I went to see Suzanne Lori Parks play Venus tonight, it’s the story of the South African woman Sarah Baartman who was enslaved by profiteers who exploited her as a side show act because of her, compared to European standards of beauty, large buttocks and genitalia. The show shines the light on the history of dehumanization, sexualization, medical testing and objectification of the black woman.
It was an intense play. The audience was beautifully racially mixed. A white woman sat next to me, perhaps in her 70’s, expensive glasses, tailored clothes, hair slicked back into a severe pony tail hair mostly silver with streaks of black, skin pale, wrinkled. Sophisticated looking.
She paid no attention as her coat smacked me in the arm as she removed it. She took over the arm rest. She stepped on my injured foot no excuse me or acknowledgement that I was sitting next to her.
I was invisible.
I said nothing moved my body as far away from her as I could, and I focused on talking to my friend. I let go of all the negative energy that woman brought up in me. You see, this happens all the time. Many(NOT ALL the friend who came to the show with me is a white woman) white women of all ages in NYC (and other places) just are rude to Black women. Lacking the basic common courtesy of saying,”hello” or “pardon me”. They just act as if black women do not exist.
The first act of the show finishes and it is just brilliant. Sad. It shows how white men trick Sarah into the side show and how a white woman who runs the side show takes advantage of Sarah.
The curtain is down, it’s intermission. I come back with my water and for some reason the older white woman now, wants to talk to me.
She looks down her nose at me through those huge grey round plastic framed glasses, glasses that probably cost $1000 and says,” You know, this is based on a true story.”
“Of course I know it’s a true story. I read a book about Sara Baartman when I was in High school, many years ago.”
“Well, I was reading the information in the lobby…did you know that…”blah blah blah. She starts rattling off what she just learned in the lobby as if she’s telling me something I don’t know. Her tone, so condescending. Similar to the attitudes of some of the characters we’ve just seen on stage. I look straight ahead as she talks.
A plus sized black woman stands up to stretch a few yards down from us.
The white woman sitting next to me says “…and her body was just scientific marvel… I mean just…well look at that woman you can see …” I interrupted her “Don’t.” I said. I looked right into her eyes beyond those stupid ass glasses. ” Oh well I didn’t mean…” I turned my head and looked straight ahead. ” Oh well I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m just saying that that woman’s body is a perfect example of…” I gave her a look that silenced her immediately. There was a long pause. The woman continued, “Well I apologize if I offended you. But I’m simply pointing out the similarity of the woman…”
I turned to her and calmly advised, “It would serve you well to stop talking. Immediately.” She looked stunned. I turned my back to her, ending the conversation immediately. My friend looked at me wanting to say something… I said,” The lighting designer’s use of ….” I think the woman mumbled something to her husband or friend …I continued my conversation with my friend and then intermission was over and the second act began.
It felt good to not take care of this woman. You see so often people of color are forced to deal with white people who say offensive things, and we, the people of color are the ones who have to be polite. Free speech seems to be only for white people and the rest of us, must swallow our free speech in order to make white people comfortable and not hurt their oh so delicate feelings.
Normally I think of the smart thing to say hours or days after something happens. Tonight, the right words came at the right time and I did not hesitate. I did not protect this woman, who did not even see me, until she needed someone to soothe her white guilt. White people in this country are so used to having free speech, and complaining when we the people of color counter their free speech with ours. Yet they call us “over sensitive”.
For a while now I’ve given no fucks when it comes to my free speech responding to racial bias. Yes I live in NYC and yes intellectual white liberal racism is huge here. And I stopped taking care of white people’s feelings and speak my truth. Let them deal with the consequences.
And it’s not even about me saying anything. I’ve found the power of dark. I can give a white person a look that will scare the shit out of them. If I don’t smile when they make their biased jokes, if I respond to their pretend clueless questions and comments with silence…they become uncomfortable. When I question their subtle racist comments they have no idea how to deal with conflict.
Ain’t white guilt a bitch? Well…deal with it.
This black woman is at the point where she has no time to take care of the feelings of fragile white folks.
Grow up and deal with my free speech.