Waves crashing. Fresh Coconut water beside the ocean. Breakfast in bed, before a hike in the hills.
The ambiance for my new year was fresh out of a dream, however, the experience harbored an imperative reminder for exactly how I do not want to live moving forward.
The ongoing pandemic shaped our travel destinations, and our choice prioritized safety. To our defense, our selection was solely based on eliminating spaces shared with dozens of people and having little to no contact with others during our stay. So we ended up at a ranch in the hills, you know, the type of setting that people pay a lot of money to not see and interact with black people.
Unless, of course, we’re cleaning up.
Our choice, not quite the maroonage retreat we hoped it would be, disturbed their peace.
The non-white person of color who greeted me and my driver upon arrival could not have been more unhappy to see me. She tried hard to conceal the incredulity of a “young” black woman at a supposedly “upscale” resort. I meet a similarly abrasive ambiance upon my entry into the Asian-style villa where we checked in. I was early, so I was told that I could “enjoy the facilities” while they cleaned and disinfected our cabin.
The bartender was friendlier before my friend showed up. The increasing number of black people at a space inundated by whites is always an anxiety for those who see integration as a threat to a tenuous superiority.
Oh, the irony of catching peripheral glares as I carried my non-alcholic drink to a seat by the pool from those determined to get the gift of color.
The cabin was beautiful, easily one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed with the most beautiful bathroom. We even had our own patio, equipped with an outdoor shower that was surprisingly refreshing. The world we created in our rented space was a black girl’s dream. But the world outside was a cruel reminder of what lay outside the black lives that we had created for ourselves.
A budding black professional who lives and studies at a predominately black space and grew up in an all-black area inundated with black homeowners, my black life was an enclave away from the white realities that, for years, seemed more mythos than real.
The weekend proved triggering, reminding me of moments in my past where I, as an ambitious African in America, sough to climb the racial mountain Langston Hughes referenced in his 1926 essay.
As a graduate student at a space where demanding respect engendered opposition from students and professors, the white glare sought to sear a hole in my flesh on campus and at my temporary home. “Home” was also a hyper-site of white nationalism ornamented with patronizing behavior and commentary, plus the daily complaints from those whose real issue was having to share an institutional, and traditionally exclusive, space with a black person. My white roommates proved unapologetically anxious to have a black graduate student as a roommate who couldn’t care less about them or their whiteness.
From a white professor who grabbed my belongings when I refused to acquiesce to her condescending behavior, the white girl who ordered me and my black colleagues to go inside, to the white girl who told me to “take the stick out my a–” after I censured her reaching over my food, abrasive behavior from white women was a daily occurrence in my past life. Even as a black instructor, I was continuously id-checked. I encountered the abrasiveness from whites insulted that an anti-black environment cast them as a witness to black achievement.
Nevertheless, it had been years since the white glare permeated my reality.
You know the stare I’m talking about, the dehumanizing glare that reminds you that your space on the planet is limited to that which does not disturb white comfort. I recall jobs and academic environments where white women would stare at my derriere, and no, I’m not kidding. Stare and stare and stare as if somehow their glares would make ashamed enough to oscillate emotions best conceptualized by the color green. I recall the white female owner at a cafe I used to stop at for breakfast before high school who stared and stared at my hair for years until finally asking me if it was “all mine.”
Confronted with this glare as a child at New York museums, as a graduate student, and young professional, I have since learned to fight its dehumanizing intentions with genuine indifference. Meaning I do not allow the searing gaze of white nationalism to meet mine. This lack of acknowledgment deflates the anti-black ego in not allowing the white supremacist to search my eyes for an apology– an apology for bearing the burden of blackness, disrupting their conjugal sanctity, and disturbing white peace.
I suppose it would be remiss not to mention that the men were overtly nicer during our trip, but, truth is, they just wore their disdain differently.
Moreover, I didn’t get sick, had a safe weekend with an old friend with a breath-taking backdrop. We met a few cool drivers who made us laugh and a few who scared us with reckless driving or confessions about their past. It was also one of the few trips where I ate well (albeit lightly), and my lifestyle didn’t constitute an obligatory fast. But more importantly, I got a glimpse of what I simply will not accept as my reality as long as I am on earth.
No amount of “prestige” is worth the mental deterioration that comes from a lifetime among those whose core conviction is your lack of humanity. Gone are the days where I don’t want to get out of bed to experience the intrinsic coldness of the African-adjacent. Gone are the days where I must ameliorate my boiling rage to simmer to get through the day.
It’s an ugly world, but I have never been more convinced of the gifts bestowed upon me at birth as an African-descended person.
My life is now as warm as the undertones in my skin, and in hindsight, I see the hills in my trip’s backdrop as symbolizing all those I’ve had to climb to get to this point. While I’m not yet at the top, it feels good knowing that the mountain I’m climbing, isn’t snowcapped.