I blinked at what I heard, for surely I was mistaken. That could not be what she just said to me.
I often find myself one of the few, if not the only, person of color of some of the events I attend. My tastes tend to cross over the presumed lines so often that it is to the point that I am relatively blind to finding myself in such situations anymore.
Every now and then, however, someone reminds me.
I made a slow, but definite pantomime of looking over my left shoulder, and then over my right one checking for the person I was very much aware did not exist behind me. I caught the eye of the friend who invited me. She saw my arched brow and bit her lip before quickly finding a spot on the table to give her undivided attention. Not that I could blame her, I know she was mortified at what just happened and part grateful she was not going to be on the receiving end and what was about to happen. Thus, I was forced to turn my attention back to the woman awaiting my response. For the sake nicety I’ll refer to her as Ms. Thing.
“To whom are you speaking?” I asked with considerably more politeness than felt.
“Why you…” She responded as though that were obvious, which technically it was, but that wasn’t the point. “I want…”
“Oh, I know what you want.” I interrupted, leaning back in my seat, crossing my arms across my chest. The near textbook example of standoffish while seated. I would have crossed my legs at the knee to complete the look, but my thick thighs gave up that ghost a long time ago. “I take umbrage with the manner in which that want was expressed.”
“All I did was ask…”
“You did not ask anything.” I raised my hand stopping her. “I was not asked if I could. I was not asked if I wanted to. I was not given the courtesy of being addressed by a name. You did not even bother to await my response, so assured were you that I would obediently leap to your call for a minstrel that you went right back to your conversation, only looking to face me again in the ensuing silence of my disobedience. At which point, you turned in your seat, clapped your hands a couple of times in my direction as though cajoling the presence of a favored pet. Then you pointed a lovely manicured talon at me and said, and I quote “You! I hear you’re a poet. Come recite something for us.” as though I am some fez donning, vested simian, to come clanging cymbals upon your beckoning!” I sat up in my seat, emulating her actions as I spoke.
Perhaps I should take a moment to say that once I write a poem, I tend to forget it. Unless I am writing for a specific prompt or challenge, I am expunging whatever emotion that warrants it through my words and I am done with it. Considering some of the things I do write about, it likely is a very good thing I do not keep such thoughts/emotions constantly with me. It would not be good. Still, I do have a couple of poems memorized for such occasions when I’m feeling gregarious, want to show off or at my own pleasure when asked nicely.
This situation did not fall into any of those categories.
I ended my little Julia Sugarbaker moment with “Granted, I am not Maya Angelou, I have not earned her level of veneration – yet, but I most certainly am not your personal jester to entertain the court on command to be granted no respect at all.”
“Oh come now, talk about over-exaggeration! Do you see this?” Ms. Thing turns to the other women at her table, looking for confirmation. “A person cannot say the most simple thing to you people these days without…” One of the women sitting at her table called her name sharply in clear reprimand, but Ms. Thing did not get it.
No one spoke for a solid minute, apparently not knowing how to, let alone if they should, address the new elephant in the room. Interpreting the room full of silence as deafening consent of her behavior, I had heard and had enough. I glanced at my friend. who thankfully had read my mind, nodding once as she took her purse in hand.
I picked up mine, walked over to Miss Thing and stood in front of her where she had no choice but to look up at me.
“I am guessing the only time a person of color has stepped foot in here is as the entertainment or the help, so my presence here as invited guest likely had you confused. Now that you personally have engaged your first negro guest and have gotten over the shock, you’ll have a clue on how to treat the next one better. Regardless, if your friends and companions here, whether they agree with you or not, do not have the fortitude to say what is needed to you, then I will. Much like your ignorance – your privilege is showing. Please. Shut. Up.”
The woman who called out Ms. Thing’s name started to speak the expected apologies that etiquette, if not sincerity, required. It was much too little, much too late. I knew I wore the look and used the full force of it on her silencing whatever further inanities were about to drop.
“My mother taught me never to be where I am not wanted, yet if we all heeded that advice we would not have Barack Hussein Obama as the President of the United States. However, my grandmother taught me to pick my battles. Going for the presidency is a worthy battle, being in the company of you is not. ”
With that I left. Because really some days it’s just not worth it.