Yesterday while walking back hom through my decidedly poor/working class neighborhood from the corner gas station/Subway restaurant, I was struck yet again by the disparity and incongruity of the world’s inhabited by the various people with which I had just interacted.
There were the neighborhood kids; probably pre-teens, playfully walking back from the store and tossing a football around – much like kids everywhere except these kids are due to their race, gender, and economics much more likely to end up as absentee fathers, in jail, on drugs, or generally on the bad side of society. They weren’t being disrespectful or anything. Just being normal kids.
I saw myself in them from a time when I was a young Black inner city kid just hanging out and having fun on a Saturday afternoon. I remember even then knowing that being of my race, and because of my gender, I was viewed automatically with suspicion in the world, that police were not always on your side, and that people judged me more by my appearance and my address than they did by my excellent marks in school or the fact that we were good church going people with solid values.
There were the owners/proprietors of the store who were, as per usual, not Black, but immigrants (or at least the children of immigrants) making their living by selling overpriced goods and services to a community of people that look nothing like them. When I was in the store, I wondered internally what they thought of these people from whom they made their living and I suspected that they looked down on them; on us. After all, I never see them, nor any of the foreign born small business owners that are abundant in Black communities throughout the country, actually living in or even near the people they sell things too. We are people from which to earn a living; not to live among.
Ironically I found myself also wanting to disassociate myself from “them.” “I’m not like the other Black people that come in the store,” I wanted to say. “I’m not going to be loud, or buy malt liquor, or make fun of you because of your accent.” It is painful to admit, but even more painful to feel the double consciousness of that moment, multiplied many times over when I encounter the ever present asian small business owner making money selling the things that mostly Black people buy. Are there really ANY Black hair care stores that are NOT owned by Koreans?
The pain I feel is that of inwardly wanting to distance myself from all that is stereotypically “Black” so as to make myself palatable to those who in most cases are doing all they can to make themselves seem more “American.” Except that Black people aren’t Americans — at least not when it comes to that. American means “White” and they are the ones immigrants are trying to impress, not me. Black people are people to make money from, to be appreciated from a distance because of our music and style, but not to be respected as Americans. An overgeneralization I’m sure, but one based on my gut reactions.
For our part, Asian’s are a mystery… forever foreigners, non-entities really. Many Blacks are indifferent towards the people that maintain their beautiful manicures, sell them the products that enable their gorgeous hair, and cook the food that replenishes the ubiquitous Chinese buffets. They are like vending machines: they can be safely ignored, or even insulted. They are not people.
And then there is me: walking through the neighborhood. An educated Black man, a product of the inner city, but with a basic grasp of world history, economics, culture… a smattering of French and a growing knowledge of Korean. I attend a Korean church but still like collard greens. I walk home wondering why these people, these worlds that I have somehow become a part of, are so far apart.