Recently, I came in contact with a woman whose ignorance aroused a rant out of me so dangerous that the ears of bystanders were bleeding and steam was visibly escaping my person. Was I mad? Ha, I was livid! Let me explain.
This woman, who I shall hereafter refer to as “Helpless,” was a customer at a retail store that I had the misery of managing. As I rang her up she said something along the lines of “Girl, stores is busy today, but you know it’s the 1st.” My mind was elsewhere so I was paying only half attention, but I caught enough to get the implication. “What does that mean?” I asked.
Helpless looked at me in disbelief. “Girl, you know what that mean standing up there wit dat weave in yo hair.”
I can assure you at this point I came to: “Excuse me?!”
Yes, I understand now that Helpless was referring to welfare. However, I was more than bothered by her ridiculous insinuation that having a weave is synonymous with people who wait on government checks, or at least people who know the details about when benefits arrive and how and where they’re spent.
As a single Black mom, I’m always subject to stereotypes, but it never ceases to amaze me that the majority of ridicule will come from others in my race. Sometimes it makes me want to hand in my Black Card, or maybe just wash away the rich tones I’ve grown so fond of so that I can just be done with it already. Alas, dealing with the foolery that comes from our own isn’t so simple.
I hate to think that my kids will go through the same thing—that based on their color, someone who shares their color will, at first look, expect ignorance. How do I prepare them for this inevitability? How do I explain to my children that self-hatred has caused us to become so cruel to one another that we assume the worst about one another—based on color alone? Will they understand that some people would rather tear you down than be uplifting? Our collective mistreatment by other races has caused too many of us to embrace inferiority, and worse, expect it of each other. I’m both broken hearted and angered by this.
At the risk of sounding like just another nagging Black woman, I’m going to say that if I were a white woman with weave—or should I say “extensions”—that conversation would’ve gone differently. I see evidence of this every day. I have seen countless white babies in restaurants without shoes on their feet; the reactions are always polite. Those same people, however, would scream “ghetto” if those babies were Black. And it doesn’t stop there. When a white woman wears cut off shorts they call it “fashion.” When a black woman wears cut offs they call it “broke!” A Black woman is caught shaking her butt for a camera and she’s widely dismissed as nothing more than a slut, while a white woman can spark controversy and is crowned “The Queen of Twerking.” Richard Sherman, a Black football player expresses extreme emotion after leading his team to the Superbowl and he’s a thug. Justin Beiber gets pinched for driving while intoxicated and drag racing, and he’s a “wanna be” as in, wanna-be Black guy who stays in trouble.
Mess like this puts me on edge. Makes me wanna holler—throw up both my hands.
But I temper my anger for the sake of the little eyes that watch me. I want to teach them to stand up for themselves, but I don’t want them to feel compelled to “act a fool” every time someone gets out of line.
Now, I know there are tons of bigots who will forever stare at me with hatred because of the Black skin I was born in. But I will never understand a Black woman or man who makes the same judgement. In some instances, no matter how well I teach my children to dress or speak, my own people will still dismiss them as “ghetto.” I hate that I have to remind my own people that I’m a “single mom” and not the “baby’s mama.” Society pressures the Black family to be overachievers in order to receive the same respect as their white peers, but should we have to “perform” in the same way for Black folk, too?
That woman at the store had no idea how much she pushed my buttons that day. In an eager attempt to prove my professionalism, I smiled, handed her the merchandise and sent her out the door. And then I unloaded, unfortunately, on every co-worker, friend and family member who could hear my voice. Poor guys. But I decided quickly that if I’d yelled, it would only have proven her point. Must we forever smile and whisper, “Please excuse my brown face?”
Nikeyta Robinson is a freelancer in Atlanta, GA. The longtime writer, who has penned stories for Yahoo and blogs at Sunshine & Lipgloss, is currently working on her first novel. She is a single mother of three.