In honor of Obama’s speech, MLK Jr day, an approaching Black History Month, and the color brown, I would like to tell a story. It is the story of a town, the confused town in which I was raised. You may have read here before about how some people in my hometown were a tad close-minded, but back in the nineties interracial dating was an event. I dated Rodney B. in seventh grade, and people still bring it up when I go home.
“Remember when you had Jungle Fever?” they ask seventeen years later. It usually comes after “Hey, remember when you were on that show Dog Eat Dog?” which was over 10 years ago. People in my town might be racists, but they sure have amazing memories.
What saved me from falling down the racist hole were my open-minded parents. They’d seen the world and met people outside of our tiny suburb, so they were able to teach me that all kinds of people are exciting. I also think I was black in a previous life because once when I was 8 my dad told me I could have any hat I wanted in the hat store, and I chose the Malcolm X hat. Maybe I liked it because it was purple, but I probably am Malcolm X reincarnated. I’d like to note that I’ve never been in a hat store since.
It was junior year, and I was pretty excited about going to the big homecoming dance. I was pretty excited about going to any high school dance because I saw them as status symbols. In four years, I went to 5 proms and 6 homecomings. So, that means I had a lot of statuses. It also means I desperately wanted everyone to think I was cool and that my mom had money to buy me new dresses (she didn’t, but she bought them anyway).
I must also admit that junior year was a time of rebellion. We would get drunk in parking lots and go dancing at Zero Gravity, an 18-and-up dance club that served pizza while guys who didn’t yet know how to use their penises would grind them on girls from behind. And we let them because we didn’t yet know how to use boundaries. It was a wondrous atmosphere.
I had a supercrush on Rob, the bouncer. He had carmel-colored skin with hazel eyes and a smooth shaved head. This was Michael Jordan’s heyday, and Rob was a shorter version (He probably had smaller feet too and wasn’t as good at basketball.). Best of all, he lived in an apartment all by himself because he was super old, like 19. Knowing Rob was such a status symbol because that meant my friends and I could walk up to the front door of Zero Gravity in our slut costumes and get right in. Yes, you guys. I had a hook-up at the underage dance club that served pizza in the suburban Chicagoland area. You had no idea how cool I really was.
One night, my friends and I went back to Rob’s apartment (which was complete with those psychedelic posters that make you see stuff if you stare at them long enough) and, with a vodka-induced bravado, I asked Rob to homecoming. He said YES! I immediately imagined our fun night of dancing, the limo ride to a swanky-for-teenagers dinner, our subsequent marriage, and beautiful caramel-colored babies (even in high school, my mind went straight to babies. Stilllll going there.).
As I bragged about Rob’s cool posters at school that week, Travis Z, a mega popular football player (yes, I really thought like that in 1997) said that he’d wanted to go to homecoming with me. Ugh, I was torn. The whole week he begged me to change my plans, laying on his popular guy charm and using the argument that I wouldn’t have to babysit him like I would Rob. Even though Travis called me a ‘cunt’ in fifth grade, I decided to go with him to the big Homecoming gala.
Homecoming came. Travis didn’t want to dance. He seemed to hate everything about an event that I thought was as essential as air. He maybe said three words. He came over to my house after the dance and threw up all over my room, leaving a stain that we finally just got rid of last year. I yelled at him through pukey sobs, and he screamed:
I didn’t really want to go to the dance with you. I just didn’t want you to go with a black guy.
Yeah. He said that. He planned that. He got dressed up in a suit, bought a ticket, reserved a limo, and endured weeks of me talking about our plans and my dress only so a black guy wouldn’t come into our school. He ruined my night because he didn’t want a black guy in our school. He spent an entire night with me (you’ll never guess it, but I was probably not the funnest in 1997) JUST because he didn’t want me to bring a person of color into our school. I’m feeling sick just writing this out.
That is some serious hatred right there. Disgusting. Racist. Hatred.
But I don’t hate him back. We learned about projections in psychology school, and I love seeking them out in myself. The gist is that we are unable to judge people or feel a certain way about a person unless we recognize those same feelings within ourselves. It works positively and negatively. For example, I admire Oprah because she’s ambitious, creative, and is fascinated by people. If I take a look at myself, I will find that I’m ambitious, creative, and fascinated by people. And it works negatively. Whatever Travis hated about a different race, he surely hated about himself. So, I am guessing his life and the life of any racist or bigot is probably pretty horrible, filled with self-judgment and unworthiness and lots of lots of hatred from the inside. So, today I’d like to ask to send compassion to that hater and all the haters the world over. Let’s add them to our carts that are already filled with the celebratory toasts of mixed-race presidents, Civil Rights leaders, married gay people, and everyone else who deserves a hug and a shout and a ‘FUCK YEA!’ because we have come a long, long way from when MLK Jr took the stage and even from when I had Jungle Fever for the very first time. And the second few times. And even just from four years ago when our country elected a president because of who he was and not because he fit a mold. Our congress doesn’t get along and there are crazies shooting kids and climate change is ruining our crops, but we DO have a lot to be proud of. I really think there are less Travises today. Maybe not in congress, but definitely in the world.
And if that doesn’t make you feel better, find solace in the fact that Travis Z. is currently serving three years in federal prison for extortion!