On Saturday mornings I love to head for the Farmer’s Market with you. It’s just small enough that I do not have to keep my customary death grip on your hand. We get fresh, organic produce, including carrots which you munch through like a gerbil with a pellet.
So last Saturday, an ooooooold cowboy came up to you and looked very amused with you. He gave your head a little pat. He smiled.
Let me admit to you that I have a prejudice. I monitor very elderly white people for their intentions towards me. Particularly Southern ones.
When I was a kid, my grandmother didn’t allow me to put my hands in my pockets in stores. Because if a white store owner said I stole something? I stole it. So I was not to arouse suspicion by putting my hands in my pockets. Now, of course, I jam my hands all up in my pockets and try to make a shape like a box so somebody will even THINK ABOUT ACCUSING ME OF STEALING SO I CAN GO. OFF.
But I am still the child of Birmingham, Alabama, so I am aware.
So when this man gave you a little pat, I thought of the old saying to rub a … black boy’s …head for luck. Not everybody knows that saying. But I do. And something about his demeanor suggested that he did too.
Unless he didn’t. He just happened to have a twinkle of mischief in his eyes and he thought you were cute.
Then he came back. And told you that if I took you to the carts, “they’ll give you a free piece of watermelon!”
Okay. My first instinct was to ask, “And what hell the does that mean? Why would MY son want watermelon? You out here informing all the kids about watermelon? Or just the black ones?Are you the motherfucking watermelon distribution association? You best to git the fuck on, pardner. I’m from DETROIT and I have no qualms about whipping up on me some old people.”
But here’s the thing … we WERE at a Farmer’s Market. And there WAS a stand with watermelons which WAS LIKELY to be giving ALL the kids a free taste. It was that kind of place. How do you respond to that? When you encounter something that could be a dig OR just a nice old dude who is trying to be friendly?
I smiled and said, “He doesn’t like watermelon.”
Even now when I tell this, I’m searching my memory for clues. He scooted away quickly. Does that mean he’d dropped his venom and was kind of running away before I got mad? Or was it because I hesitated before I answered, so he thought I was going to just stare at him. I don’t know. Is he racist? Or am I prejudiced? Both? Neither?
You should know that there are a few things that I do not eat in mixed company. One of them is bananas. And that’s because that scene in Flashdance? Where the black dancer is in the dressing room eating a banana and bucking her eyes? Totally scarred me.
Another is watermelon. Mostly because I don’t like watermelon. But if I did? I would still be sensitive about eating it front of anyone who I couldn’t guarantee was not thinking, “Yup.”
Much of this is my issue. My prejudice. We all have them. I see things through the lens of a black girl who grew up in the deep South with patronizing thinly veiled racism.
The key is to BE AWARE of your “lens” and understand that you might not be right. That man might have a black grandson. That man might want to be sure that the cute black kid gets his piece of free fruit just like the other kids. I don’t know what his lens is. I “think” I know. But that’s not enough for me go Nene Leakes on him.
But there is one thing that I know. I intend to demand EXCELLENCE FROM YOU. I intend to accept nothing less. I intend to foster curiosity, integrity, intelligence, perserverance, confidence, tolerance and kindness in you. I intend to raise a black Hemingway up in this piece.
Feel free to use that as your future blog title.
As long as you are living an expansive life and wringing every drop of sweetness from it? Then you don’t have to worry about WHAT that man’s intentions were. Because you are clear about your own and he has no power over you.
Also? I lied.