friends

Growing Up Beige: Appropriating the Struggle

I remember one day back in college, sitting in the computer lab with one of my friends.

She got frustrated suddenly, and when I asked what was wrong, she points to her screen at some girl’s Facebook page.

“I used to be good friends with this girl in high school.”

She continued on about their friendship and why they were no longer close.

They used to go to concerts all the time together, rock and metal shows with mosh pits and all that. The girl was biracial, half black, half white. In high school, she wore her hair straightened, wore skater clothing brands, and was wholly ignorant to black culture. The Facebook page I was looking at, however, showed a curly-haired girl, with post after post of shared news stories of gentrification in the city, think pieces on race, and general politics. Something had clearly changed since high school with this girl, and my friend wasn’t buying it.

The most recent of her postings was an article talking about the last high rise projects in North Philly. I can’t really remember the opinion of the piece, but the girl shared hers along with the article link. And whatever her stance was, it pissed my friend off.

My friend lived in that area of town. She shared her frustration over how article apparently oversimplified the issues, and how this girl was not only misguided in her opinion, but also had no business speaking on matters she didn’t understand. Then came her biggest issue about this girl, and at that point she said something that has stuck in my mind ever since.

“I can’t just take this off,” she said as she extended her arm and rubbed her brown skin.

Hearing that struck a conflicting chord. I simultaneously empathized with my friend’s rage, and sympathized with this girl’s identity struggle.

I am understanding the beige area, as I’m going to coin it, as the space in between these two feelings.

I am black.

I haven’t always accepted that, and I was kind of allowed to deny it, so I did. I can claim blackness, and I can just as easily renounce my race when it inconveniences me to be so. And honestly I found it to be an inconvenience for most of my life.

While I still struggle with my past upsets over my racial identity, I recognize and admit that I’ve been wrong and severely misguided. Injustice seems a whole lot more important than my pride and hurt feelings, and I don’t want to exploit this racial loophole as some kind of advantage anymore. It’s not one. I’m paying for my ignorance now as I try to work backwards seeking a foundation I didn’t think I needed for years.

What I don’t want to do through this process is to fake a hardship that I didn’t suffer through. What I don’t want to do is speak out of my backside about issues that have never pertained to me. I’m black, sure. But I don’t share or even know all black struggles, and I’m not going to act like I do. I will not and don’t need to appropriate the struggle in order to join the cause.

And I’ll join by speaking what I know, and learning and supporting what I don’t. My issues as a light-skinned Black American aren’t going to be recognized as real struggles to some. I get it, but I don’t really care. It’s my only vantage point, and I think as many shades of the Black American perspective that can be shared, should be shared and respected. We need to understand where we’re all coming from so we can collectively work towards one direction for the better. Colorism is maintaining division and distracting us from moving forward. It’s more complex than that, yes. But we have to start somewhere.

I want to hear perspectives and connect with different views and more insights, so you’ll find mine here, piece by piece.

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The Most Unnecessary One-Sided Two Year Standoff

I occasionally view my life as a cinematic experience, with each day or notable experience being another episode. Most of these episodes are partly based in reality, and partly whatever my imagination runs with based on that experience. I can usually tell the difference.

Usually..

But, sometimes I get lost in the dramatic and end up with an arch nemesis.

No matter how many times I remind myself that I’m getting carried away in the weirdness that is my own head, and that it is, in no way, representative of real life, I still didn’t let this go. For two whole years.

So, here goes.

It always starts with a guy, doesn’t it? While this story is ridiculous, it begins pretty typically. Well, kind of.

So there was this guy.

And I decided that I needed to know this guy, because this guy was really talented and I liked his face. Due to his profession(DJ) and his aforementioned likable face, I figured he got approached by women pretty often.

Probably attractive women.

Women who don’t dress like they live underneath City Hall.

Women who don’t act like their socialization was exclusively left up to playing The Sims growing up.

I needed to stand out, is what I’m saying. In a way that didn’t rely on my neglected looks, social ineptitude, or age, because I was twenty and couldn’t lurk at his parties. I needed a different direction.

So I knit him a hat.

I know right? Genius.

