… and sometimes you really wouldn’t understand.
The phrase “It’s a black thing, you wouldn’t understand” is a trite quip, and I’ve never cared for it. I do use it sometimes, but only with my dad, only in jest, and only when we are teasing my mom.
Today, however, I find myself thinking about the phrase, and thinking I may have underestimated its truth.
Let me explain.
I had jury duty today. I wasn’t jazzed about having to go, not because I didn’t want to do my civic duty, but because my summons required me to show up at the courthouse at 7-fucking-45 a.m.
IN THE MORNING.
If you know me at all, you know that I don’t believe in “7:45 a.m.” In fact, I don’t believe in anything before 9:30 a.m.
But I digress.
I woke up at 6:30, grumbled about it, fired off some grumpy tweets, got dressed, and (ultimately) left the house at about 7:30. I assumed the court clerks knew about Black People Time, so I figured if I showed up a bit late, they’d understand.
I have never served on a jury before, nor have I ever had to report for jury duty before. The last time I got a summons, I called in each day, but wasn’t required to report. Huzzah!
Not so lucky this time. Boo.
Unsure of the proper attire, and wanting to make sure that I wasn’t dressed in my usual homeless chic fashion (just in case I ran into any attorneys or judges that I know), I made sure to dress real-respectable like. I even threw on the sparkly cross-like pendant that I borrowed from my neighbor the other week when I covered the South Central Tea Party Rally for TheGrio.com. (Message!)
I also threw on a super cute pair of shoes that I never get to wear anymore now that my career consists of part-time non-profit literacy advocacy, and part-time sitting around in my underwear and blogging.
I made it to court in plenty of time, and after listening to the orientation blather, a couple hours of sitting around, and an hour of more blather, it was lunchtime.
I wandered to a restaurant, grabbed a burger and a Coke, and wandered back in the direction of the courthouse. As I was making my way back, I saw a small shop touting itself as a “cigar art lounge.” It looked interesting and I had a few minutes to kill, so I popped in.
As I was browsing in the store looking at the art (including an odd but awesome unicorn made of “recycled everything”), a man walked in.
He was about 60 years old, rotund, and sporting suspenders and a bowtie. He looked familiar. I kept furtively glancing at him, trying to figure out whether I knew him, and if so, how. I couldn’t place him, and since I was in a chatty mood, I struck up a conversation.
“Do you come here a lot?”
Yeah, I know. What kind of question is that? Who asks that of someone they are clearly not hitting on?
He responded: “I do. I’m known for leaving my half-smoked cigars on the couch.”
The lounge was outfitted with leather couches, and ashtrays so people could sit and smoke their cigars and fancy cigarettes in the store, away from the blazing California sun.
“Do you work around here?”
“Yeah,” he tutted in a decidedly odd manner.
I began to think that maybe I was overstepping my bounds. Maybe he was involved in the case for which a jury was being empaneled. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be talking to him. Maybe I should have followed instructions and worn my juror badge to lunch. (Even though it clashed with my outfit.)
Nonplussed, I pushed onward.
“Are you a judge?”
By this point, I thought that he had been the judge on a case I’d worked on five or so years ago. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was so hellbent on determining that he was or was not that particular judge. I was curious, I guess.
“No. Not a judge.” he said, and continued to puff on his cigar.
“Oh,” I replied. “Never mind, then. You just looked really familiar to me, and I thought maybe I had appeared before you at some point.”
He looked at me and said, “I’m not a judge. I’m a public defender. I look familiar to you? Hmm. I guess you might’ve been a client of mine.”
I might have been a client of his?! Seriously?!
I’m not really sure how the conversation went after that. That comment rattled around in my brain as I continued to chat amicably with him about being a public defender in Riverside, and how hard a job that was. I mentioned that I had a friend who was a D.A. in Riverside, but that was way after his time. I told him that I’m an attorney, but that I don’t practice anymore. He asked me if I did criminal work. I said I didn’t have the stomach for it and that I did insurance coverage work. He said that he had done insurance coverage work for a couple years and found it boring. I said I had enjoyed it and found it academic.
We chatted for a few more minutes, then I said my farewell and told him to enjoy his cigar.
In my head, I was telling him to shove the cigar up his ass.
I mean, really?!
Even now, several hours later, when I think about it, I yell – aloud, mind you – REALLY!?
I mean, COME ON!
He took one look at me – in my Chanel eyeglasses, my super cute shoes, my sparkly pendant and my oh so articulate manner of speaking — and the first thing that popped into his mind was IMPOVERISHED CRIMINAL. Even though I had specifically said that I thought that I had appeared before him — meaning, “I’m a lawyer, you nitwit!” — he thought, “CRIMINAL.”
And that’s really the thing, isn’t it?
Sometimes, no matter what I do, or what I wear, or how I speak, somebody is going to look at me and my dark skin, and think “Criminal” or “Doesn’t Belong” or “What is she doing here.”
It just happens. It’s happened for as long as I can remember, and I have no doubts that it will continue to happen.
I even coined a term for it: The soft bigotry of silly white people.
[cross-posted at ABLC]
[comments closed. you can kiss this black girl’s ass on my blog.]