To the elderly white woman that I encountered at Denny’s in the early afternoon of Friday, July 25:
I do not look like Condoleezza Rice. That is a ridiculous assertion. It’s founded in one of the most abysmal forms of the institutionalized nature of racism, the concept that all people of a certain color and (assumed) similar ethnic makeup look the same. We’re both black, female, and straighten our naturally tightly curled hair. That is literally where the similarities end.
Why couldn’t you listen to your spouse and “just leave [me] alone”? He was practically begging you to leave the place quietly. This tells me that this has happened before. This tells me you, privileged senior woman of unknown regional origin and clearly Western European descent, make a habit of foisting your incredibly asinine opinion on complete strangers. This tells me that you’re not just privileged, you’re also rather rude, and you have embarrassed your other half with your ill mannered behavior before.
I saw you there at your table while we were eating. You were staring…hard. I cast a few furtive glances in your general direction to confirm my suspicions. I told my husband “I think that old lady is staring at me…” I told him how uncomfortable it was making me. I didn’t tell him how scary the look on your face was because I didn’t want him to get up and say something. I didn’t want to cause a scene. I just wanted to eat my French toast in peace. Thanks to you, that didn’t happen.
Anyone who knows me well can tell you how brash, sassy, and direct I usually am. I was so shocked by both your words and the fact that you touched me, I froze up. I don’t enjoy being touched, especially by complete strangers. I have a Thing about bacteria, you see, and you broke about 5 taboos by that simple gesture you likely meant to be friendly and disarming. It wasn’t. It was accosting, it was violating, it was unpleasant and above all, it was uninvited. I usually wear a sweater for this reason. Your grip on my arm was so firm that I could feel your individual fingers through the thick material of my light jacket. Those fingers on my arm were all I could think about. I couldn’t focus on forming a coherent response. I couldn’t focus on anything but telling you to “Please stop touching me”. All you could think to say was a surprised “Oh!”
I wasn’t flattered. I’m still not flattered. I’m still flustered enough that I have ideas for something to include in this post floating away before I can get a firm grip on them and commit them to digital prose.
It has taken me so much time to come to terms with, process, and think clearly about this encounter that the draft for this post has literally been sitting in my tablet since the incident occurred. Waiting. Screaming “Draft saved” at me in angry, red text for a quarter of a year.
You see, madam, your choice to violate my sense of self, my personal space, and my dignity that day had a profound impact on me, the likes of which neither of us could have guessed at. I’ve lost a great deal of my nerve. I’m already an anxious, fidgety sort of person in social situations, but now I actively avoid people in public. I over analyze everything anyone ever says to me about anything if they even look like they MIGHT be white. It’s really unpleasant. You’ve turned me into a homebody…but I actually can’t stand to be home all the time. I’ve been in a depression I’ve fought to pull myself out of with great effort, and that progress was severely seized and hampered by your egregious condescension.
It wasn’t a compliment. It will never be a compliment. Hopefully someday, when it’s not 3am, when I don’t have a horrible stomachache and when I’m better rested, I can provide the litany of reasons why I feel so strongly about this and why your seemingly innocent (in your mind) remark destroyed me so completely.
For now, I end this here.