Mr. & Mrs. Tanner

When I was growing up, we had an elderly couple as neighbors; Mr. and Mrs. Tanner.  The Tanners were a sweet couple that liked to stay to themselves.  Every Halloween, they made me and my sister a special trick-or-treat bag just for us.  They set it apart from their general trick-or-treat bowl of candy and placed it on a table under their pendulum clock.  Our bags always had great candies and somewhere in the bag, there was always a dollar or two.

Over the past year, the two kids next door have started calling me “Miss Kisha” and always stop to talk to me when I come out to walk Matilda.  Their mom is expecting her fourth child and was supposed to give birth yesterday.  When I heard about her due date a month ago, I started thinking about doing special Halloween bags for the kids just in case they can’t go trick-or-treating this year.  It made me remember the Tanners and how special they made me feel with that bag of candy.  I decided to pay it forward.  I ran out today and bought special bags, candy, and a couple of cool pez dispensers.  I hope these bags make the neighbor kids feel like the Tanners made me feel.

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Epilogue: The kids came over around 8:00 after they had gathered their haul for the night. He was a Ninja Turtle and she was a Disney princess, I think it was Cinderella, but I can’t remember. Their buckets were close to overflowing and they both looked like they were fighting hard not to be tired. When I pulled the bags from behind my back they both reached out to select a piece of candy. The shocked looked on their faces when I handed them the bags and said, “This one is for you and this is for you”, was completely worth the effort.

I felt a little bad when I looked toward the bottom of the steps and saw the youngest child. She, too was fighting sleep in her stroller. I didn’t think she would be collecting candy, so I didn’t have anything for her. Her parents said she had way more than she was going to be allowed to eat, and I felt a little better. She’s 19 months old so I hope she doesn’t remember that she got left out.

Their mom still hasn’t gone into labor yet.

Self Consciousness Ruined My Lunch

Many years ago, I lived in Iowa.  It was a wonderful experience; one I will never forget, but there was one experience during my year that that left a deep and long-lasting scar.

I had been in Iowa for a couple of months and was longing for the familiarity of home.  I wasn’t necessarily homesick, I just wanted something that looked, sounded, or tasted familiar.  I went with a friend to a local diner for dinner.  On our way to our seats, I saw an African-American family (not a common occurrence) eating dinner.  The fried chicken and corn they were eating looked so good that I knew I wasn’t going to need to look at the menu.  As we sat in our booth and chatted while waiting for the waitress to come and take our order, I overheard two men at a nearby table having a louder than necessary conversation.  They looked like they worked hard for a living.  Both had on denim overalls and neither had used a razor in at least 36 hours.  One was wearing a plaid long sleeved shirt and the other, a long sleeved white t-shirt.  I pictured them both on the back of a John Deere, driving across acres and acres of land.  Plaid shirt said to white shirt, “Look at ’em eatin’ their fa-reyed chicken.”  His words dripped contempt.  White shirt responded with, “I guess they’ll order watermelon for dessert,” and the two men burst into laughter; their bellies bouncing up and down as if each were carrying a set of twins that were trying to break out.

My friend was in the middle of telling a story, that was apparently hilarious.  Even though I had missed the punchline, I laughed with her as I was crying inside.  I vowed that I would never again eat fried chicken in public because I refused to be the butt of someone’s racist joke.

For years and years, I stuck to that vow, and then I was introduced to a local Amish Market in Maryland.  The fried chicken there smelled incredible.  You would think that it was the only thing on the menu because it seemed that everyone was eating it.  While my friends ordered and happily ate their chicken, I refrained.  Years after that, an Amish Market opened in my area.  I ordered some chicken to go, but by the time I got home, the hot, crispy chicken had become a bit soggy in its styrofoam container.  Faced with the weekly temptation, I finally gave in and ordered the chicken and ate it right there in the market with all of the other people, both white and black, that were enjoying the deliciousness.  I thought I was finally over the Iowa incident.

Today, I went to the Amish Market for lunch.  While eating my chicken leg, I noticed a very angry looking little white man staring at me so hard that his eyes seemed to squint.  I looked behind me because surely he wasn’t staring at me like that.  But he was.  He was wearing a blue volunteer firefighter t-shirt and was at least a foot shorter than his buddy who was sitting at the counter with him.  I stared back at him and he looked away.  He actually turned his back to me so that I could see the VFD in big white letters across his back.  His shoulders where hunched up by his shoulders and he seemed to be saying something to his friend.  His friend laughed and looked in my direction.  And just like that, my appetite was gone.

I’m renewing my vow.  Right here.  Right now.

October’s Cultural Amnesia

With Halloween fast approaching, it is time for the annual cultural amnesia to resurface. The first story I saw this week was the one about the white teacher in North Carolina who donned blackface to a Halloween party so that he would look more like Kanye West.

kanyeHis apology was appropriate and seemingly heartfelt, so his school district decided not to take disciplinary action.

Then there was the story about this teenager who wanted to be Nicki Minaji.

1492607196008748325She took down her twitter page pretty quickly after this madness.

Also this week, I encountered this story about two girls who said that their inner ni**er came out when they decided to pose while picking cotton,

cottonand an image of two girls celebrating their senior year with tshirts that read “N16GA WE MADE IT!”

tshirtSo I ask you, what is it about the month of October that makes people completely lose their minds?!  But I guess that question presupposes that they had logical, rational, knowledgeable minds to begin with.  Every year, I am shocked at the level of – I don’t know if it’s naivete or stupidity – but I’m shocked by it every year.  And then I wonder why I’m so shocked.

Whenever I see someone in blackface, a reel of Al Jolson singing “Swanee” or “Mammy” starts playing in my head; the originator of cultural appropriation.  I see white people thinking that it is the funniest and most entertaining thing they’ve ever seen.   The sight of cotton plants makes me think of all of the whippings my ancestors endured.  The use of the “N” word makes me feel like someone spit in my face.

I get angry.  I get upset.  I feel hurt.  I feel tired.

You would think that the frequent occurrence of such behavior would desensitize me to all those feelings; that I would just be able to shrug it off and move on, but I can’t.   Every time something like this happens I try to figure out why this still happens.  Is it because of the strong level of racism that still exists in this country?  Probably.  Is it because the younger generation has no idea about the history of blackface or the “N” word?  Maybe.  Or do they just not care?