"I take offense when folks fault-find and assign bad behavior specifically to our people," says Janelle Harris.
This morning, I walked out to take my sullen, please-Mommy-can-I-stay-home? begging Girl Child to school and discovered that someone had unceremoniously knocked the side view mirror off my car. The remaining piece jutted out like a broken plastic tree stump, all jagged and ugly, on the driver’s side of my brand new Altima, purchased just over a month ago to replace a hoopty that was a smoking struggle buggy and detriment to the ozone layer. I stood there agape, in disbelief that I was going to have to take a car that still has temporary paper tags to the body shop already.
The crossing guard at the school across the street intuited my distress and, because she’s also a bit on the nosy side, sauntered over to survey the damage. She knows the congestion of the narrow little street all too well and expressed her sympathy. “Mmm-mmm,” she grunted, shaking her head at the scene of the crime. “That’s what happens when you park on the street, especially in this neighborhood. Can’t act decent towards one another, either. That’s Black folks for ya.” She nodded at her own statement like she had just dropped a prophetic jewel and turned to hustle a band of kids through the crosswalk.
She’s Black, I’m Black, even the kids were Black, but I take offense when folks fault-find and assign bad behavior specifically to our people. Case in point with the mentality that we would be the only folks to clip an innocent parked vehicle minding its own business on the street without so much as a note or an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. That’s not a Black thing. That’s a no-ethics, no-morals thing, and it comes in all shades, colors and complexions. Because you can’t convince me that, somewhere out in the rolling splendor of Utah or Idaho, where the Black population hovers around 1 percent, there aren’t random instances of rudeness just like this one.
Some of the most disheartening stereotypes about us have been perpetuated by us. We don’t give good customer service. We can’t handle positions of power. We’re always wanting a hook-up and an easy way out. We own businesses that aren’t up to par with non-Black establishments and have the audacity to want to be paid more for whatever it is we’re selling.
Before I signed on the dotted line for the now-crippled Altima, I visited a Toyota dealership and test-drove first a Corolla, then a Camry (which was super nice, but too elegant for me). The dealer who helped me, Montressa Williams — and I told her I would specifically shout her out — disproved anything anybody anywhere ever said about Black professionals dishing out substandard business deals. She was that good. Homegirl not only stayed past 6, her own quitting time, she stayed well after the lot had closed at 9. Her own manager tooted his horn and waved goodbye while she stood out in the parking lot explaining details to me and my car-buying novice self. That isn’t an isolated instance of excellence, though she did go above and beyond. It’s just that we’re so used to hearing negative things about us that it makes the effort seem extra super special.
The bottom line is this: You have to take people at face value. It irks my soul to hear us talk down about each other, especially when we have enough people talking down about us from the outside. You don’t have to go very far to get a good earful of Black bashing, so when it bubbles up internally, it contributes to a cultural pariah. I’ve heard Black people be harder on one another than anybody from outside the community, and that really hurts me and anybody else who adores our culture and loves our us-ness, I’m sure. It’s like joining forces with a bully who’s making it his business to taunt your sister instead of defending her because she’s blood.
So I’m fittin’ to head over to the body shop and shell out this money that should be going to paying off a bill or an expense for Girl Child’s upcoming 8th grade graduation or a new pair of sandals for me to wear once the weather stabilizes. I don’t hold it against Blackness. But I do hold it against the individual fool responsible and will be checking side view mirrors for smudges of blue paint. I don’t watch all those crime shows for nothin’.