Back when I was a high school English teacher, I had a white female colleague (“Katie”) who not only dated black men but was also one of those white women who exclusively date black men and let everyone know that they only date black men whatever chance they get.
“Hey, were you able to download the newest version of GradeQuick?”
“Brothas just have so much swag.”
“I was on a date with Tyrone last night, and we went to Dave & Buster’s. Have you ever had their hot wings?”
Katie was one of a group of youngish teachers who all worked at the high school. There were eight or nine of us total, and we’d hang out in the teachers’ lounge, go out to eat with one another during the hourlong lunches we’d get during in-service days, and just generally use each other as sounding boards to vent about the rest of the school.
Once, while we were all at Red’s, the topic of conversation was interracial dating. Naturally, Katie was in her element: “Hakeem took me to this house party his frat brother threw last weekend. And, I don’t know, I felt like everyone’s eyes were on me the entire time. I know they were thinking I’d stolen one of their men or something. I just never felt comfortable.”
(“Debbie,” who was Katie’s closest friend among the teachers and the only black woman in this crew, chimed in.)
“Katie, babe. You know you’re my girl. But you need to chill.”
“Why? You’re saying I’m making this up?”
“No one gives a shit about you hooking up with Hakeem, babe. They probably just didn’t trust your ass. They weren’t thinking, ‘Why is Hakeem with this white woman?’ Nah. Just ‘Why is this white woman here? And is she gonna do some white shit?’”
I’m reminded of that story this week, as the Starbucks incident has segued to a larger (and better) conversation about how white people regard black people in spaces that are deemed “white.”
What happened in Starbucks could’ve very easily happened at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or any other entity that exists as a marker of the presence of polite whiteness.
We are, still, thought of as guests in America. And when we’re in spaces that don’t happen to be the spaces we’re expected to be and stay in, that visitor status is made more prominent. We are regarded with boundless skepticism. We are observed. We are watched. We are not trusted.
Anyway, I’m just here to say that we don’t trust y’all, either.
Conversations about how wary we (black people) are of white people tend to be centered in white-dominated spaces. We don’t trust all of those white people at work. We don’t trust all of those white people at Cracker Barrel. We don’t trust all of those white people on the plane. We don’t trust all of those white people in the woods.
But the white people who induce the most skepticism in me are the lone ones I see at predominantly black spaces.
Perhaps they’re cool and down. Maybe even cool and down enough to get a cool and down nickname, like “White Ben” or “White Joan.” But those are the white people who have me questioning why they’re there.
What is their agenda? What is their purpose? Why are they sitting there like that? Who brought them, or did they find this place on their own? Did they steal anything? What’s in her purse? Are they a scout? Wait ... is this the Man? Like, literally, in the flesh? If that is, in fact, the Man, should I take a selfie with him?
I’m rarely compelled to call the police on these suspicious whites. Perhaps because there’s always a chance the cops might come and assume the whites are the ones who called the cops on me. But perhaps I should.
We don’t query and quiz random white people enough, and I think it’s due time for them to answer some questions instead of allowing them to freely amble from place to place, making everyone nervous. Why should we be the only ones who need to practice alibi recitation?
So the next time you’re in a predominantly black space and you see a white person saunter in all whitely, ask if they need some help or something. If they say no, nod your head and just follow them around until they leave. We’re already suspicious of them, so why keep that information to ourselves?
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