Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ain't I a Woman

Dear Mr. Complete and Total Stranger,
I called you out of your name the other day and I shouldn't have so I apologize for that, but you, Sir, were way out of line. Well initially it wasn't me who cursed you first, but I'll explain that later.

"I'm a man," you responded to my insult and my assumption is that you meant as a man, you had the right to go your way without someone you don't know approaching you and insulting you. Correct? Actually, it was almost comical, were it not so sad, the way you so quickly transformed and looked like a wounded little boy as you declared your manhood to me. Well my question to you is, 'Ain't I a woman?' and don't I have the same right?

You looked old enough to know that things are not always as they appear but I don't know maybe you watch too much tv or spend too much time on the internet and you believe the stereotypes you see and hear, esecially about "Sista's," the word you spit at me like a ball of loose phlegm. See, you probably thought you saw a woman, unsmiling, unresonsive and therefore angry? unhappy? bitter? I don't know pick any of the negative adjectives chronically assigned to Black women in the U.S. these days. So you set out to 'teach' me a lesson in gratitude but you were wrong about what you thought you saw and your attempt to 'correct' me, total failure. And since you never properly introduced yourself before you decided to berate me in Lady Footlocker, allow me.

Hello _______________. I would call you by your name except I don't know you from a jar of afro-sheen having never seen you before in my life. I am a writer, unpublished, but a writer just the same. When you saw me, I was on break from my weekend, retail gig but working on Tuesday because they were short-staffed that day and called me in and since you can never have too much money, I went. The best way that I can explain what you saw is like this: sometimes, I get lost in my own head, thinking about characters or listening to what they are trying to tell me. Even though to you it appears that I'm doing something else like looking at shoes in Footlocker, really I wasn't even 'there'. People come to me, characters, in my head, and tell me their stories. I'm like a translator of sorts. Greta, this particular story's protagonist, was relaying her experience with shopping for the first time after being incarcerated for several years. So I was listening to what she was saying, recording it in my head so I could transcribe it when I got home. Maybe I was looking serious and intense but so what?

You seemed like a religious man of some sort, well at least by the way you kept shouting about God so I'm thinking you know or have heard about the spirit taking over your body, you know, catchin' the holy ghost as the old folks called it? When it takes over, you have to obey it, right? That's all I was doing when you saw me. Maybe because I wasn't jumping around or running up and down the store's aisles, as I've seen people, in that state, do in church, you didn't recognize what you saw. You know, when I left for break, I only intended to get a Mrs. Field's cookie but Greta insisted that I go into the shoe store. She was pretty adamant about it since I had infringed upon her time by going in to work instead of going home to write. So, I was listening to her and hadn't even noticed you at first. It was your indignant yelling and fussing that finally got my attention, and pulled me from my trance. I frowned at you because I was confused and wondered why you were causing a scene in the store when it appeared no one was talking to you. Then you stepped closer to me, which was a no-no, and as you ranted spit specks jumped from your mouth to my arm like bubbles from hot-fish-grease. Dude, I'm kind of a germaphobe so that pissed me off because in my mind, no amount of hand sanitizer would disinfect my arm until I could get home and properly scauld off any traces of your saliva. But what really shocked and irritated me even more was, I realized that you were yelling at me! Ok, imagine that you had been napping and suddenly awakened by some unfamiliar, angry voice grumbling while your mind is frantically searching its inventory trying to match a name to the face and figure out what is going on. Because only someone that you know personally would be in your space proselytizing about being 'tired of 'sista's' being ungrateful for the gift of life when God had put us on earth to smile.'

"Excuse me, what are you talking about? Do I even know you?" my questions just made you angrier.
"You ain't gosta' know me to smile. Life is a gif' and God done blessed you wit' beauty, wit' life and all and you ain't even got the sense to smile about it?" you continued your sermon, your little peanut head bobbing to punctuate your words, dark eyes beaming with righteous indignation, and your hands jammed in the pockets of your dirt smeared work uniform. "Ain't no reason for you not to be smiling all the time," you raged. Now the two other customers in the store and the cashier are looking at us and I'm thinking, "just smile and walk away and don't be a part of his drama" but before the diplomatic adult in me could respond, the little girl who lives in my head (bear with me, there's a lot going on in my head) who's basically all id and suffers no fools, spoke first.

"Back the fuck up! You don't even know me."

See the adult me knows to choose battles wisely when dealing with strange men who feel compelled to talk disrespectfully to women they don't know at all. Most times it's safer to just ignore fools rather than risk a scene and suffer potential verbal or physical violence. Usually, I disarm people with my sense of humor so I can walk away without any problems or threats to my safety, but the little girl in my head was hyped at this point because she knows I smile all the time and in a few seconds you had misjudged and stereotyped me, then loudly proceeded to verbally insult me, in the name of Jesus. But what really enraged her was the fact that you were trying to 'front me with an audience of white women. That made us both feel some kinda way. I like my drama on the silver screen or the stage and even though the little one had already responded to your nonsense, I felt the incident was over. So I turned to sit the Nike Shox shoe down, regain my composure and leave as the little girl started urging me to "hit that little punk in his nose, you got him by at least a foot anyway. Teach his ass some manners. He ain't stepped to none of those white chicks talking sideways. And they ain't called security or nothing for you after hearing you say you don't know this fool."

I ignored her and sat the shoe in its place and turned to walk away and past you when she brought up incidents that I didn't even realize that I remembered any more but she had held on to like items in a hope chest. Remember that one time you were walking home and some clown yelled 'hey baby you wanna go with me?' and then spit at you when you ignored him and just kept walking? Or what about that fool you had to ask not to make comments 'under your daughter's clothes' cause she was jailbait and really, just a baby, though she's a teenager? or what about....I silenced her with a quick tooth-suck and quick jerk of my head, like it was an etch-a-sketch being shaken clean. You need to set his preachin' ass straight. Yellin' at people he don't know like he they daddy or somethin'. Where it say do that in the bible?"
Then she struck below the belt. "What about El Mina?" she whined referring to the slave dungeons I had visited several years ago in Ghana, overwhelmed by the spirits of the ancestors who had lay shackled like sardines in each other excrement, body fluid and tears haunted by a smell I'll never forget. I wondered too, how did we get here to this place of total disrespect?
You were still shaking your head and looking over at me, but you weren't saying anything so I figured it was over and I could just go back to work. But you couldn't leave well enough alone.

"I'mma pray for you, witcho' evil, unsmiling, ungrateful self," you said as I approached the exit. I could have kept walking but the tired-of-being-diplomatic, offended adult turned around to face you.

"Pray for your damn self. What? Happiness the only emotion I'm allowed to have? 'the fuck I look like, Bozo, bitch?"
Your eyes softened like I had sucker punched you and wind had escaped your lungs.
"I'm a man," you insisted. Then softer, "I just wanted to see you smile.
"And ain't I a woman?" And that was a question for all of you in the store, well mostly the manager for acting like she was witnessing a lover's quarrel and not calling security although she had seen me come in alone. Ordinarily, I don't care about 'White Gaze', personally, I get sick of hearing about it. All that, 'you know they think we're this' talk bores me so I just live my life but I felt judged by all of you just for being a Black woman that day and I having to defend myself against you acting as if you were God's Sgt at Arms for the smile police to rectify wayward sistas. You know what? Your actions were no different from the guy yelling inappropriately at a woman on the street.

Next time, sir, if you want someone to smile at you, just smile at them first.