You, as a minority, can relate to me — but know when you cross the line
The invisible line between Hispanics, black folks and racial slurs
My neighbor and I do not like the same lady. She’s a black woman in our building who swears people are monitoring and stealing her packages. She knocked on my door once at 11:30 p.m., asking if I’d seen her mail. I stood there, with conditioned hair dripping onto my shoulders, assuming that if someone knocked on my door at 11:30 p.m., it’s got to be important. The you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me look on my face quickly let her know this was a stupid decision. I told her to talk to the property manager or call USPS.
But when I closed the door, I heard her on the phone, insisting that I “claim” to not know where her package was. Whoever was on the receiving end of the call was told that she was going to start “stealing everybody’s s — t” since her mail was coming up missing. She didn’t think I heard her in the lobby. I did. I posted signs all over the building, asking if anyone had seen her package to leave it in the doorway so she’d stop knocking on people’s doors late at night and thinking they stole her mail. And because I’m a smart-ass, I made sure to point out that I “don’t know you, don’t want to know you and can afford to buy anything you have in the mail.” I was beyond furious that a black woman would accuse another black woman of stealing — without a shred of proof.
Mail Girl got into it about her mail with my neighbor (mentioned above), too, a woman who is Puerto Rican and Mexican. We both found out about Mail Girl’s tirades and traded complaints about why she is the absolute worst. I hadn’t spoken to Mail Girl for an entire year — before she knocked on my door a second time last month, complaining about her missing mail again. This time though, I barked that I didn’t like her approach at all and wanted to know why she was so obsessed with the idea that I was stealing her mail.
She explained that she thought since I lived on the main floor that I would have possibly seen her package. My response, “If the mail is not for me, I don’t care.” Shortly after, she found out that the mail carrier had dropped it off at the wrong door solely because she used her maiden name instead of her married one (on the mailbox) and then didn’t add her condo number. She had to admit that it was her own fault that she wasn’t getting her mail. I shook my head and told her she needed to change her approach when making accusations like that. She shrugged it off, instead choosing to tell me about how she owns her own business and USPS are terrible delivery people. I really truly from the bottom of my heart didn’t give a damn about her views on anything. I closed my door. We need not speak further — ever.
The “wrong” kind of black woman?
I never expected to defend this lady. It surprised me when I did. But something didn’t sit right with me when my Hispanic neighbor said: “This bitch is a bad example of a black woman.” Time stopped. I know for sure I wouldn’t have been offended if it was another sista making this comment. But hearing a non-black woman say this made me uncomfortable. The hair on my arms rose. My head started to ache. And I let out the longest sigh, as I listened to her go on and on about her black friends and how they act nothing like this lady.
This was a weird place to be in. On one hand, I did not want to defend Mail Girl, a black woman who knows good and hell well that it’s a violation to just accuse another black person of stealing something. By no means should we ever not comprehend how that feels to be racially profiled, and the two people she swore up and down took her package (from the loud conversation in the lobby) were both black women — one African-American (me) and one African couple (across the hall). I lost all respect for her, but there was this funny feeling that I should defend her. It just felt unsettling to me to hear someone accuse another sista of being the “wrong” kind of black woman — even if the comment was coming from someone I like and is also of a minority race.
So I took a different approach. I pointed out that Mail Girl could’ve been any race and still been annoying. I told my neighbor it had zip zero to do with her race and everything with her just being bitchy for no reason. (I use the term “bitch” sparingly and never as a compliment, but if it fits the personality then it is what it is.) My neighbor nodded her head, shrugging and moving onto the next conversation. In my mind, this conversation was dead. We could move on, and I hoped to never have a “good/bad” black person conversation again.
Shortly after, my neighbor and I got on the topic of men and relationships, but I winced in that conversation, too. I counted her using the n-word twice before she went off on a tangent about her ex being disrespectful. By the third n-word, I blurted out, “You know what? Since we’re on the topic of disrespect, I find you using that word kinda disrespectful too.”
She looked shocked and immediately had a sorrowful look on her face. I told her I don’t use the term, so I know she can cease using it — at least around me. She apologized immediately. In all fairness, I used to fling the n-word around like it was a yo-yo throughout high school and the early part of college. But hearing a couple of non-black girls (one Native American, one white) in college use it “because my black friends don’t care” soured me on the word completely. (I had an extensive conversation with both of them before deciding it was a waste of my time. They’d watched way too much BET and transitioned into B-Rad from “Malibu’s Most Wanted.” It would’ve taken an entire semester to explain cultural appropriation to those two.)
My neighbor’s response, “But I’m not white though.”
My response, “You’re not black either. Would you mind if I started using racial slurs about Puerto Ricans and Mexicans?”
Her response, “I would be stunned if you did.”
My response, “So imagine how I feel right now.”
Her response, “But I didn’t say it with the er, just the a.”
My response, “I can substitute some letters in slurs for you. Would that make it better?”
She nodded. “OK. I see your point. I didn’t mean to offend you.”
She switched to describing her ex as a “fuckboy.” Now that I had no problem with because he definitely fit the prototype.
Minority groups have a special bond. We can relate to each other without saying a word, especially when it comes to isms. But each group also has its own internal wars when it comes to colorism, racism and sexism. There are some moments where we need to address each other’s differences and draw a line in the sand. No matter how much we are alike, we have to be respectful of each other’s variants, too. The first step is speaking up about it (like me and my neighbor did). The second step is acknowledging each other’s views whether we may immediately agree or not. The third step is respecting that as much as we connect in the driver’s seat on many excursions, we definitely need to stay in our own lanes on certain subjects (the n-word being one of many).
She and I sat outside chatting for over three hours, talking about everything from motherhood to men to race and recipes. This wasn’t the first time we’ve blabbed for hours on end, but it was the first time we approached the topic of race. However, the best part of the whole conversation was that we didn’t have to dance around controversial issues. There were no “well, how come your race can say ______________ but I can’t” nor were there “but she is the wrong kind of __________________.” I said my peace. She said hers. And I hope both of us leave with a better understanding of the other — and a mutual disgust for people of any race who knock on strangers’ doors around midnight about their dumb mail.
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