"You may open the door but I'm a shut it for you." -- Mom, 2015
"Don't come for me unless I send for you." Kenya Moore, Real Housewives of Atlanta, 2013
"You get in a smart crack, and everyone laughs and kikis because you've found a flaw and exaggerated it, then you've got a good read going." -- Dorian Corey, Paris is Burning, 1991
"We have the same job but you look how you look and I look how I look." -- me
Lately I've noticed some confusion between reading and bullying or harassing. the former is a cultural exercise that's been around for decades. The latter is something that ostensibly hundreds of years old and is inherently violent with an explicitly intended outcome of harm. Not so with reading. Reading, one, is almost always provoked. As the sayings above show someone else usually opens the door but it's up to you to shut it.
For example, as a professional in predominantly white spaces -- hell, as a black woman in any non-black space, really -- I am already read the moment a white person walks into the room. Most of what I am on paper s/he does not presume the same way s/he would someone of their own race. Or, rather, s/he wouldnt be as shocked when certain words fall out of my mouth. It's always awkward when it happens, too. Because I think they expect a certain kind of conversation to ensue. One in which they are bestowing knowledge upon me, telling about their adventures through Europe or working hard through college while studying under some supreme scholar. Things I'd actually be interested in, too. But here's how the exchange usually goes:
First, there's the silent measuring up and down, they note my skin color first, how my name is not at all a giveaway. They note the "Dr." or the "PhD" and how young I look for my age.
"Whered you get your doctorate?" No hello, no how are you. That's actually how the conversation starts.
"Harvard." I smile and say it as if I've just said, "Would you like fries with that?" It's really off-putting and deliciously fun. They don't know what to do with the fact that i've just served them in traditional Negro style but I've just served them hot shit.
This exchange has happened in taxis, in hospitals, in restaurants, in random passings on the street. Very rarely has it occurred in actual spaces in which it'd make sense like, say, a conference. But, anyway, that's not the point here.
My point is that these little sideways insults have a history in the black community. And we almost always have to keep our mouths shut or risk job loss, physical harm or worse if we were to actually retaliate.
Reading is a way for us to serve up hot shit with a smile on our face and grinning white teeth.
Reading is a way for us to stay motherfucking sane.
Sometimes I guess I can take it too far or, white lady tears, you be the judge. In any case, let me suggest a primer on reading. But, first, know that a "you" used in any read is a matter of both/and. Meaning it can be a specific "you" and a general "you." That is on purpose. That way the read can be both specific and universal but never either/or and one can never tell when it is one and the same.
What follows is work in progress on what white people say that is seemingly innocuous but is very much an attack. And, thusly, a possible read in response.
1. If and when a white person says a PoC has no community they are almost always referring to white community. Meaning this person has just now drawn the line between you and them and done so along the lines of race. Because every white person has a community because white supremacy and every black person has a community because, well, white supremacy.
2. When a white person says "we" they are almost always referring to a larger group of white people. "But that's not what I meant!" others object. Doesn't matter. Intent is for two year olds. In the big boy world it's what is that counts and what is is the group of folk you refer to just so happen to be all white and that makes a difference when you are targeting someone who is not. What doesn't make a bit of difference is what you meant or intended.
3. When a white person expresses discomfort at the things you say to someone else rather than to you they are reaffirming white supremacy. How? Because not engaging directly or doing so via passive aggressive behavior immediately reveals a power differential. The very luxury one has to engagenotengage in such a hostile way is an exercise in one's privilege. Thusly, the incredibly popular and long-lasting language in rap and hip hop of bia bia aka don't start none, won't be none and the like. Black people cannot afford luxuries of commentaries.
....More to come next month, promise ;)
...please comment your thoughts and reactions below.
just some things usually on my mind....