I knit a hat for him and two members of his crew. I also ended up selling one to a DJ in San Francisco and a local event promoter. I got a nice little 15 minutes of Instagram fame, twas fun. Anyways!

I have this thing… where I make a knitted good, give it away, and then obsess about its condition constantly.

Did I tie in the ends correctly? What if it unravels and falls apart? What if it’s not big enough for their head? What if it SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTS? Why don’t I see them wearing it? Did they like it? A pack of coyotes took it, didn’t they? Or a dingo ate the beanie. I can make it again, y’know. I can fix it! I don’t mind. Just let me know! Just, I just need to know where it is, how it’s doing, if it’s happy, if it’s getting ample sunlight and riboflavin, I don’t know. I…I just need to know if it’s okay. IS IT OKAY?

I got to hand deliver one hat to likable-face person, and he was happy. We selfie’d together while he wore it. He tagged me in posts of him wearing the hat online in the weeks following. Everything was cool. I was at ease. 1 hat down.

A friend delivered the next hat for me. He recounted the giving away of the hat, and I was again tagged in a post online of the beanie with an accompanied thanks. Everything was cool. I was at ease. 2 hats down.

Conflicting schedules prevented a proper exchange with the receiver of the last one. So when I saw online of an event for Record Store Day, I decided to go and deliver the hat there. He wasn’t there when I arrived, and I had to leave because I forgot about a prior engagement. I left the beanie with the store clerk and left.

I never heard about the hat, nor did another opportunity to meet ever spring up. Everything was uncertain. I was not at ease. 2 hats down. ONLY 2 HATS DOWN. TWO HATS DOWN OUT OF THREEand a growing paranoia that the third one was probably on fire somewhere.

Flash forward to Summer 2014. There was a free concert in Rittenhouse Square, and I was working with one of the performing artists. A lot of friends and music-y people came out. It was quite the affair. Until…

So I’m standing around with my uncle, waiting for everything to start. A friend walks up and says hey. We chat for a while. And then, hwalks up. The receiver of the third hat. Yeah, did you think I was still talking about Likeable-Face Person? No, no, forget that guy. If this story were about him, it would make too much sense.

So he says hi to our friend, and our friend introduces him to my uncle.

I am standing in between my uncle and our friend. Like, in the middle of the two. Dead center. Note this. And he is standing directly in front of the three of us.

He shakes hands with my uncle. And I’m kind of just waiting for a quarter of a millisecond of eye contact so I can introduce myself like, “Hey nice to formally meet you, I made you that hat and stuff.” Like…you wouldn’t just interject to introduce yourself in the middle of something you weren’t part of, right? I’m too socially remedial to know for sure, but I’m pretty sure you wait for some kind of an “in.” I was waiting for that “in.” But no. That “in” never happened.

He looks back over to our friend and says, “Well good seeing you, man,” AND WALKS AWAY.

I told you I was right in between my uncle and our friend, right? So he meets my uncle and then shifts his gaze right past me to say bye to our friend. AND WALKS AWAY, I REITERATE.

………..

Huh?

Am I… visible?

Can ANYONE see me?

Am I even really here? I’m here, right? Panic set in. I poked my uncle and waved my arms frantically in his face, “CAN YOU SEE ME? DID YOU FEEL THAT?”

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“SO YOU DID??? It’s just HIM then! He… he shunned me.”

Shunned.

But why? Was I hard to see? I’m six feet of person, there’s no way. Did he reach his meeting-people quota for the day after meeting my uncle? OH MY GOSH, the hat probably caught fire. Or he broke it. Or it grew sentience and left to live its own life. Or maybe he never got it. The clerk kept it for himself and never said anything about it and he thought I was lying when I told him I left it at the record store for him. He thinks I’m a liar. His head is probably still cold…in the middle of summer.. Oh my gosh I could have fixed all of this if he just said something. But he shunned me. Shunned. 

It could have just ended there. I could have let it go because it wasn’t like I was going to see him often enough for it to matter. It would have just been one of many awkward interactions you have in a lifetime to never recall again, as is life.

But no. The next day I scroll through my Instagram feed to see a video clip of the show from his account. I managed to see myself in the background among the crowd. Y’kno, standing dead center in between my uncle and our friend. Very clearly not invisible. Relatively easy to see and difficult to shift a gaze right past and whatever. I posted a comment like, “Hah I see myself in the background, great night” or something like that.

