I read this story on Bossip, and I was struck on so many levels. Jill Scott tells the story of a recent racist encounter.
â€œI was waiting outside for the valet to bring the car round, and these â€¦ I say kids, but they must have been 25, looking wealthy, five-oâ€™clock-in-the-morning wasted. And this guyâ€™s saying, â€˜Step back nigger, step back nigger.â€™ Heâ€™s saying it like itâ€™s a song, but thereâ€™s nobody out there but me. I was taken aback, and I said, â€˜Excuse me?â€™
And he said, â€˜Shut your mouth and donâ€™t say a word when a white man is talking.â€™
â€œIâ€™m not kidding. I started laughing, and I followed him and his cohorts through the parking lot laughing hysterically, and they became more and more uncomfortable. It was one of the best moments of outrageous laughter Iâ€™ve had. To think for one moment I could possibly fit into that box â€¦ I am so far from that word that it is funny. They looked so uncomfortable; I wanted to emasculate him, to make sure he was getting no nookie that night. The girls sobered up and were looking scared. It was something else – the first time in my life Iâ€™ve been called that. Wow. But I enjoyed it. You must fight back; itâ€™s imperative. I like the fight in me now.â€
You can read the complete interview here.
I like the fight in Jill, too. The story just reinforces my belief that I could never understand the mindset of a racist. That anyone could look at a proud, strong black person and think those thoughts – even worse, actually utter such despicable words – totally blows my mind. It’s just crazy to me that some people still actually believe that the color of their skin gives them any kind of superiority over others. In 2007! It’s just so completely ludicrous.
Like Jill Scott, I have had an extraordinarily charmed life in this regard. Growing up in a country where people of color were the decided majority, then moving to a city that’s a kind of multicultural melting pot, I can honestly say that I haven’t experienced the particular sting of personally directed verbal racism. Miami isn’t exactly the part of Florida where you’re likely to experience something like that – gotta drive up north a bit, I reckon.
The racism I’ve experienced thus far has been more subtle. I get it in the form of baleful glares, insanely ignorant questions and comments (you speak english so well!), and deliberate exclusion. I’ve had people try to make me feel less-than by their actions, but I’ve never had someone dare try to do that with words. And honestly, I’m not exactly sure how I’d react to that.
We’ve come such a long way from the days of civil rights. It wasn’t that long ago at all that white people openly, brazenly calling black people “niggers” was more than commonplace. Back then, there wasn’t an option for response. It wasn’t that long ago when there were segregrated restrooms (hello, Tyson Chicken plant in 2005). What seems so antiquated, so ridiculous, so distant from today’s generation is but a recent memory for some of our older relatives. The statement of this entitled, ignorant, wasted white boy — “Shut your mouth and donâ€™t say a word when a white man is talking,” might have successfully shut my ancestors into silence. In 2007, it’s like a joke — like, wait a minute. You didn’t just seriously say that to me. You’re kidding, right? You better be. Oh, it’s on now.
I’d like to think I’d have grace and presence of mind like Jill did, to simply laugh the racist into shame. But them’s fighting words. Most likely, I’d bust a good old-fashioned Trini cussing on him and escalate the situation. Or worse, I’d be so shocked I wouldn’t know what to say, the moment would pass, and I’d spend the rest of the evening pissed off at myself, coming up with perfectly phrased emasculating comebacks.
Have you ever had someone come at you with that kind of racism before? How did you handle it? How would you respond to Jill Scott’s situation?