Sunday, March 09, 2008

COLOR BLIND . . . or . . . COLOR STRUCK? (True Story) . . .

Back when I was a bright-eyed, twenty-some-year-old, college student and living in Memphis, I found myself frequenting a hair salon with a predominately-White clientele. The salon was one of those chains you typically find in a mall. Matter of fact, this one was located in what, at the time, was my favorite mall--the now demolished, though forever infamous (smile) Mall of Memphis.

Anyway, I was sporting a perm back then and I'd somehow lucked up on a fella at this particular salon who could give me that hot, poofed-out look all the PYT's were sporting in the '80s. So one day, I'm there sitting under the dryer (possibly getting a conditioner, I can't recall) when the older White lady seated next to me strikes up a conversation.

No biggie right? Happens all the time in salons across America, I'm sure. But hold on, this one was a little bit different. This lady, bless her lil ole heart, starts in on how she loves my color.

"Oh my, I just absolutely love your color! I'd give anything to be able to tan like that."

With the salon music blaring (Duran, Duran, no doubt) in the background and the dryer humming on full blast, it takes me a few seconds to process the information and to realize, okay, wait, she thinks I'm . . .

I've barely finished the thought when she smiles ever so sweetly and asks, "So are you Greek? Jewish? Italian?"

Okay, granted, I'm a card-carrying member of the light-skinned tribe. I have a tendency to wash out in pictures and grow pale in the winter-time. And, sure, my perm-straightened head was tucked inside of a dryer. But I'm sorry, the nose is a dead-give away. Till this day, how anyone could ever mistake me for anything other than a person of African descent, truly boggles my mind.

In any case, I smile ever so sweetly back at her and say, "No ma'am, actually, I'm African American."

The sweet little old lady's smile disappears and for the remainder of our stints beneath our respective dryers, she doesn't utter so much as another word in my direction. Go figure (LOL).

(Written while listening to Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady," "I Say A Little Prayer," and "Think.")


Emanuel Carpenter said...

LOL. I would have asked her if she still wanted to be my color.

I remember the Mall of Memphis. The last time I was there, it was pretty dead though.

This story kinda reminds me of a time when I was on a Greyhound bus that broke down. There was this older couple on the bus speaking Italian to each other. I understood everything they were saying having just left the Air Force where I had been stationed in Italy for a year (I'd taken classes too.). Anyway, everyone was moving their own luggage from the broken down bus to the replacement bus. I noticed they were struggling so I asked in Italian if I could help them. They declined and looked at me as if they'd seen a ghost. I'm sure they were thinking: How dare this black man speak our language!

For the remainder of the trip, they whispered to each other keeping a watchful eye on me.

pjazzypar said...

There is a gentleman where I work who has the light skin (as we call it) and even has the gray colored eyes and straight to curly hair. There is no mistaken that this guy is Black, even though he speaks fluent Spanish and claims to be Puerto Rican, which does not mean that he isn't Black. Fifty percent of Puerto Ricans are Black. When the subject came up a white woman on my team acted shock that the gentleman was Black. Almost like she didn't believe it.

That's the thing about us, we range in color from white looking to the blackest of black. Like Curtis Mayfield stated in "We People Who Are Darker Than Blue"...."Oh yella gal can't you tell you're just the surface of our dark deep well, if your mind was truly free, you'd see your color is the same as me". Thanks for posting this, it reminds me that we can never get too comfortable.

Lori said...

Cute story about the Italian couple. Sounds like something you could incorporate into a short story, if not a book (smile).

I lived in Germany for a spell, but never learned how to speak anything beyond the basics--"Yes, No, Good Morning, Thank You" and those sorts of things. Of course one quickly learns the German word for the "N" word (LOL). Hey, quite often you have to laugh to keep from crying.

Yes, sadly, the Mall of Memphis is no more. The last time I drove through the area there was a huge vacant lot where it used to sit. I can still remember when it first opened . . . Ahh, those Memphis memories (smile).

Of course that Curtis Mayfield song "We People Who Are Darker Than Blue" is one of my favorites. Also, don't know if you've noticed but one of my link headings carries a bit of the lyrics you quoted "Our Dark, Deep Well."

Oh and I always thought the first part of those lyrics were "High Yella Gal, can't you tell you're just the surface of . . ." (smile) The meaning is, of course, the same.

Also, I thought it interesting that you would mention both this song and Black Puerto Ricans . . . both are featured in my next novel (smile).

Anonymous said...

That was cute Lori. Of course that sweet old southern lady's culture trained her not to say another word. That brings to mind an incident I experienced. Before moving here, I lived in an extremly diverse apartment in Washington, D.C. where everyone spoke more than one language, except for me. I was in the evelator with 5 other people when a young man & women greeted one another. The woman's friend asked about the man she had just spoken to. She answered him in another language with a sarcastic voice. Apparently, the first man she spoke to spoke the language she ansewered with, & he spoke it very well. Anyway, he said something to her it the other language & smiled. Her smile disappeared & she turned red & dropped her head. Her other friend looked embarassed too, so I've always wondered what he said in that second language. Anyway, when they got off, he said something else to them, in that other language & smiled. The evelator closed on their astonished faces. I'll never forget that.

Sheila Wilcox

coloredgirlswhohaveconsidered said...

On the flip side:
Nothing irritates me more than when a white person needs to let me know (bless their hearts) they are not racists, so they tell me how much I remind the of Oprah...
One day when I have the time to play mind games, I'm going to corner one of those white people and make they describe in detail exactly which of my features remind them of Oprah's
...and phuleeze the ignorant comments from both black & whites whenever I'm out and about with my children who range in color from cocoa brown to light bright almost white.

Lori said...

@ Anon (Shelia W)
Yes, being bilingual has its benefits (smile).

Opie is the standard for some folks, isn't she? I guess she's considered "safe." Wonder what those same folks would say if you told them they reminded you of . . . Aunt Bea? (from Andy Griffin fame) LOL