Whoever says that prejudice doesn’t exist needs to spend a day in my shoes. I like to believe that I carry myself in a respectable manner. I think I look smart, especially in my glasses, and am fairly harmless (when I’m not hangry, or have a case of RBF).
But for some reason, that still doesn’t keep women from clutching their purses (or men from checking their pockets) when I’m around. I really didn’t notice just how bad it was until I moved to NYC. I get that big cities tend to have pickpockets, and hardcore criminals, but do I really look like one?
One time, I was on the train with my brother. We weren’t sure which station we needed to get off at. So we both went over to look at the subway map. There was a woman sitting right by the map. We studied the map briefly, figured out our stop and went back to our seat. I happened to glance back over and noticed that the woman quickly checked her purse to make sure her wallet was in it. She even checked her wrist to make sure her watch was still there. I was stunned and highly offended. I mean even if we were thieves, wasn’t she giving us way too much credit that we could’ve robbed her that fast?! (This was before I saw the movie Focus, me and the other two people that did – but I digress). I wanted to shout to her that we didn’t take anything. I wanted to tell her that I had a Masters Degree from NYU and didn’t need to steal (actually my student loans are a b!#&$ and robbing a bank would help me pay them off). But I just sat there speechless.
Another time, I was in Whole Foods and a woman had left her cart unattended while she fetched something. But as soon as I walked by, she literally ran to it to make sure her purse was safe. I was slightly hurt, but I was moreso laughing at her and SMH. She looked ridiculous. Plus, it was ironic that she thought I was there to steal from her. I was in Whole Foods people. I was being robbed too. Have you seen their prices?!
What’s crazier is when I have groceries, or other bags, in my hands and someone clutches their purse. Like what am I going to do? Drop all of my bags and steal yours? Or grow a third arm to mug you with?!
Another time on the train, I happened to look at a woman’s ring. I have a habit of trying to figure out people’s life stories. It makes the commute go by faster. She was with a man and I noticed he wasn’t wearing a ring. I had seen them before. So I deduced that they were engaged, but not yet married. Well, I guess I was staring at her a little too hard, while I made up their bios in my head. The man whispered something to her and I watched in horror as she turned her ring around. The diamond was then upside down, as if to protect it and to keep me from taking it. Soon after, we got off at the same stop. I wanted to tap her and tell her that I saw what she did. I almost yelled “Not all black people steal, just like not all white people can’t dance!” But I left it alone.
I heard a comedian say that he was so offended that someone accused him of trying to steal once, that he wanted to punch the person…and then rob them (it’s a joke). That’s funny, but it can be so
incredibly frustrating to have to combat stereotypes regularly.
One of the worst times was when I went to take the elevator at work. A woman was waiting there already. She saw me and then squeezed her purse tightly to her body. I mean, come on! We need an ID to get into the building. So it meant I either worked there or was a registered visitor. We rode the elevator together and I could see just how uncomfortable she was. Like really booboo? Really?! Simmer down now!
I used to try to make dumb people feel “safe” in my presence. I have coughed when approaching someone to announce myself. I have smiled extra hard to appear less “threatening.” I have crossed the street so they wouldn’t have to. I even considered wearing a sign that said “Don’t worry, I’m one of the good ones.”
Yet, I had to stop caring. Some people are idiots and there is nothing I can do, or say, to change that. It’s not my responsibility to try to change their mind about all black people. Unless they verbalize their bigotry, or try to harm me in any way (oh hell no!), I find it easier to just let it go. Woosah.
I also had to stop taking offense every time an incident like that occurred. Otherwise, I would become the angry black woman they expected me to be. Never that. I can’t let them win.