I work in Downtown Cleveland. We have a problem with the homeless panhandling in the area.
I wear a uniform to work. I am an African-American female. My hair is locked (dread locked). I work full time, earn a decent penny, and own my home (in a suburb). I am a quick-witted, polite, well-read Starbucks fiend who is only rude if someone comes between me and my grande-traditional (dark)-roast-with-hazelnut-and-room-for-cream (and 2 equal) [this is all said in one breath]. I am divorced, a mom, a lesbian, a writer, a painter...I mean really who has time for all their labels; what is most important for this posting is that I am a law abiding, employed, relatively normal citizen (I mean, really, I even VOTE).
I am fat and need to lose weight, but at 5'4", intimidating is not one of the labels I would think apply to me, at all.
But am I?
I have come to see that on any given day, regardless of the time of day, I strike fear in the hearts of those who pass me.
Most days I laugh at this. I have arrived at 1:40 for my 2:00 shift and asked passersby if they had change for a dollar (dollar in hand) and they would speed past me or say no! Men walking fast with change jingling in their pockets. WTF? You gotta laugh. Most days.
I have walked down the street and watched women move their purses to the other side of their bodies.
Oh shit. Most time, I must admit, if I am in a very bad mood, I will look over as she is passing and say "BOO!" Bitchy, I know but WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU SEE?
I am a police dispatcher. I can check any U.S. citizen for warrants, driving records, criminal history, etc. I can find out all sorts of nifty information with just one other piece of information, I get paid well to know how to do this. In the military I had a security clearance. I know Korean, and some Spanish (more than most people but not fluently). I have heard more shit about the things that human beings do to one another than most people could even imagine. But, for whatever reason, even wearing that uniform with the badge and the police department patch, I am frightening to some people. And, wearing that uniform, I am invisible and dispensible to others.
I want to say that this never bothers me.
But, I haven't lied to you before, why would I want to start now.
It infuriates me.
My former sister-in-law, used to have her boyfriends call our house, listen to our answering machine and then have a ball because the guy would never guess that it was a black woman speaking. She'd corner them into conversations where they swore that they could tell some one's race by their voice; she always won the bet. She got a kick out of explaining that I was her sister's girlfriend. I should probably call Beth and give her my new phone number, just for giggles.
Every so often I call a store and ask an employee to hold something for me and it rarely fails that when I get there they have a hard time hearing me. Not because I don't speak well, but because they were expecting something else. I mean I don't look like my name should be Kellie--in their minds at least. I know what's going through their minds when they say "What's your name?"
They are expecting something 'ethnic' or 'colorful', and I don't mean to disappoint. Kelly is a shade of green, so it has some color to it. But, it seems that they are listening hard for something else: a unique name, or poor diction. I guess the disappointment of not having to work hard to decipher my meaning causes a shortage. I end up repeating myself anyway. Now it's a running joke in my family, we wait for it and laugh. I know they can understand me; I talk for a living.
It is my job to be articulate and clear.
But at those moments, I also feel very alone. Because even though I know I haven't done anything wrong I am still the one viewed as suspicious.
I mean, of course that guy should have made sure his alarm was set when he turned and saw... ME?
Is it my brown skin? My nappy, nontraditional styled hair? My uniform? Or is it racism or classist?
It's not just downtown. At my favorite lesbian bar, I am eyed suspiciously. My hair is too long and ethnic. I wear make-up (most times), carry a purse, wear tight jeans and heels. Though I enjoy Killian's, I often order red wine--preferably a Zinfandel. I mean I just don't fit in.
I stick out like a sore thumb nearly everywhere I go.
But I am tired of being polite in the face of other people's rude behavior. I am tired of turning the other cheek.
The only place that I have not found this, recently, has been my church...and I haven't been there in months.
I mean I really wish I could have people know that I am not anything they would probably assume of me.
I took my last semester of classes on line. I would bet that most of the students in my English class especially, where I earned something ridiculous like 107%, would pass out if they had a picture to accompany my ass-kicking essays and test scores.
But the truth of the matter is, I am glad that those people walk on by, because if they are so shallow that they cannot see past my hair or skin color or uniform, they do not deserve my time.
The thing most people don't get is that we are all outsiders, somewhere and in some way.
Being different is the tie that binds us-it is what most of us know. It is one chord that rings true most often among us.
But, it sure is lonely and cold sometimes walking alone.
For everyone who can relate, in one way or another, I dedicate People Are Strange by The Doors (yup, I'm a fan; please don't say you're surprised)
People are strange, when you're a stranger
Faces look ugly when you're alone
Women seem wicked, when you're unwanted
Streets are uneven, when you're down
When you're strange- faces come out of the rain (rain, rain)
When you're strange- no one remembers your name
When you're strange, when you're strange, when you're str-ange
PS: I hope you can see the irony of the situation. I am the person who people call for help, often in their worse moments; but on the streets they run from me. It really does make me laugh out loud as long as I am having a day where I can laugh at it. Every day is different.