I had a painting job in my early 20’s with a small company that remodeled hotel rooms. The hotel would put us up and feed us and the company paid the travel expenses. My first job was in Boston, which lasted a couple of months. I saw the Hanson brothers from the movie “Slapshot” at a bar on St. Patricks day. No shit.
The next place I went to work was Cape Cod during the off season. If I had to describe Cape Cod during the off season using only 4 words it would be “sucks cocks in hell.” It’s also whiter than New England clam chowder. Hell, it is New England clam chowder and I was up to my balls in it. Or, “balls deep,” as the kids say.
The day I’m going to meet my co-workers, my boss informs me the 2 dudes I’d be working with were brothers. As we go into their hotel room, I offer my hand saying “you two must be the brothers.” At the same time I see that they are also black, which my boss neglected to tell me. So yeah, I’ve now introduced myself with a hearty handshake to the “brothers.” The only way I could have looked like a bigger asshole would have been to hold out my hand and ask for some skin along with a “what’s up, blood?”
Eventually we became good friends and would laugh remembering that awkward introduction. It was also the first time I was called “nigga” on a regular basis, usually after me saying something stupid. For example: “Pass me that screwdriver, hot dog breath.” Which was responded to thusly: “What’d you call me? Hot dog breath?! Goddamn, nigga-you crazier than a motherfucker!” The other thing about this is the fact that most white people are burning inside with hot coals for a black person to call them “nigga.” It’s the coolest term of endearment ever, and of course we have no business saying it. As a side note-the next time Obama needs Boehner to say yes to a bill, all he needs to ask at the end is “so, Boehner-are you my nigga?” He can’t say no to that-no white person can! Then Boehner could quote Pulp Fiction and respond, “Shit, negro-that’s all you had to say!” and a door would open up above the white house to the 5th dimension and we could all finally be as one.
Anyways, I’d become close to these guys and we’d go out drinking in Cape Cod-where everyday is a Memorial Day white sale-and get a lot of looks from people. Now, I’d dyed my hair blue while living in Nebraska in 1987, so I was used to looks. Along with ridicule and even sometimes beat up. However, this was the first time it was a race thing and there was a certain uneasiness to it below the surface.
One Sunday after we’d been shopping in a mall, the police drove up to us as we were walking in the parking lot. “You two fit the description of two males who just robbed a grocery store.” They were then both put in the backseats of two separate cop cars for questioning. They didn’t even look at me and when they finally did, it was to flippantly ask if I was “with them.” I protested, explaining to the police that we had been shopping together, and together the entire time. I grew angry as nothing I said seemed to matter, to the point when I was told if I didn’t calm down I’d be in the back of a cop car as well. They finally let us go. As we walked away I was livid, going over the details ad naseum until I was finally interrupted. “Nigga-this shit happens to us all the time.” To them, it was no big deal. You know why? CUZ THIS SHIT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME. And worse. Way worse.
It was an awful realization, but one I could never have as a white person in my comfortable white world. I grew up in a white neighborhood and went to a white school. The black experience was completely off of my radar. However, ignorance via circumstance is no longer an excuse. If you are a white person, read the book “White like Me.” Follow the Root and Colorlines on Facebook. And for the love of shit, stop listening to Iggy Azalea-seriously, that’s a deal breaker. Also, stop accusing people of using the race card. That one is even more embarrassing than Iggy. Also, watch this: