So it has been over a year since I wrote Don’t Trust a Black Girl and even longer since I wrote The Everyday Racist. Collectively, those have been my most read posts and I am constantly surprised that they are still getting so many views and shares so long after they were written. I think it is so great that sharing my personal experiences of “blackness” have garnered the most interaction, because those type of posts are always the ones I tend to be the most nervous about and I spend the longest time hovering over the “publish” button.
But honestly, I am tired. I am so done with needing to talk about being black. Don’t get me wrong, this blog makes me so unbelievably happy and the “big issues” I tackle are my favourites. Yet, it is so tiring having to constantly think about being black. I genuinely (probably a little naively) thought that since writing The Everyday Racist, I would be done.
I was of the mentality that I could just be like, “Yo friends, racism still exists, these daily microaggressions against black people are harmful. Please stop doing these things. K, thanks, bye”. And then I could go about my merry way and dance into the sunset (well, I wasn’t quite this idealistic but you catch my drift).
That was until exactly 12 days ago and I had one of the most eye-opening racial experiences I have had in a long time. And this was when I truly realised the importance of instigating dialogue and utilising this platform to discuss race despite how uncomfortable it can and does make me feel.
So, it was by sister’s birthday and my family had come together to celebrate over the weekend in London. I made a vlog of the weekend here, and as you can see we had such a great time. We are hardly ever all together at the same time, so occasions like this are always so special.
Yet this one white American man nearly tarnished the whole memory for me. We were staying at the Hilton Hotel on Edgeware Road and I had gone to knock on my parent’s room to see if they were ready for breakfast (lol, they weren’t, classic mum and dad). And then on my way back to my hotel room, I was abruptly stopped in my tracks by the aforementioned white american man.
I am met with two towels which are thrust in my face. He then mumbles something about needing new towels, blah blah blah…
I stare at him confused. He then proceeds to place said towels in my hand and tells me that I need to come clean his room and change the towels. It still takes me a while to process what is going. Surely, it could not be, could it?
So I tentatively ask him: “You don’t think I am the maid, do you?”
He stops in his tracks, looks puzzled and then begins to laugh. He laughed. In between his guffaws, with a shrug of his shoulders, he merely asserts that he just assumed I was the maid.
As I sit here a couple of weeks after the incident, I can still feel the echoes of the burning behind my eyes and the heat on my skin as this man continued to laugh in my face at this “funny” situation. A laugh that evoked images of colonialism and slavery. A laugh that whispered the memory of subservience and the diaspora of a nation.
I boldly responded, “what about me made you assume I was the maid? Am I wearing a maid’s uniform? Am I pushing a maid’s trolley? What made you think I was a maid in the hotel rather than a guest”.
He had no response. No shame. No apology. Nothing. He just stood ambivalent to the magnitude of what he had just done.
I am not your maid…
The whole situation frustrated me and made me question how some people might perceive me. The issue was and is, what about seeing a young black woman approaching, made this white man jump to the conclusion that I could not be a guest at the hotel so I had to be the maid?
Interestingly, the following weekend it was my mum’s birthday and I met up in London with my family again (this time, staying at the Hilton hotel in Paddington) and in the afternoon we watched the movie Hidden Figures, about the black women who helped NASA send John Glenn into space.
It was such a great movie which I would definitely recommend for everyone to go and watch. In the movie, there was a similar scene where Katherine G. Johnson brilliantly played by Taraji P. Henson comes in for her first day at NASA and is handed a trash can to empty by a white man. She poignantly whispers: “I’m sorry. I’m … not the custodian.”
Of course, this black woman could not actually work at NASA in an academic capacity. Surely, she had to be the cleaner. Hidden Figures was set in 1961, it is now 2017. Whilst so much has changed since the 60’s, the journey is not over. If equality is the destination, then we are definitely not there yet. Usually racism today is not as overt as it used to be, modern day racism is much more nuanced as I wrote about in The Everyday Racist.
Yet, how can a situation so similar to one that happened in 1961, play out in 2017? I may be allowed to use the same bathrooms as my white counterparts but that does not mean I am equal. Whilst assumptions are still being made because of a persons skin colour, equality will never truly exist.
So don’t be that guy at the hotel, do not stereotype people. Stereotyping is harmful because it leads to largely unjustified and discriminatory decisions being made about a person solely because that person belongs to a certain demographic.
Do not be lazy. Stereotypes are the cowards way out of thinking critically and actually being present in situations. People naturally categorise people all the time based on arbitrary factors. I am acutely aware that I sometimes mentally do the same thing myself.
But just because we frequently do something does not make it the right thing to do. Together, we must unlearn these biases we hold against one and other. Regardless of whether they may seem to be a superficially positive entity or not.
All that hotel guest had to do was open his eyes and look at me, look beyond my skin colour at the actual situation and it would have been so clear that I was not the maid.
I get it, talking about equality all the time gets tiring. Trust me, I wish I lived in a world where I didn’t have to write about racism anymore. I wish being black did not feel like a heavy load that I have to carry everyday. Likewise, I understand that being constantly reminded of your privilege can be a tough pill to swallow.
In some ways, I definitely experience privilege myself – not everyone has the benefit of having two supportive and loving parents or can have cute weekends away so I know I have a lot to be thankful for. But it’s 2017 and black lives still matter, so let us keep moving forward.
It’s just me, Dammy, and I am not your maid