No reply.

Shunned again. Digitally shunned. It was official, this was no mistake. He hated the hat. He must have set it on fire himself, I thought.

My 21st birthday rolls around, and I start hitting all of the parties these guys throw that I had been missing out on all this time. I mean I’m not so crazy, guys. I knew none of this was real outside my mind. So when I started going out, I had full intention of finally introducing myself and becoming friends IRL. Yeah, side note: We were Facebook friends and followed each other on Instagram since I made the first hat, like…this was all after that. Another post for another day but those don’t translate over to real life very smoothly for me, which brings us to this debacle.

There were maybe two or three instances where I was chilling out at a party and was like, Yup I’m gonna formally meet this dude tonight so this can stop being weird and everything is gonna be coolin’ and yeah. And as I approach or see him coming up to the bar where I’m sitting, ready to tap him and say hi or whatever, SOMETHING HAPPENS WHERE HE STRAIGHT UP SWERVES ON ME AND TALKS TO SOMEONE ELSE JUST. BESIDE. ME.

SHUNNED. again and again.

learned hopelessness

I was just never going to meet him. I mustered up all the courage to meet him that I had. There was none left. And the more time to pass would make it even less appropriate to introduce myself because we weren’t complete strangers. Just in real life. I can repost your mixes on Soundcloud, you can like my Insta posts about coffeeshops, but..what? Would I ask how your daughter is doing in person when I’ve never spoken to you before for you to tell me you have a daughter? That’s not okay. That’s creepy. It’s this weird social limbo space. And so I marked him my Arch Nemesis, because we could never be cool, and I avoided him at all costs.

Do you know how hard that was? I ran into him, everywhere.

He went to all of the Night Markets and other food festivals.

He coffee’d in the Philly coffee scene like I did.

He’d be the opening DJ for every concert I went to.

HE BECAME MY NEIGHBOR.

Okay, I became his neighbor I guess, but like…details? He still doesn’t need to walk out of restaurants right as I’m walking past or use the trolley at the same time as me. It takes so much out of me to be normal and calmly, un-screamingly get away as fast as possible without being spotted every time.

I had a friend once try to trap me into an introduction after a concert. He was my ride to the party afterward, but I caught on…I saw him conversing with my Arch Nemesis, and I left the venue and took the sub to the party instead. I was dedicated. I would die before having another awkward exchange with this man, or worse yet get shunned an nth time.

But two years of dipping, ducking, fast walking, and silent screaming all came to a crash and burn. I slipped up last month.

I was at Likable-Face Person’s party. It was the end of the night and all the cool people who don’t get kicked out when the bar closes, and me, were standing around talking. I was adding to the conversation while also looking down at my phone. Someone replies to my comment, and as I say something back I look up and it was himMy Arch Nemesis.

We had conversed. I said a thing. He said a thing back. And I responded again. That was dialogue.

Dammit. Alright Storm, don’t you dare scream. Calm down, stop breathing so fast…uh..uhhh…go to the bathroom or something. Or I don’t know do so–

“Storm, you ready? Let’s go,” I hear my ride yell from the front door.

SAVIOURRRRRRR. And I thought I had gotten away for good.

But there we were, at another party just a week or two later. Same scene. End of the night. Everyone chatting. I had stepped away into another circle of more chats. But in a break of topics, I was directly addressed by my Arch Nemesis. And I was trapped, acting normal, talking back and having conversation. It was…nice. I hated it. The voice inside my head was hoarse from screaming endlessly. And then,

“…You know that hat you made has gotten passed around to everyone in the family. My daughter wears it most now.”

Oh my God, the hat is…okay?

crying face emoji

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s…all I wanted. Th-thank..you.

So we’re like…friends now? We hugged, it’s kinda official. I met his family. His wife is really nice. Soooo hooray reconciliation? …of a beef nobody knew was a thing? Yeah, hooray!

Even still, that didn’t stop me from seeing him at the co-op market last week and scurrying away to stare at kale until the coast was clear and only then going to the register to check out..

Old habits die hard I guess.