If Changing One’s Skin Was Only a Palatable Option

There has never been a single moment in my life that my ethnicity has not at least been cognizant in the back of my mind. My skin color is not something that I can readily remove or discard. It is stuck with me like the blood in my veins, if I intend to remain living. The stereotypes and prejudgments that others harbor have always been a factor in every job application; checking the box “African American” on a job application; the only comfortable seat on the bus is in the rear because the white folks are terrified of black men—clutching purses and shooting sneer looks—and I am a sell-out to my people if I sit anywhere else; and a black man must have a huge penis so he must be a player because black men know nothing of fidelity and loyalty, to say nothing of honor and integrity nor self-love.  Because all of these stereotypes haunt my every step there is no component of my life that can be compartmentalized in such a way as to suggest that they do not all intersect in every event or activity I engage in; but for the sake of argument, I will describe a job I once had. When I was seventeen years old I worked as a pizza cook for Godfather’s Pizza. I was exhilarated when I got the job and thought I earned it because of my ambition and charism. Until that point, the only other job I had was working for the Department of Natural Resources in a juvenile detention center when I was sixteen, clearcutting Vine Maples and fighting forest fires. Sadly though, I got the job because I was a young black male and shortly after I started working there the manage, who was a middle-aged white woman, made this readily apparent to me by making several explicit passes at me while on the clock and grabbing my butt. So, although my ethnicity was not a bar to entry in this case as it has been in so many others, my ethnicity was nonetheless, a bar my capacity to perform, to my character, to my humanity. I was nothing more than eye-candy ripe for the plucking. I was a child back then and I did not know a tenth of what I know now and even if I did, I don’t think I would have done anything because I felt that a man was supposed to desire that sort of attention and I wore the stereotypes I thought were positive as a badge of honor; “I won a middle-aged white woman’s attention.” In those rare instances when I have either forgotten my ethnicity, or I have hoped that others have, I have only been sadly disappointed to discover that yet again, my skin color is the first, most, and last thing that most people ever notice. This is especially true when I am confronted with authority figures with badges brandishing weapons and blinding blue and red lights; “Hands up where I can see them,” not having done anything wrong.

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