baggy pants earn me mad respect, yo.


for our february book club meeting, we were supposed to read black like me. i read it two years ago when i saw it sitting on ms. rosburg's bookshelf. "can i read this?" i asked her. i felt bad that none of her students ever borrowed any of her books, so i thought this might make her feel a little better. "sure," she said. i read it in a weekend, and when i returned it, she said, "it's good, huh?" "yeah," i said, "it was good." i wondered why, as a high school english teacher, she could never draw anything else out of me. maybe she was drained by her already apathetic, no-chance-in-hell-of-attending-college students, or maybe it was that she saw me as an equal, a working professional (though i was a volunteer), and felt no reason to share the same insights she possessed, which she assumed i already held as well. whatever, kathryn.

so, i didn't really feel the need to read black like me all over again. instead, i downloaded the e-audio clip from the seattle public library's website, and i was able to listen to the first two hours (six total) of it. i'll admit, i also chose not to read it because i was pretty sure the whole conversation was going to neglect the book, and we would instead spend the full hour or two talking about racism, talking about barack obama, talking about what it means to be oppressed, or to have privilege. i mean, jesus, why are people so interested in this shit?

as it turned out, i was mostly correct in my assumptions. emily broke the ice (and by "break the ice" i mean: made things extremely uncomfortable and awkward for everybody) by saying, "what's with the sexual stereotype about black men? everyone always talks about how they have really big pensies, but i looked it up once, and it turns out that the average black man is only about 25% larger than the average white man." it was dead silent for a good five seconds until someone busted up laughing. i said, "where did you get your research?"

the conversation only went south from there. thankfully, victoria, jaspreet's friend was there, talking about the book, keeping the mercer island girls in line, and also reminding me that sane persons like myself weren't living in some backwards ass reality, or else alabama. this was seattle, right? this was a liberal fucking town full of educated people, right? so, why were members of this book club even asking things such as, "do you still feel that racism exists today?" and "do you ever feel that black people can sometimes be racist towards white people?"

i had to find out where the latter question was coming from, so i asked her. "well, i went to a club once, and i was the only white girl there. and the guys were really friendly, but the girls would kind of just look me up and down, or glare at me, and i felt really uncomfortable. like, if i was at a club and there was only one black girl there, i wouldn't do that to her." jesus, i wanted to say. you need to take a dr. smith class and read invisible man and white privilege or why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? and anything other than what might've been required reading at your mercer island school. at the very least, watch chris rock's latest comedy special. i mean, jesus.

"sometimes," she continued, "at work, too. i'm like the only white girl there, and all the guys will be really friendly to me, but the girls just kind of glare at me. and i have no idea where it's coming from!" then this whole other issue came up about how it's "cool" to dress like a "gangsta" and wear baggy clothing. this time, victoria's coworker, henry, led the embarassing display of ignorance. "you know," he said, "i'm really interested in how baggy clothing became such a popular thing in our culture. my theory is that it's because in prison, you can't have any belts. and so, maybe all these kids are trying to imitate these guys who are locked up because it shows that you have power."

"that's really interesting," emily said. "i can see how kids might idolize these gangsters and guys who are locked up because they are intimidating. people are afraid of them." i wanted to lift my head back and stare at the ceiling. i looked out the window and thought maybe i should just jump. were we seriously having this conversation? finally, jaspreet spoke up, trying her best to end the fox news-like absurdity the rest of us were forced to endure. "i disagree. why would other people be afraid of people who are locked up? what kind of 'power' do you have if you're in prison?"

"well, not just prison," emily said, "but people who are in the community. i mean, i work in the c.d. (the central district - she seems to work this into the conversations as much as possible, possibly holding onto the belief that it gives her some sort of 'street cred') and i see how a lot of these kids dress." henry jumped back in, "yeah, i mean. you see gangsters holding like a whole wad of cash and carrying guns. kids think that that's cool."

it was at the moment, too, that i wished i had a wad of cash, that i was a gangster. maybe being locked up or dead was a far better reality than having inane conversations with reactionaries who pose as liberals. "do you guys ever have racist thoughts?" emily asked. i was the first to admit that i did. i hate anybody non-filipino who doesn't think the way i do, i wanted to say. instead, i said something about how i was afraid my car would get broken into when i lived in the c.d. i don't know why i said that. it wasn't really true. i had a club and an alarm, so no one would've been able to get away with that shit. i said i did, though, because 1) it was true (just not true in that particular case) and 2) our entire system and psyche is based on racism, so how could you not?

i didn't really say much else. talking just seems so futile. i thought about how i used to get really worked up in debates, or loaded conversations with friends and family. george bush, abortion, vegetarianism, racism, capitalism and religion. i think at some point, i just decided, what's the point. we could talk and talk and talk, and nothing will ever get solved, nothing will ever change. those who want to do what they feel they must do will find ways of doing them, law or no law, money or no money. sure, it's pessimistic and it sounds like giving up, but i'm just being honest.

think what you will, believe what you will. as for me, i'm just going to keep writing, and hope - no, pray (yes, tonight's ignorance reached a religious level) - for the best.

2 comments:

beastmomma said...

I finally had the chance to laugh about last night; you captured the sentiment perfectly. I am debating about sending out an email to the group about their ignorance.

Victoria said...

Hey James, this is Jaspreet's friend Victoria. Just wanted to say you captured last night perfectly AND that you're an awesome writer. I think the most ironic thing about the whole meeting was that if they had actually *read* the book, they would have rethought a lot of those comments. Oh well, maybe the next discussion will be better...