I have been researching a project that I am working on, and in looking over documents and watching interviews, it astounds me to hear that a white person during slavery had never seen a black person. In most cases, it is white women who are documented as having seen a black person for the first time in their travels up north and how afraid they were. Not sure why this needs to be documented, but it is. Look it up.
I thought about how I would react if I saw a person for the first time, two eyes, two ears, hair, a mouth a nose, two arms, two legs, all of the same things that I have but a different color. I realize that I am a different type of person and that my reaction would probably be different from most, but I would likely stop and stare. I don’t think I would be afraid. I think that I would want to touch them to see if their skin felt like mine. I would say something to them to see if they understood me and heavens forbid if they did. I would spend the rest of my life asking them questions. That’s just me.
I heard the great Nikki Giovanni once say that the movie The Martian got one thing wrong. They should have cast the lead as a black woman because black women get along with everyone. I agree with her. We are nurturers, and we would certainly make friends on Mars and learn the way of the land. I know that white women would likely not make friends with black women of the time, but it shocked me to think that slaves would live on the plantation, but white women would be kept from seeing them, and that is simply because in some instances slaves were deemed eyesores and should not be seen or heard by the mistress of the house. This seems contradictory to all of the movies we see where “The Big House” is swimming with slaves.
The more I learn about America, the less I understand. I could write about racial issues all day, I live in Chicago, and we have a lot of them, but that is not the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is to get you to think about the fact that there was a time when one race of people never saw the other while occupying the same space; This explains but does not excuse the reasoning that some people still have that cause them to believe that they are superior. Ignorance is not bliss, and that has always been a phrase that I hate. Who is happy to be dumb? Ok, uninformed. Call it what you want.
I remember two instances on the CTA bus that stand out for me while writing this. Both of them involve a crowded bus. The first one I am standing up and holding on to the pole. I never liked sitting or standing at the back of the bus because people would often have their purse or bookbag snatched as the culprit exited the back doors just as the bus was pulling off. So, I would stay in the middle or towards the front of the bus. This day there was an older white woman standing up as well, and I remember her having a few shopping bags. I remember it was cold outside because I had on a big winter coat and gloves. I took off one of my gloves to try to get a better grip on the pole, and my bare hand met hers, and the woman turned red and snatched her hand away as if I’d stabbed her. I understood right away that her reaction was because I am black. If looks could kill, I would have been dead. I didn’t apologize to her because I didn’t feel I owed her an apology for touching her hand on a pole we both were trying to hold onto. Get over it, lady. The next instance happened in the spring. It was a nice day out and again I’m close to the front of the bus, and there is an older white woman standing up about to get off the bus. I watch her as she squints trying to see where she is. There is a suspicious Hispanic man watching her. So, now I’m watching him. I see him open her purse and take her wallet out of it and put it in his jacket. I don’t think about what I do next; I just do it. “Excuse me miss, that man just took your wallet out of your purse.” Well, two things happen. First, the man hits me in the eye and runs to the back of the bus and gets off and two, the woman never acknowledges me or that I am talking to her. I still think about that to this day. I have told my children about it, and they ask me if I would do the same thing again. I would. They never shock me by their questioning of why. I would do it because it is the right thing to do and I would certainly want someone to do it for me. “But you got hit in the eye and the lady never even said thank you or acknowledged you,” they would argue. True, but it is still the right thing to do. I can’t be responsible for her, only for me.
My point here is this; I don’t think that it is the differences between us, but rather the similarities that scare some people. Although these women had never seen a person with brown skin, they have surely seen other people, so their reaction need not be documented, and their comments regarding their thoughts on how people of color look upon first sight need not be recorded without the counteraction of a black person seeing a white person for the first time.
I have to ask the questions and forgive me because it carries anger, but I cannot help but wonder if people who say that black people should get over slavery have ever thought about what that means? We can certainly get over it, and we can take back all that we have contributed. I would be interested in seeing what the country or even the world would look like, less the contributions and labor of people of color. We can certainly get over it, but the world certainly cannot get around it because ours is a contribution bigger than a touch or a glance.
Are we still invisible?