by Rhonda Sherrod, J.D., Ph.D. (c) 2013
“I’m always annoyed about why black people have to bear the brunt of everybody else’s contempt. If we are not totally understanding and smiling, suddenly we’re demons.”
On Friday, I bounced onto the bus, en route to downtown Chicago from my suburban home, briefcase flying one way and my purse another. When the bus lurched forward as I was advancing toward a seat, my attempts at maintaining my equilibrium ended with the papers I had been reading, while waiting at the bus stop, high-flight sailing all over the back of the bus as I stumbled to a seat. It was a decidedly less than graceful moment.
Just as I was about to exhale a disgusted little sigh two brothers bolted from their seats, practically fighting over who would perform the rescue. Finally, the victor caught the papers, before they even hit the filthy floor of the bus, and served them up to me with a smile.
“Thank you, thank you so much,” I gushed to my hero. Then I turned to his competitor and enthusiastically thanked him, too, for trying.
Both smiled that coolness that brothers exude as another older brother, flanking me on my other side, engaged:
“Got somewhere important to go?” he ventured, smiling sweetly.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Yes, I am.”
He waited… so, I continued: “I have an important business luncheon. I just started my own business not too long ago.”
“Wow? I hope it goes well,” he enthused, with such sincerity and genuineness it almost startled me. This stranger, whom I had never seen before, seemed so invested in my success – it was a throwback to the way it used to be.
“I do, too,” I smiled warmly. “I do, too.”
“Well,” he said, continuing emphatically, “I always start with ‘I will.’ You know, ‘I will have a good meeting. I will get what I need to make this business go.’”
“Okay,” I said, by now lost in his thoughts on the matter.
Eventually, I returned to reading the papers that had cascaded out of my hands. When I looked up again, I found myself scrutinizing each of the three Black men with whom I had just briefly interacted. I studied them intently. One was looking out the window with his headphones on, his face tight and weary from life, but still comfortably lost in his music, at least for the moment, I supposed. The younger one was, no doubt, reading a text or looking at something amusing on the internet judging from his laughter and the delighted little expression on his face as he viewed his cell phone; and my “philosopher” — that sweet, gentlemanly elder — well, he was scanning his environment with what I came to realize was a perpetual smile on his face.
Suddenly, I felt overwhelmed – overwhelmed with a sense of grief and sadness. My thoughts centered around how unfair it is for Black men to have to constantly fight the vicious stereotypes, long put forth by the dominant culture, that portray them as anything but who they are: good, kind, generous human beings doing what we are all doing. They are trying to make it in a tough, often cold, and unforgiving world. Then, to have to constantly carry that reprobate baggage that others have draped around their necks, like a huge oppressive weight, well, anyone can grasp just how unfair that is…
On my way home from a successful meeting, I sat down on the bus and heard an excited, “Hey!” I looked up into the smiling face of my philosopher. What were the chances that I would run into him again on my way home…
He interrupted my thoughts: “How did it go?” he asked with the same benevolent intensity he had displayed earlier.
“It went well — really, really well,” I replied.
“Wonderful,” he exclaimed. “I knew it would. I’ll see you later.”
We were at his stop, so he bounced off the bus, still smiling.
Ah, brothers… I wish other people would stop projecting their problems and inhumanity onto you. I wish you were free of other people’s psychopathology, and I wish so many of you would stop internalizing other people’s sickness to your extreme detriment. I wish more of you could see yourselves the way I do, because it really is okay for you to throw off the yoke of other people’s insanity and step into your greatness.
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