A Sistah I know…and Like a Lot
I met a young (we’ll say 30ish, to protect her innocence) black woman back when I worked for a local newspaper in Menlo Park. She came aboard with little fanfare other than being the ONLY black face to grace our doors in the 13 years I was there. She was a Cal grad, which this Stanford fan chose to overlook simply because she also happened to sport a neck-snapping ass that would stop traffic Friday night on Times Square.
She was a breath of fresh air for more than few reasons, but mostly, for me, because she chose not to wear the requisite “face’ that most blacks feel compelled to wear when thrust into a predominantly white environment. She was herself, kept it real, and was immediately attracted to me (not physically) because she knew right away I grooved on that. She would call me Blondie and I would leave little Hershey’s kisses on her desk, the ones called “Special Dark”. She loved it.
We confronted and dealt with and set aside, all in one fascinating conversation, the two huge elephants situated in opposing corners in the living room. Male vs. female; black vs. white. With those out of the way, the age difference became irrelevant. I couldn’t be plugged into any of her preconceived white stereotypes, and she refused to allow herself to be appraised as anything but Nancy (not her real name), a strong, intelligent, beautiful black woman.
Nancy’s antennae was spot on; she’d learned through her education and upper class upbringing by her two well-educated black parents, the skill of letting the 20 or so slights a day most black people endure in white America roll off her shoulders. She was taught racial pragmatism. Choose your battles judiciously. One could ascertain almost immediately, and I did, she was to be taken seriously. Very seriously.
We talked often of the black experience. And how the average white person goes blithely about their lives almost never being clumsily followed by the Nordstrom’s security guard all the way up to the changing room door. And how hearing the almost instinctive, obnoxious, and subtly racist phrase white people employed, ostensibly as a compliment, about how “articulate” any black person was who could somehow conjugate a verb or speak the King’s English. I had run into that particular phenomena much earlier in my life as a sports fanatic, where many of the athletes I admired were black (drove my racist father nuts…which, when you look at it, was killing two birds with one stone for this budding contrarian) One need only to listen to, or read about Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, to name a few, to realize that command of the language, and analytical thinking, are byproducts of education, not any gene pool.
Back to Nancy, and her cold ice cream freeze brain-paralyzing backside, which she teasingly, intentionally, and THANKFULLY gave an extra wiggle to whenever she departed from one of our conversations. I hated to see her go, but loved to watch her leave.
She was only too happy to discuss and ultimately discard the litany of taboo subjects that linger between the races like a razor-wire-topped fence. This included sex, the perpetuation of the many invidious stereotypes about blacks AND whites, and the very simple conclusion that racism’s foundation was fear and ignorance. The fact that I was not afraid or stupid allowed her to open up to me, and for that I am grateful. Most of our colleagues approached her with at least some trepidation, and through her lifetime of experience, she chose the path of least resistance, simply requiring respect, knowing most people would fall short of understanding or circumventing the abstract, but very real, force field of land mines that separate the races.
She filled two important roles for me. A woman, and a black woman, who would trust me enough to be my friend. And the fact I found this in someone almost 20 years my junior, makes her one of the more compelling, unique, and ultimately satisfying women I have ever known. Some man will hit the fucking lottery if they measure up to her standards. At this stage, she has not found him, nor him her. She has lamented occasionally about this, but I remain convinced that even if her high bar results in a relatively lonely existence, she won’t settle. It would kill me if she did.
I know the phrase, “some of my best friends are black’, is code for “Hey, look, I can relate to the darkies. I’m not racist”. And Nancy would not consider us to be “best friends”. She has other white people in her life and has crossed the racial barriers successfully, both sexually and otherwise, through most of her adult travels. I have only a few black people in my life, all of them more than casual acquaintances, but also less than life-changing confidantes.
Race relations are a favorite subject and, ironically, my most productive conversations have been with black people; men and women.
Now let’s make sure we get Obama re-elected, shall we? I think he should sign a bill renaming the White House the Black House, just to see the reaction, then stride confidently to the podium, as only he can, lean toward the mic, and say, “Just kidding.”