony wasn’t lost on me.

Regardless of what I wore or said—to this woman, she couldn’t get past me being black. More specifically, she couldn’t get past her white son dating a black girl.

Carol mustered a wobbly smile and half-heartedly shook my hand. Without speaking, she retreated to the couch and looked away to the wall. Nobody spoke for several long seconds as the three of us fidgeted uncomfortably in her oversized living room.

“I’ll go put my stuff upstairs and go to bed,” I announced into the silence. Without waiting for a response, I shouldered my bag of belongings and started up the staircase to my room. I was irritated but not surprised. More than anything, I was angry that this late in the 2000s I still had to deal with this.

As I neared the top of the stairs, I could hear her hissing to her son; “Just what were you thinking, honey?! Why didn’t you tell me before you came?!” Rolling my eyes, I continued up the steps.

The house had three attics, at least seven bedrooms, and the biggest outdoor pool I’ve ever seen. As an anesthesiologist, she could afford to buy a house with all the pomp and splendor. She decorated all the rooms with ancient Chinese pottery and oversized Victorian beds. Millionaire or not, the house was just too big for one person. The lavish decorations only annoyed me further as I scrutinized the first room along the hall.

Since her other sons hadn’t yet arrived, I used Eric’s room—my boyfriend’s middle youngest brother. After showering, I crawled into his huge king-sized bed, pulled the satin covers over my head, and dozed off. I knew Trey and his mother would be down there for a while and after spending eight hours cramped inside a little car, I was too tired to wait up.

Several hours later, I felt a hand shaking me awake. I awoke, blinking, as my boyfriend pulled me into his arms. My glance towards the digital clock on Eric’s nightstand told me that it was a little after 3AM.

“She’s…disappointed in me,” he lamented, burying his face into my hair. “She told me that she went wrong raising me …and kept asking me if I knew what I was doing, or if I was acting out!”

In the dark, I could see how upset he looked. I had never seen him so angry, and one of the things I loved most about him was his laidback personality—it took a lot to make Trey upset.

“Let me guess, it’s because I’m black, right?” The question lingered in the air for a moment, and after I had said it, I couldn’t help but laugh.


Below is a fascinating documentary about racism from the caucasian/white person's perspective. I believe people of ALL RACES can learn something from it and can appreciate the message of this film. There are five parts (9min 30sec each) but I have looped the entire sequence here. When the first part is finished, the second part will automatically start. All you need to do is click PLAY and listen. Comments/reactions are welcome but anything racist/derogatory will be deleted, unread. If you're going to comment, I will only allow intelligent/civil discussion.

For white folks reading and watching, I imagine this documentary could (potentially) offend or disturb you. You may not want to watch the documentary in its entirety and that is OK. But if you chose not to watch the whole thing, ask yourself WHY. You don't have to explain yourself here, I only ask that you think about it. I don't wish "existential crisis" upon anyone, lol, so if the video is too "raw" and "distressing" do not torture yourself by watching the whole thing! However, this documentary is MEANT to provoke a strong response. It is MEANT to challenge your existing cognitive-schemas, so go into it with that expectation. For all the people of color reading and watching...this documentary is nothing new to y'all! :D With that disclaimer out of the way, please enjoy the film! :)

Mirrors of Privilege: Making Whiteness Visible


Robin Eduardo said...

My own mother rolled her eyes when I had first introduced Rey to her. Here was this young black dominican boy, wearing heavy metal clothes complete with bandana and piercings. Of course, at the time I was dating a few different men, and was not serious about any of them, so I do have to cut her some slack. I am sure she figured he was one of my toys, and that I had a little "jungle fever" going on...Oooooh yes I did! But that's beside the point! My mother always critiqued my boyfriends and wanted me to involve myself with men from up the ladder, not slumming it. Little did she know that Rey came from a strong family oriented background, that although he grew up uneducated and poor, he was the pride and joy of his family, as he was the only one to graduate high school, and then with my encouragement, go on to a trade school and continue building himself up. Sure he was a little rough around the edges, but so what? He LOVED my son who was a newborn at the time and helped me raise him in a loving household. Rey was there for me through thick and thin, he looked out for me when times were rough, and he stood by me even when I went through a bad time in my life. We've been together 17 years now, on and off, but we've always been best friends. We married just last December.

I've dated "up", and my first husband was wealthy and educated. He was also a womanizer, a drug addict, and physically abusive to me. Rey on the other hand, has been a blessing, and my mother had it all wrong by allowing herself to be swayed by appearances and stereotypes. Sure, she likes him now, but it's sad that she judged him the way she did.

Anyway, I thought your excerpt and the videos definitely gave food for thought. There's so many layers to racism, and many do not even realize that they still indulge in it completely unaware. I do not think racism will ever fully disappear; we all have a little bit of it inside of us. That's not always a bad thing, depending on where it is coming from, the reasons behind it. What I'm trying to say is that we should celebrate our diversity and cultural differences, and in some ways try to preserve it, but without treating others as if they are less than us. Does that make sense?

TK Turner said...

Thank you for commenting, Robin, and yes, what you're saying does make sense to me. I'm happy your mother was able to accept Rey in the end.

The ending to "my" story doesn't end so well, as you'll find out if you choose to read the rest of the essay.

I do not think racism will go away so long as there are systematic advantages/or privileges associated with race. However, the racial majority is changing in America and I think things will balance out as majority minorities begin taking positions in the top ranks of government and other "middle-class" jobs/occupations.

It is already happening (case in point, Obama). I give it 50-60 more years before caucasian/whites are no longer the racial majority in this country. As more hispanics/asians/other racial/ethnic groups continue to integrate into the middle-class/"top ranks," the more things will start to balance. Also, more people are in interracial marriages and having biracial/mixed-race children than ever before! I am hopeful that one day, people will stop seeing themselves as "Black" or "White" or "Native American" and start thinking about themselves as "Susans" and "Bobs" and "Roberts."

People will always notice physical/cultural differences. It can't be helped--even babies are aware of these differences. However, I think with time, the importance/significance of these differences won't matter as much.

The best way to combat racism is to EDUCATE people that 1. racism still exists and 2. there IS something you can do about it, starting with extinguishing the biases and prejudices within yourself!

Anonymous said...

Reading this makes me think about that white supremacist in Minnesota running for senator.

TK Turner said...

Yes, I was aware of Glenn Miller. We actually discussed him in my social/personality class a few weeks ago. I listened to his ads. The man is nuts.

If he wins the senate seat, wouldn't that be something? Anyways, thanks for commenting.

Robin Eduardo said...

My mother still considers me a "fuck up", but that is because she is a bitter old woman who judges everyone in order to make herself feel better about whatever the fuck SHE feels guilty about. She's just one of THOSE kind of people. And that's the problem, as I see it, with this country. Too many people who think like her and blame minorities for all of their own failures in life. Even successful people will play the blame game, unfortunately.

A part of me is extremely proud of my native heritage, I'm even militant when it comes to protecting the rights of indigenous people, but I also agree with you that as time progresses and more people begin to mix races, we become more open minded and tolerant of the differences. I think this is key. The more educated, and the more we all expose ourselves to other races and cultures, the more we begin to understand and appreciate our differences. Many people still hate what they do not understand, but in time I hope that people will become more enlightened.

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