The sun reaches in the large window at the head of my bed and grabs my upper eye lids and pulls them open. I shift my body in bed and my 5 pound dog, Halle, groans as my change in position displaces her from her comfortable lounging posture in the bed next to me. I kiss the shoulder of my wife who lies on the other side of me. Halle is gracious and allows my wife space on the bed also.
I shower and run through my daily beauty routine and pull on my caramel colored skin. Throughout the day it will provide me with special powers that most of those who lack color don’t realize are possible.
Today is Sunday, so church is on the agenda. I have mixed feelings about church because at this more diverse church where I am a minority, my skin and how it is received and perceived is always at the front of my mind.
By now my wife is up and heading to the shower and I go and wake up the boys. Our 10 year old hates it when I come and put an end to his relationship with sleep. He grunts as I direct him to his bathroom to take a shower. The shower washes away the attitude and when he exits the bathroom we can speak and acknowledge a new day has begun.
Our 15 year old is the last to be robbed of sleep. He is easier to wake up than his brother but the pull of electronics is what I now battle with. I stand guard at his door and make sure it takes the 5 necessary steps in to his bathroom instead of down the hall to the X-Box or downstairs to the computer. Once he is secured in the bathroom I can go eat breakfast.
Soon we are all assembled in the car and on our way to church. I drop the boys and my wife at the front door and I go and park the car. As I pass through the parking lot I wonder if the greeter that stands in the parking lot will acknowledge me today. I wait to catch his eyes and I smile. He returns my smile with one of his own and waves. Continuing through the parking lot I dodge people leaving church from the earlier service and those coming to this service. I park my white Honda with the Obama sticker on the back and chuckle to myself. Obama is to conservative Christians as water is to oil. But he is OUR leader and the bible instructs us to pray for our leaders whether you voted for him or not. Part of me sits in the White House and I am proud to remind people of that important fact.
I walk towards the side door of the Church and through another gauntlet. There is a greeter at the door and I watch how she greets the white couple who makes it to her post just before me. She is very friendly and her greeting is warm and inviting. This is what I will compare my greeting to. She offers me the same greeting and I exhale and push out relief. Now I walk down a long hall on the way to the sanctuary passing more people who were disciplined enough to get up early for the first service. Again, I compare the way they greet the white couple in front of me as they pass. Some are just as cordial with me. Others divert their attention away from me as we pass as if the 5 steps between me and the couple in front of me change them in to a different person. It is here where for the first time today my skin begins to enact its power. My skin allows me the ability to become invisible. It is my power of invisibility that causes some people to not acknowledge me. I groan on the inside because at church my invisible powers shouldn’t be able to work. Shrugging it off, I look up and greet the next person to pass me with an inviting and attentive hello smile. It is returned with an enthusiast “Good Morning!”
I am back.
In the lobby I greet my wife and oldest son. Our youngest son has gone up to Kids church. The 3 of us go into the sanctuary and search for a seat. I avoid the seats to the far right because that has become the “black section.” It has the highest concentration of blacks in the church. My wife and I avoid it because we want to be a part of the diversity not separate from it. We find a seat towards the middle and church begins. As the praise and worship band begins, my stream of consciousness takes be away from the church.
I think back to a recent trip I had. As I was boarding the plane to come home again I wonder how I will be received by those that I will sit with on the plane ride home.
As I walk down the cramped aisle of the plane I look up a the seat numbers just below the storage bins above the seats. About 6 rows away I spot my seat. I am relieved, I have the aisle seat. To my right sits my best friend for the next three hours. Silently, I pray my skin doesn’t activate my invisibility. At my seat, I stop and stow away my carry-on in the bin above. As I do this, I make eye contact with my travel buddy. He smiles, and says casually, “Hey, boss.” He is dressed in army fatigues and quickly my mind starts to cross reference what I see. One by one I link up things.
He is in the military.
Young white kids in the military are exposed to more people of color then most white kids his age.
He’s looks to be about 20-21
His generation is often more accepting of people of color.
The ease in which he speaks me sends a positive message.
He has cleared inspection. My mind flashes “friend” and not a “foe.”
