By Dale St.Marthe
You know that one response some people use when somebody else says something offensive. “How could you say that, it’s 2017!” Well, to an elderly person, my grandma for example, the year don’t mean nothing. When you were born into racism and were raised having to navigate it constantly, it may be difficult to let go. It would also be hard to believe that in your lifetime, white people would just lose the capacity for racism. Considering how recently Jim Crow laws got “abolished” one would be delusional to think racism is dead.
So when I was driving my best white friend around, and had to drop something off at my grandparent’s house…I had a feeling things were going to get awkward. It usually gets awkward when Urban Chameleons try to mix their two lives together. It becomes more of a clash. But I was in the car like;
We pull up to the house. It was a bright hot Florida day and my white friend was reflecting all that sunlight looking like a ghost behind my windshield. Whoever opened the door of the house was bound to see them in the car so I insisted they stay somewhere behind me, just so it wouldn’t look like I was hiding them or being rude. Sure enough my grandmother opened the door and I was blasted with the smell of stewing yams and chicken.
She greeted me with a “Yaaaaaaay Daley my boyyyyy!” and gave me a big hug. My friend was right behind me, and she spotted them looking nervous. My grandma exclaimed “Oh! Who is this?” and I replied
Me: “Aunty this is Riley, he’s my BEST friend… from work.”
Riley: “Hi Miss St. Marthe. It’s a pleasure to meet you!”
Grandma: “…Ooh ok that’s-”
Just then my grandfather pops up behind her and greets me graciously as well. His eyes scan the uncannily grinning face of my white friend. The whole time my grandmother is giving me the “you gon explain this later” side-eye.
I really could not stand the tension. I knew what they thought about white people. Especially in the south, you’re constantly given reasons not to f with white people. Just take a ride down to the suburban area and you will see confederate flags galore, and white trash chugging beers glowering at you. The fact that I called Riley here my “best” friends…they are probably thinking “Oh my lord there aren’t any Black people at your job? This is some coon antics you cookin up here. I better not hear him say the N-word round here…hard R or not.”
But I can’t blame them; after all I am an Urban Chameleon. The white people I’m usually around aren’t as overtly racist as those country hicks but they can be really ignorant sometimes. Being discriminated because of something you can’t control, because of your very identity for no good reason would make extreme caution or racism reasonable on my grandparent’s part. And you already know they got a Black Jesus painting hanging somewhere, and in that moment all I could think was,
To rap the conversation up I said “Alright well I’ll leave the barrel you guys wanted me to get out back and I’ll see you guys…” I could sense that Riley was feeling my anxiety in this situation so he said “I’ll uhhh go get the barrel.” As he left both of my grandparent’s gazes fell on me and my grandfather remarked “So you got the hwhite man working for you is that it?” After some nervous laughter I said
Me: “No he’s a good friend; he’s not like the white people around here.”
Grandma: “Ohh well you say that now…until you piss ‘em off. Then they show their true ugly selves.”
Me: “Don’t worry y’all I choose my friends wisely.”
Grandpa: “We just worried that’s all.”
After that we exchanged goodbyes and I left feeling a little better, though it is a weird feeling knowing a part of your family hates one of your good friends. As an Urban Chameleon I do try consciously to give my white friends a chance, but there is that side of me that’s like what if one day they pull a “you people” on me? Like they blame some spout of emotion from me as a “Black” thing? I’d be extremely inclined not to give any of them a chance again just like my grandparents. If I learned anything from them it’s that you can never be too careful.