Listen, I’m not going to lie. One of the reasons I haven’t been writing as much lately is that when I have a free hour or two (when Monty is visiting with Aunt Mo, or going for a ride with Kurt), I’ve been spending that time either playing video games or watching “Married at First Sight.” I’M NOT PROUD, OKAY?
Watching a show where toxic heteronormativity is rewarded, and shooting zombies has been a balm these days.
“I just want the man to be the man.” Shoot a zombie! “How many men have you slept with?” Shoot a zombie! “When they see that ring, they know you belong to me.” Kick the ever-living shit out of a zombie! “He knows how to cook?! Teeheeheehee!” Explode a gas can on a hoard of zombies.
But Monty and Kurt are going to Target (with their masks on because we’re not monsters), and here I am, doing this! Go me!
I’ve been thinking a lot about an interaction I had back in 2016. We were staying with my friend’s parents in Newburgh, NY (long story), about an hour and forty minutes on the train to NYC. On the way to the train station in Beacon I noticed a man and his child walking down the street. The child was about Monty’s age, about 3, and was wearing a backpack shaped like a teddy bear. A couple hours later, on the shuttle from Grand Central to Times Square, I saw the pair again. The man was really good-looking, which may have been part of my motivation for striking up a conversation. I told him I had noticed him and his son on the way to the train station. I told him I had a son his age. He told me they lived in Newburgh. I asked if his son went to pre-school and he said he did. I asked him how they could afford it (there’s no free preK in Newburgh). What I didn’t say, and what I should have maybe said was that I had looked into preschools around there and I couldn’t afford any of them, and I didn’t know how anyone could afford them. They were prohibitively expensive. I think what I meant to say was, “I looked into programs there and was shocked at how expensive they are. I’m trying to figure out where to put my son so I can work.”
I noticed he has a very faint accent that I couldn’t place. I almost always ask people where they’re from originally if I hear any regionalism. I have a weirdly keen ear for accents and dialects and can usually tell where people are from. I can tell the accents of Brooklyn, The Bronx, and Long Island apart. I can tell if someone is from south Jersey or Philly. I can usually tell what country people are from even if their accent is almost undetectable. So, I asked him where he was from and he said New York. And then I asked him where he grew up. I saw something shift in his face. Like a wave of disappointment. I was a little confused. We parted ways and I spent the next few days (and years) thinking about it.
I realized pretty quickly that I had, in essence, asked him “But where are you really from?” And even though my intentions were completely innocent, I hadn’t taken into account that people of color field this question a lot. As if they couldn’t possibly be from the United States. It doesn’t matter that I’m also a native New Yorker, and we tend to always ask where in New York a fellow New Yorker is from. It doesn’t matter that I’m just interested in dialects. What mattered was that I should have checked my privilege, and considered that that question, coming from a white person, wasn’t going to come across the way I wanted it to, and it’s not like I was going to have time to explain myself.
Add to that, the way it might have seemed like I was asking him how he could afford preschool.
I think about this incident a lot. I feel shitty about it. I wish I could go back and fix it.
I have made worse missteps in my life. I know I have.
All I can do now is try to be smarter moving forward. Read and listen. Try to understand microaggressions and do my best not to make any, and if I do, promptly apologize.
I don’t really have a way to end this blog. I’ve been sitting on it for a few days. I just want to get it up. So, I’ll end with this:
If you have a moment today and an extra twenty bucks, consider going over to eyeseeme.com to buy a book by a black author. If you’re into dystopic fiction I recommend Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler. For nonfiction So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo or How to be Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi.