I was at an Apple store recently. It was like every other Apple store: packed like a Spring Breaker’s suitcase. People were everywhere: seated on stools or leaning on rectangle tables to get sales guidance from a representative; or seated in a lounge-like area getting technical support or waiting for it. My son and I were part of the latter group, waiting in the technical-lounge for someone to help fix my schizophrenic-acting iPhone.
There was a White woman, around my age, and her teenage daughter, sitting in one of the “lounge chairs” across from me and my son. The teenage girl had strewn her shoes on the floor and had propped up her bare feet on one of the benches designed for people to sit on.
Instantly, I was annoyed. The navy blue converse, casually kicked off, laying on their rubber sides on either sides of the young lady’s chair; the way she was leaned back in one chair with her bare feet, with chipped pink nail polish rested on another while she animatedly chatted with her mother bugged me (though I even knew then that something so minor and unrelated to me—shouldn’t).
“Look at her, I hissed in my son’s ear, “no home-training. I know you would never do something like that. You can’t just be putting yo’ feet up on people’s furniture. We are in the middle of a daggone store!”
He looked over at the girl, shook his head to simultaneously say, I believe, “ I agree with you —that’s trifling” and “there goes my crazy-ass mom” because he’s heard IT before. Throughout his life, he, admittedly and unfairly, has had to deal with my mini-tirades when I see White folks acting badly.
My inner -rational mediator is aware that this young lady wasn’t necessarily acting badly. However, I have come to understand the real, underlying truth: I resent the freedom with which White folks move in this world. It is theirs. Every experience, action and reaction has taught them that the world is a place in which they should feel fully safe, comfortable, fucking-jolly; it is their home and they can kick of their shoes anywhere at any time, with no judgement or punishment.
Quite the contrary, we, Black folks are always having to justify our existence.
When I walked into that Apple Store with my son, I unconsciously thought about how I looked; and I consciously ensured that I was very obvious with my movements when dealing with my iPhone (I wanted them to be clear that I walked in with it). I quickly accepted the technician’s diagnosis of my phone, though I thought that Apple should give me a new one because a phone less than 2 weeks old shouldn’t be trippin the way mine was; but I didn’t press it because I didn’t want him to think that I just wanted a free phone. In other words, I wore the mask – the one most of us wear when we aren’t in our homes (whether it’s the one we pay rent or a mortgage on, a family or friend’s home, or a church home, etc.). We rarely feel fully comfortable in public or in mixed company. Being “on” is such a part of our existence that most of forget we are doing it until we feel the rare sensation of turning off and being authentically and comfortably ourselves.
The United States, most often, feels like a place we, folks of color, rent from a landlord, who really doesn’t want us there and our roommate is the landlord’s niece. She can pay her rent late, play her music loud, have a dog, and paint her room a different color; but you know that you certainly can’t (just like you certainly can’t and wouldn’t kick off your shoes and place your feet on the furniture in an apple store).
We walk with the lessons of our grandparents and parents about what we can’t do. Now, our U.S. landlords and roommates are adding to our restrictions. A Black family can’t peacefully barbeque in a public park; a Black 8 year-old girl can’t sell water by her home to raise money to go to Disneyland, a descendent of Bob Marley can’t leave her Air B-n-B, two men can’t wait for their business partner in Starbucks, and a Black Yale student can’t take a nap in her dorm’s housing area without the police being called.
We are reminded daily that this ain’t really our home- or at least—many make us feel as if we are merely guests in it; though we’ve been paying a high-ass mortgage for years (not to mention we built the damn house). Little things, like watching how comfortable someone is placing her bare feet on a chair in an Apple store, reminds me of just how free we aren’t – not even in our own “home.”
My intention is for Black people to love themselves and each other. It sounds somewhat silly, I guess; but oftentimes my people are overwhelmed with negative images, bad news, and stereotyped characters about us. I’d like to flip that script. I’d like to remind us, as often as I can, how incredible we are. Read more