As I position my carrying on and cram it in the space that now appears to be the size of a mail slot in someone’s front door, he sits relaxed across both seats. His legs are spread wide as if he is holds Texas in his Fruit of The Looms. I secure my carry-on and he conforms his body to fit in to his seat.. He sports his dessert camouflage and worn and dusty combat boots that look shockingly comfortable.. He is young, friendly, with small squinty eyes and a slight southern draw when he speaks. Fortunately, the military exposure trumps his southern exposure and I learn over the next few hours he is genuinely kind. He tells me what it’s like to drive a tank and that the tracks of the tank make the ride bumpy; much more than the things you crush when you roll over them. He doesn’t talk too much and bounces between flirting with the flight attendant and the two older woman behind us. I picture him sitting in a bar on base sharing his personality and stories with any one who walks by. He shares stories about Iraq or Afghanistan that are more BS than fact and keeps the real stories; the stories that visit him in his nightmares, to himself. He is character from a future book I will write and he is kind. The desire just to be greeted by someone kind brings me back to church.
Only two to three seconds has elapsed since I took a ride on the rapids of my stream of consciousness. Next is the part of service I dread the most. The part where we are instructed to greet those around us with a handshake, high five or fist bump. Again, I move back and observe. The white couple in front of me is very cordial and friendly to the white couple in front of them. They avoid turning around to greet me and my family and my eyes reach out to catch their eyes. My friendliness is exaggerated because I feel the pressure to show them a different black than the black they assume. They never turn around. I sit down disappointed.
The pastor gets up and preaches and his style and message remind me why I put myself in this situation once a week.
Church ends and we stop off at the grocery store to pick up something for lunch. The boys wait in the car and my wife and I go in to the grocery store. There is a thin white woman in her forties who is exiting as we walk in. Again, my eyes try to catch hers. She sees me and looks through me as soon as her eyes fall on me. The change in expression in her face from life to nothing I have seen before. It is now a reflex because she has done it so often like flipping on a light switch in a dark closet. It is a punch to my sternum that no one else sees. I am dismissed.
As we walk up and down the aisles we pass a woman who is shopping with a cart that is half full. In the child seat sits her purse wide open. I see it and know it’s important to walk very clear of it so no assumptions or accusations can be made.
We retrieve milk from the back of the store and go to check out. Once again I analyze how the white man in front of us is received by the cashier. She greets him warmly, asks how he is and says goodbye. As my milk passes me on the conveyor belt, I get no greeting, no smile, no acknowledgement. My skin is doing its thing again. The milk is very present as she scans it and passes it along to be bagged. My invisible hand swipes my card through the card reader as she speaks for the first time to tell me what the total is for the milk. The teenage bagger hands me my milk with a smile that helps melt the cold cashier’s reception. He wishes us a nice afternoon and I clearly, warmly, and loudly wish him the same. Again, the pressure of being a black ambassador to all around makes sure I project a warm approachable black.
We return home and I relax. No more questioning, no more judging, no more figuring out until the next trip out.
Many will read this with dread, or with suspicion. Many will conclude I concentrate on race too much and it is me whose thinking is flawed. The uncomfortableness that comes with the realization that life looks different than what you have been told or experience will cause some to argue and explain away my view. This comes from 42 years of experience and treatment. It has crafted a keen sense and given me the ability to interpret the subtle. I can easily identify someone calling me a nigger through a look and no sound has to be heard. The woman who looked through me at the grocery store was close but her eyes lacked the emotion that comes with that particular look.
I don’t dread going out, nor do I wish I wasn’t part of the powerful skin club. I understand what may happen and the power that comes with my skin. There are times when it hurts and times when I can ignore it and not analyze it. Mostly, I push those exchanges to a cold corner of my mind and try and relish the warm hugs that come with the acceptance of encounters like the one with the cocky army kid. There are times when these exchanges instantly change my mood and other times when I can shrug them off. Pushing out the dents to myself esteem can get exhausting and having to remind myself I am more and not less is a challenge sometimes.
I have thought about the camouflaged kid from the plane a lot because some how he was able to resist the power of my skin and it was nice to just relax and not have activate my bullet-proof powers.