Last night, I went to see "Harriet." I didn't go alone. I bought a row in a theater and filled it with mostly Black women and a few Black men; descendants of Harriet. I sat amongst a throng of other Black women in a sold- out theater, all waiting to see the legend we've heard griots SPEAK of all our lives; waiting to see a reflection of the best of who we desire to be. Brazen. Courageous. Audacious. Harriet.
Saturday, August 1, 2013 4:51 AM
During our transitional process, we traveled quite a few times within the states. (See Planes, Trains, and Auto Deals coming soon.) In one trip, while waiting in the airport, my daughter saw a designated children’s play area and gleefully darted in its direction. Already playing were three children, two girls and one boy, ranging in age from what seemed to be four and nine; all a bit older than my toddler. Two were white and one was Asian.
I only took notice of any of this at all because as soon as my daughter landed on the rubberized play mat and touched the glazed slippery slope, the eldest of the trio jerked at her presence and screeched venomously, “Run! She’s evil!!” They all fled. I leapt towards her. My daughter chased after them because she thought they were playing with her, not operating against her. Her innocence allowed her to enjoy the “game.” My insight made me want to jump to her rescue. I halted in my steps to assess. Why would this child say that? Why would her onlooking parent not say anything?
It could’ve been because she was the youngest, but at some point someone else was, and yet they were eventually included. It could’ve been that she was the “new kid,” but also at some point…. It could’ve been that she was a girl, but…. It could’ve been that she had three ponytails instead of one. It could’ve been that I was hypersensitive, but… How tiring it is to have to decide whether you’re going to honor or trivialize your feelings.
We, Black Americans, want so much to be a part of the standard landscape. I remember being entranced by “The Wizard of Oz” as a child. My favorite two parts of the movie were when Dorothy sang the classic, “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” and when she landed in Munchkin Land and her world was suddenly in color; the irony that there were no people of color in the entire movie notwithstanding. We all loved the story, but longed to see ourselves in it. So, we created the more colorful cultural iconic version in “The Wiz,” which immediately became my favorite.
On the voyage over, the GPS of the airline tracked our trip and we could see the mapping of our course on our personal screens. I took a picture of the digital map that displayed where we were in the world. By the time we reached Singapore, we had created an arc, a rainbow so to speak, with Africa deep in its center. It was symbolic of the transition. I knew when I stepped off the plane, things were different in ways I hadn’t expected.
When I walk around here, I feel invisible. It’s not in the, “If I can’t see you, then you’re not my problem, so…” or “I only see you as a problem that I want to fix or critique, so I’ll say I’m colorblind or conservative” way of America. More in the, “You’re not that different. We all have to get where we’re going. Let’s keep it moving. I have to catch this lift*, train, taxi, bus, or bike,” sort of way. I’ve gotten everything from the cordial nods and smiles & the congenial chatter in passing to the failure to hold and pass the door when I’m a step behind with my child in arms & the complete brushing, bumping, shoving of shoulders as someone whips by and barely notices I’m standing in their path WITH MY CHILD IN ARMS.
But, I’ve noticed everyone gets the same royal treatment. Singaporeans seem to be no respecter of persons when it comes to their courtesy or callousness; at least such has been my experience in my (extremely) brief time here. (I’m told, however, that there is a very overt discrimination against Indian people in Singapore. But, because we decidedly live in an area called Little India, I have yet to observe it. I’ll address that in another post.)
It’s remarkable to even entertain the idea of not looking through the lens of race. In America, we, Black Americans, are exposed to the idea of race and its impact on our livelihood very early. We are taught to recognize racism in order to know how to respond to it. We are taught the code of conduct in various environments throughout our entire educational matriculation and maturation. We are taught to walk, speak, & conform in a certain manner as to not alarm, agitate, or instill fear in the status quo. We are taught the rules of assimilation and double standards for our own survival and as an instrument to achieve at least a marginal sense of success.
The timing of this move was impeccable. In the wake of everything that’s happening in the states right now, my home state especially, I was eager to travel, and certainly more excited about moving than I was initially…at least for a time. The frustration builds so much sometimes that you must have an exodus, lest an explosion. To be free from the constant weight of always having to contextualize life’s circumstances through a racial construct is glorifying, even if it’s just for this honeymoon period, however long that may be.
My daughter has played alongside a surprisingly diverse group of new peers everyday since we’ve arrived in Singapore. So far, I’ve had no need to jump to her rescue. That’s not to say that Singapore
is a perfect, harmonious, ethnically diverse utopia where racism against Africa’s sons and daughters goes to hibernate. I’m not sure whether it is or isn’t just yet; too early to tell. But, history tells me it’s highly unlikely. I’m not naïve enough to believe I won’t experience racism at all here. But, I don’t think it will be all I experience here. We truly are somewhere over the rainbow, or at least not in Kansas anymore.
*A lift is an elevator. Along with “pram,” it’s a new term I’ve fancied.