Carol was a physically beautiful girl. She had tanned dark skin, dark eyes, and thick, curly hair. Intrigued by black culture, and even more so by black men, she sought to consummate her sexual curiosity by juxtaposing herself to black women—seemingly hoping to outshine black femininity with a presumed exoticness.
Yet, somehow her invitation to the movies seemed harmless. Admittedly, I probably would not have seen the film if not invited. But antagonized by my white classmates, I was a little more receptive to companionship than I should have been. In the height of my systemized state, I found a false unity in gender with a person of color.
Nothing could have prepared me for the lessons this experience would expose. The performances in the film were surpassed by the dramatic behavior of the audience. The whipping scene prompted a white woman seated several rows in front of me to cry violently in a manner more mawkish than meaningful. In short, her response appeared rehearsed, and an insincere attempt to separate herself from the white slave master, who easily composed the core of her bloodline.
During the scene where the slaves bathed in plain view without modesty, my “friend” whispered “they’re naked, just out like that?” I suppose this scene was educational to anyone without knowledge of slavery. But to a person whose ancestors composed the black bodies cast in the backdrop of this white savior tale—this depiction failed to encapsulate the totality of black objectivity. I recall reading a book as an eighteen-year-old college freshman that described an image more horrifying than any slave film. In the book, a slave master had his young slaves line-up nude and wait to use the restroom. He piled the male youth on top of one another to induce a state of arousal to which he watched in a pedophiliac lust. The slave master’s arousal, although then fixated on the bodies of the black youth, stemmed from his power. To be black is to maintain a similar position to that of the black youth in the novel, to be cast naked, your bodily responses induced to meet a global gaze and serve the desires of others. Seated in that movie theatre that day, I felt exposed, my reactions a means to enhance and validate the experience of a person I thought was my friend.
The rape scene prompted a similar nakedness, despite my frame being encased in a newly purchased corset jacket, probably sewn in a sweatshop by a pre-adolescent child. This scene was encased in silence from the theatre, so I could not ignore my “friend” whisper “he killed her” in a pseudo outrage.
“No,” I thought to myself.
“She will live and give birth to my foremothers and forefathers.”
To Carol, this rape was a scene in a movie included to induce a reaction to which she provided. To anyone within the black collective, this was a scene in our past. Perhaps most poignantly, this horror was a scene in our very conception.
By the end of the film I was hot with rage and ready to go back to my dorm—which I hated. Then the lights came on, and the next few moments would betray the true nature of my invite. My friend looked up at me wiping tears that I did not see. She then said the words that burnt me to my core. Words that highlighted the cultural insensitivity to which blacks are regarded with across the globe
“You don’t seem sad.”
I gave a slow blink to a face I once saw as so beautiful. She was now the most hideous thing I had ever seen. I initially found common ground in the fact that we were both pink on the inside, although now I was not so sure. She seemed hollowed by a hate she tried to pass off as love, by a vengeance she tried to pass off friendship, a sourness she tried to pass off as sweetness, and a competitiveness she tried to pass of as camaraderie. This would prove inescapably true on the way home when on the ride home, Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” came on and she asked me what Beyonce meant by watermelon.
It then became obvious that we were not there to see a performance. I was the performance. To her, an un-enlightened “person of color,” blackness was a production started in slavery and manifested into present day. To her, and many ignorant gazes throughout the globe, blacks were never kings and queens, only concubines and field hands. Films like Twelve Years a Slave function to reduce the African legacy into American slavery.
Carol invited me out as a peek into blackness, granting her what she would eventually imitate to bait a self-hating black male.
To her, a curious and appropriative gaze, sadness was something worn, a tangible state. Missed in her shallow analysis, is that to be black and to fully understand all that lies within your melanin–the beauty, the mental and physical bludgeoning, the historic and contemporary struggle for life and liberation, is to bear an emotion much deeper than sadness.
The revelations present by the time the credits rolled were two-fold. On one hand our friendship ended. On the other hand, this exchange revealed that what we had was never a friendship to begin with. Just as many interracial relationships lack the ability of full cultural comprehension, many inter-racial or inter cultural friendships also exist at a superficial level which eventually exposes an impenetrable ignorance or indifference in any attempt to delve beneath the surface.
We were not as I believed sisters of a similar struggle. She had her language and the option to enter this country. Black women, do not stand beside other persons of color whom relinquish what we spend lifetimes working to obtain. Every day is a struggle to get a little bit closer to the place from which our ancestors were torn. So as she willingly spoke English and attempted to compartmentalize my struggle, she objectified me in a way I had experienced all my life, except she pretended to be my friend.
In the film, Solomon is “recovered” by a white man and “returned” to his home. This ending surfaces to appease those who relish in one black obtaining physical freedom in the face of countless others still physically bound to a white male master. In this dynamic, Solomon is the Obama, the athlete, the businessman or mogul taken off the physical plantation and afforded another means to serve whites. He is the exception that whites and other persons of color can reference to prove that blacks don’t “have it so bad.” To Carol, I was the escaped slave who was to report the tellings of my experience. I am not to possess the presumed bitterness as my escape functions to illustrate my counterparts as lazy not systemically diseased and castrated. I am to entertain, and demand nothing more than an ear to listen. To Carol I am an individual, a compartmentalization that uproots the foundation of my collective self and erases the unspoken tales of past and present diasporic Africans. Namely, in objectifying the individual, the collective is lost. Once again blacks become the background in their own narrative, a narrative redacted to highlight “exceptions” at the expense of capturing the true black experience. Black truth then fades into the background, eventually becoming part of the earth, silenced and unseen— succumbing to the collective amnesia desired by the whites who tell our story.
In hindsight, I see that I was solicited as a means to validate someone else’s curiosity. My body was a gateway to illustrate someone else’s humanity—placing me in an identical role to my kinfolk portrayed in the film. There I was twenty-five years old, seemingly standing under an umbrella with my colored sister until I realized I was soaking wet— my body, my burden, my beauty, my beliefs too big for full coverage. Up until that point, I falsely believed in the collective concepts of “woman” and “person of color,” two concepts that did not even see me, let alone identify with my struggles as a black woman. My past experience, mirrors that of countless black women throughout the globe who believe in a sisterhood with those who fail to see the black woman as human let alone a sister.
May my experience be your lesson.
Black Power ❤