Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.
Sadly, what I’m about to write is not fiction. It is a very real conversation from a few days ago with a young 20 something who made a most unfortunate discovery. Her experience once again shows me that everything has changed, but nothing is different.
Earth. What a strange, familiar, beautiful, ugly, amazing, disgusting, wonderful, heartbreaking planet I live on.
The day was a dusty blue four days ago. The drive to the supermarket was uneventful. Cars moved through green and yellow lights like bumps in a caterpillar. Some turned into Wendy’s, others into Walmart. Some headed for Office Depot or DollarTree. All of them toward something in their future. We were headed for the fruits and vegetables aisles. We talked and laughed and remembered the lemon yellow morning on a dusty blue canvas.
The girl, she was white. We call her acquaintance, sometimes friend. We’ve known her for only about a year with distance between the times when we speak. She is always all smiles, teeth white, cheeks pink, hair dark and quasi goth. She is medium height. Not fat, not skinny. Black work pants fitted snug. She didn’t belong there though, in those aisles. She had quit her job three months ago to go away to college in Jackson, Mississippi. But she was back now, in the chain supermarket aisle talking to us and working the self checkout line like a champ. She told us why she’d come back. It was against her will, but equally willed by her desire to not be transformed into something ugly.
She almost bubbled as she said, “My grandparents are racist!” We gasped in semi surprise, because in our brown skin this was not news. She said she showed them her friends on her tiny phone screen. Small figures locked inside an electronic device that doesn’t care who you are or what you look like. It just saves you there, suspended in time for as long as the device remains on. She was all smiles when she showed them her friends, her second family. They saw the brown faces and gasped in utter horror. Surprise was not enough for them, they needed something bigger, more theatrical.
They said they loved her. But at the end of our beliefs, what is love? Real love.
She said she never got to meet her father. He died when she was little; at least that is how I recalled the detail about her father. The bigness of her story distorts the details though. Only the feeling remains, the feeling of again. Always it reappears. Again. And again. And then only the words that stab are remembered as though set on fire in front of you.
This was her first time meeting her father’s parents, her paternal grandparents. They welcomed her. They bought her a brand new computer for school. They said they would be happy to have her stay with them while she attended college. She could not afford to stay on campus, so their gift to her was right on time. But the brown people in her phone changed everything. Her grandparents didn’t know that she was a “nigger lover”. They told her that as long as she had nigger friends, she couldn’t stay with them and would no longer be welcomed in their home. She had to leave.
She smiled at us and said she couldn’t believe they were racist. But I could believe, because I live inside my brown skin—everyday. I see the good and bad of people who are not brown. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it’s ugly. Sometimes it’s indifferent. Always it’s human. At times, to me, inhuman. Her smile, though, didn’t hide her pain. I saw deep inside her. She wondered about it all. But did she wonder if it was worth it? I don’t know. She, too, was human. And the wondering would have been human if it ever nudged her.
Her grandparents were human. Too human—whatever that might mean. She ultimately agreed with them and left. Because she would not give up her brown friends to satisfy their pathological condition. She would not compromise. So she fearlessly let go of an important part of her future, her college education, and returned to Laurel, Mississippi.
She returned to checkout lines and standing on her feet all day. She returned to minimum wage and a foggy future thick with uncertainty and long years of ladders leading to nowhere. She was a nigger lover. That is what they said. She did not deserve a comfortable and certain future. She deserved only scorn for knowing us and all the other faces in her phone, faces that stained her life brown and stymied her future.
I left the imposing supermarket feeling sad for her. She really was fearless. She could have erased the still brown bodies in her phone, the smiles she shared with them and enjoy college and a life outside of the aisles. But she didn’t. She let it go, for now, to fearlessly preserve her moral standards, dignity and belief that we are all people. We are all…human.