From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Black ’n’ White Snapshots

Every day of my life I walk with the idea I am black, no matter how successful I am.

Danny Glover

A few years ago, I was listening to a radio talk show hosted by one of those irritating conservative “shock jocks.” The subject was race relations. Everyone had an opinion, especially a white caller named Sam from San Jose. His complaint was that blacks were too preoccupied with race. His advice: Try not thinking about race for twenty-four hours. He was convinced that if blacks could experience a day without worrying about race, we would all be the happier for it.

I laughed to myself, thinking, Is that what white folks really believe? That we just sit around thinking about race?

What that caller didn’t understand is that for folks of color, living with race isn’t a choice; it just is. The fact is, I would give anything for the chance to go through twenty-four hours without being reminded of my skin color and all the assumptions and misconceptions that go with it.

Sometimes those assumptions are of my own doing. After years of expecting the worst, and often getting it, I see racist ghosts where there are only innocent shadows.

More often, though, race comes roaring into my daily life uninvited like a heat-seeking missile. Some days I am amazed at my swiftness in dodging its impact. Other days I’m slow to respond and find myself bruised and knocked off balance. The blows are rarely fatal, but the built-up scar tissue becomes painful over time. But then there are the funny moments when we get a glimpse of our own ever-ready shields and are forced to set them down and laugh.

It was one of those lazy Sunday afternoons: I had dozed off on the sofa under a pile of unread Sunday papers. Suddenly I hear the kids’ voices getting louder and angrier.

Oh, I moan to myself. They’re at it again. For weeks my thirteen-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter have been fighting constantly. I push down deeper in the sofa, deciding to ignore this spat hoping, if I stall long enough, my husband will intervene.

My ears jump to attention when I hear my daughter wailing, “I am light. I am very light.”

My heart starts pounding after I hear my son shoot back, “You are not light. I don’t know where you got that impression. You’re anything but light.”

I immediately go into my whack attack mode. I jump off the sofa, newspapers flying, rush past my husband who is standing in a nearby hallway, and burst like a bull into the TV room, pointing my hands at two very startled children.

“In this house, we do not make judgments about skin color. It doesn’t matter whether you’re light or dark. We are all beautiful African American people.” By this time I am practically hyperventilating.

My two children look at me like I truly am a crazed woman.

My son speaks first . . . slowly, as if he is talking to someone who has lost her mind. “Mommmm, I am just telling her to get her heavy behind off my foot.”

My daughter chimes in, “And I told him that I’m not heavy. I’m light. I am light, right, Mom?”

But my thirteen-year-old son isn’t going to let me off the hook so easily. After all, how many times do you get to make your mom squirm?

“So, Mom, you want to tell us why you’re lecturing us on what it means to be good African Americans?”

As I am trying to find a graceful retreat, sounds of my husband’s snickering in the adjacent room quickly evolve into huge, bellowing laughter.

I manage a weak apology and mumble something about “You shouldn’t tease your sister about her behind,” and make a hasty exit right to my husband who is now doubled over laughing.

“You could have stopped me, you know.”

“And miss you make a fool out of yourself?” he says. “Are you kidding? It was one of your better performances.”

Judy Belk

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