A Leaf Falls On

This blog is predicated on my living in a town where the sight of a black person turns heads and boggle minds. Lately, my sanity is predicated on getting away from twisted heads and boggled states. Far away, not just from the reality of being judged or prejudged, but from the fear of it happening, anticipating reality. It’s my perpetual Maple Street dilemma: Does keeping the blog mean losing my mind?

Tar spot, a disease of maples caused by Rhytisma acerinum.

Fall is here. I have not written for a while, but that is not because there is nothing to say. It’s because there is too much to say. Questions, there are plenty of: Was it a mistake to move here? Even if you take into account the joy bursting from small feet that tear across an endless yard; even if over the river and through the woods really does lead to grandmother’s house — not just in a song or on Thanksgiving but several times a week, every week; even with the smattering of area families who are like us and who seem happy, or at least more well-adjusted: Was it the right thing or the wrong thing to leave Boston for a town where we are visible curiosities? If it’s not a mistake yet, will it turn out to have been later, when those little feet begin to step into biracial identity? Does asking these question reflect a lack of mental toughness? A weakness of will? Can we belong somewhere just by declaring that we do?

I used to be patient; I used to be the person who told other black people to calm down. A black editor once led me, the new girl, on a tour of a newsroom by introducing me only to other black reporters. I remember feeling so sorry for him. I thought: It’s 1994. What is that about? Now it’s 2011, and I know what it’s about.

Not too long ago, I could find the humor in almost anything — even, at times, in ignorance. Even in racial ignorance, and even in racial ignorance directed at me. I don’t know where that person went. I suspect she may have been ground to dust, trying to help a succession of well-meaning, white-gloved folks hear the sound of their own quiet racism. Quiet racism, while polite and muted, can be deafening; if I’m having this much trouble tuning it out, I worry for my 6-year-old, my 4-year-old and my 2-year-old.

I came home the other day to find the UPS man in my driveway. A package!

Right there was my problem, apparently. I thought I could just come home and get a package.

“I’m just leaving this for the owners.” My hand goes out, his hand pulls back.

“You live here?”

Yes.

“You . . . live here?”

That time, he got me wondering. Here, in this driveway and with this package withheld, am I living?

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15 Comments

  1. SaraEric
    Posted – Oct 15 at   | Permalink | Reply

    Thud. That’s the sound of my disgust.

    Helping someone who doesn’t know or appreciate how they’re being helped is exhausting. A newborn is my most recent experience.

    Thanks for sharing with us. The funny and the awful.

  2. Posted – Oct 16 at   | Permalink | Reply

    That’s the thing; it all becomes your responsibility; your fault. You expected to come to your house and get your package. Your bad. Sometimes I expect to just go to the park and not have someone ask if my son is mine. My bad. All the responsibility for managing expectations and educating people and keeping cool just gets so heavy. The weight of it sometimes saps my sense of humor. But hey, tomorrow’s another day, right?

  3. Posted – Oct 16 at   | Permalink | Reply

    My husband and I sometimes talk about our preference for loud racism. It is much easier when you can readily identify those who harbor hatred, fear, and ignorance. Their name-calling and vocal opinions are a warning beacon that lets us know what we’re dealing with. It’s when we encounter those people who quietly make assumptions, silently refuse to even acknowledge our existence as human beings, that we begin to worry about our family. They hide behind masks–often the masks of educated, self-proclaimed liberal and “post-racial” middle class people. Those are the people we worry about most; their quiet racism is just like you said: deafening.

    • Posted – Oct 17 at   | Permalink | Reply

      ah yes, jen — the “but-i-voted-for-obama-so-i-can’t-be-racist” liberals. they look harmless, but when you least expect it, they can literally stun you with ignorance. they will do or say anything to avoid examining their own prejudice, their own privilege or their own power.

      • Posted – Oct 21 at   | Permalink

        I heard a phrase on the radio earlier this week that has stuck with me: “There sure is a lot of racism around for a country where no one is a racist…”

      • Posted – Oct 23 at   | Permalink

        right. it’s exists, somewhere out there, people will admit. but it is never, ever in the room or the office or the neighborhood or the institution they happen to be standing in. and god help you if you suggest that it might be.

  4. Posted – Oct 17 at   | Permalink | Reply

    Living in Maine, I understand this piece very well. In 10 years here, I have had similar moments, I now hate having to deal with contractors because it never fails that I get what I call the eye blink and that look of…oh, you live here?

    That said, my son from my previous marriage spent a good chunk of time in Maine and is now in college back in the midwest. He went through a few years where being here was hard but now at the ripe old age of 19, he feels living in prepared him well for life.

    Living in places like this where we stand out are hard, I think it’s even harder when you don’t what I call that sista circle locally to get support, in my case it’s a virtual circle though I have a few folks here I can just vent with. I also know sometimes I need a few days to just get away and be in a place where I don’t always have to be on and can be myself. Don’t let it get you down.

    • Posted – Oct 17 at   | Permalink | Reply

      black girl in maine!! so excited to find you again (or be found by you, i should say).

      to be supported like this, by you and others, gives me such a warm feeling. it means a lot. sometimes, it’s hard to “just ignore it” and let it roll off my back, even though people who care about me urge me to do just that.

      and yes, the feeling of needing to get away is powerful. that day, as soon as my oldest got off the bus from school, i packed everyone up and headed for Boston. the traffic was hell at that hour, and i knew it would be, but i didn’t care.

      send me an email! we still need to have that talk.

  5. Posted – Oct 17 at   | Permalink | Reply

    I wonder if this town was (or maybe still is), a Sun Down town?

    • Posted – Oct 17 at   | Permalink | Reply

      not sure, but i think we may need a more expansive, 21st century definition of a sundown town, to include places that give you an overwhelming urge to get in your car and drive to the closest critical mass of non-white people.

  6. Posted – Oct 17 at   | Permalink | Reply

    oof. Painful.

  7. Posted – Oct 20 at   | Permalink | Reply

    You’ve won the Liebster Award!: http://www.yesweretogether.com/2011/10/liebster-blog-award.html

    • Posted – Oct 23 at   | Permalink | Reply

      wow – i’m amazed! not sure how a blogger could win anything after just six months, but i really appreciate this! the support means a lot to me. now i guess it’s my turn to pay it forward 🙂

  8. Posted – Oct 30 at   | Permalink | Reply

    IME, it’s hard to have a sense of humor about things that affect your kids.

  9. bookbutterfly
    Posted – May 15 at   | Permalink | Reply

    I really like your writing. I laughed so hard. What did you say to the UPS guy after he said that?
    I guess you probably groan about having to ‘educate’ people on racial diversity all the time – but you are, by your very existence and living in that house, busting open that guy’s single story of black women and where they ‘can’ live.

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