For the purposes of my tale, today, I should offer some cursory “better know a black person” background. And I must confess, my meanderings on the substantive nature of my story were compelled by the latest scandal rocking the Hill, regarding Harry Reid, and his comments on “Negro speak.”
While I’m far too superficial to delve into the miasma that is black myth and perception in this country, I definitely continue to be intrigued by the quandary this question of language presents; the idea of “talking black” and “sounding black.” I cannot tell you all of the numerous times I’ve interviewed a witness and had he or she describe to me a person who “sounded black.” Equally infinite are the number of times I’ve surprised clients during our initial meetings when I’ve shown up to the office “black.”
That being said, I am the first to admit that the way I speak in certain circles of my private life is wholly different from how I speak in my work life. And I’m not talking about around my friends, mind you. I’m talking about people with whom I hold no close association.
Take, for instance, my beauty salon.
Like many black women, I prefer to get my hair done in the hood.
I enjoy the sound of expletives first thing in the morning. I like the idea of colorful euphemisms for race being bandied about when someone has articulated something evoking disbelief (e.g. “Colored girl, please!” btw, Senator McCain—the word “Negro” is alive and well in my beauty salon). I like to peruse a nice selection of bootlegged dvds while waiting for my conditioner to set. And yes, I like to bring a few extra fivers along as I never know when the incense man will come around with his array of oils, perfumes and assorted “WWJD?” bracelets.
I like to get my hair done in the hood.
And while frequenters of my salon initially treated me with some degree of standoffishness, they’ve now warmed to me, and the 4-6 hours that I usually spend there passes right on by.
But here’s the thing. Like all educated black people, I know that there is a fine line to be walked between smart and successful, and “uppity” and “too good.” Black people love you when you’re smart, but hate you when you’re uppity. As I am hyper educated, my odds of being humble and cool are greatly diminished, and my potential uppity douchebaggery quotient skyrockets.
So there are rules.
I can speak on a subject that I know about. But only if I’ve been asked directly. So, if someone says something that is blatantly stupid or wrong, and I haven’t been addressed, directly—that’s right. I have to shut the fuck up. Only uppity bitches pipe in when no one was talking to them in the first place.
Be mindful of the word “ignorant.” In fact. Don’t use that shit at all. If you can even remotely be perceived as an uppity bitch, just forget that you know the word. In all likelihood, the shit you think is ignorant is gospel in that salon. For instance, the television in my salon stays on TV One or BET. I don’t even know if it gets any other channels. And note how I don’t know. Cause I’ve NEVER asked to change the channel. You know why? Cause that’s some uppity bitch shit, right there.
Now, there are many more rules, but I trust you get the point.
Finally, we’ve arrived at the story that I intend to tell, today. I have many questions regarding this story. Note how the questions linger on in my mind. As in, I didn’t ask them Saturday while I was at the salon. Only uppity bitches ask a lot of questions. Down ass bitches just listen.
A group of us were all sitting around laughing and telling restaurant horror stories. Stuff we’d either seen or heard done at restaurants to food and customers. Now, I need to be absolutely clear. I wasn’t talking to a group of stupid women. Not by any means. Everyone participating in this conversation held reasonably good jobs, and was articulate. I was, by far, the youngest of the participants.
One woman, we’ll call her “Rose” began to relay her tale of restaurant woe:
Rose: “Let me tell you all about this thing that happened to this guy I used to work with. He had gone to lunch at this Mongolian place over near the Verizon Center. And, not too long after, he had become really sick. I mean, really, really sick. And, at first, everyone thought it was the flu, and that it would pass. But after a few weeks he just got sicker and sicker. Finally, he went to the doctor, and you know what he had? SYPHILIS! Turns out, someone had cut up some cat, and put it in the food, but the cat had had syphilis. So, my friend ate it, and that’s how he got it.”
Me: *blank stare*
Seriously, y’all. The blankest motherfucking stare possible.
Now, I’ve given you the rules of operation. But, I had to break from form, if only for a moment, to ask a question. Don’t get me wrong. I had a MILLION questions. But I knew I’d only get one bite out of the apple before I officially crossed into uppity bitch territory. I had to go for broke.
Me: “Ummmm…how would a cat get syphilis?”
Never even missing a beat, an older woman, we’ll call her “Odessa” said, “What do you mean, ‘How would a cat get syphilis?’ Same way as us! They nasty!”
Me: *blank stare*
Even blanker than the last one.
So, I want to break this down, right now, as I was precluded—note the aforementioned reasoning—from doing so on Saturday.
1. “Rose” repeated this story like this shit was true.
Now, granted, she hit us up with the, “wow this is some wild, crazy shit I want to tell y’all,” delivery, but…she repeated this shit like it was true. Would I have repeated the story? Sure. Absolutely. But it woulda gone more like this: “Yo. Listen to this ridiculous shit this crazy bastard I work with tried to tell me.” See that? See the difference between my delivery and Rose’s?
2. “Odessa” believed the story. “Odessa” believes that cats are sexually “nasty.” “Odessa” believes that as a result of their sexually nasty behavior, language that necessarily connotes sexual promiscuity amongst cats, cats can transmit syphilis to one another. “Odessa” believes that the “nasty” behavior of cats is similar to the “nasty” behavior of humans.
Um. Let’s get this out the way right now, Odeezy. I’ve never given syphilis to anybody. I’m not passing judgment on you or your apparently feisty, syphilis-y generation, but I’m going to immediately cry foul and remove myself out of your collective “us.” Way, way out.
Now, I’m no veterinarian. And I profess to know nothing about sexually transmitted disease among animals. I do know I’ve never seen any PSAs on protecting our pets. Neither do I own any buttons, ribbons, or other animal vd awareness insignia that might suggest that this shit is a problem amongst the masses. I’m just saying.
You don’t have any questions about the veracity of this story, “Odessa?” Really? I mean, I realize you’re a bit older and have seen remarkable things happen during your lifetime. But. Seriously? Not one question? This bitch just told you that a whoring cat got cut up in someone’s beef and gave a grown ass man syphilis. You’re just gonna accept that? Really?
3. Who is this asshole who told this story in the first place?
Like, think about the manifold elements here. The doctor tells him he has syphilis. Fine. Maybe this man is married. Maybe he has a long-time girlfriend. Maybe he knows that he didn’t get it from either one of those broads and he’s going to have to come up with an explanation, and quick. I can appreciate that. But…dude…WHAT A WHOPPER this bastard told. Like he went so far beyond the call, I can hardly get my mind around it.
Soooo….he got syphilis from his food??? And of course, he had to play upon the most deep seated anti-Asian prejudice in the book—that the restaurant cut up cat, and put it in his meal. But, the cat had the syphilis first. And it was probably an extra powerful cat-strain too, cause it lasted through the heated cooking cycle. And then he ate the cat/beef, and chewed up the syphilis all in his mouth, and then swallowed it. And then he got infected.
And now, legions of black women from parts unknown are repeating this story in beauty salons across the land. And people like me, have to just sit there, mute, ears BLEEDING, so as not to seem “too good.”
Well, I’m not at the salon, right now.
I’m in the safety of my plush office.
Degrees strewn across my four walls.
Clad in a three piece suit and 4-inch pumps that elicit sighs from every man I pass.
And I want everyone within the (theoretical) sound of my voice to hear this:
THAT IS SOME IGNORANT ASS, STUPID SHIT, PEOPLE.
THAT IS SOME IGNORANT ASS, STUPID SHIT.
THAT’S THE DUMBEST SHIT I’VE EVER HEARD IN MY ENTIRE BLACK LIFE.
THE ONLY “CAT” THAT HAS THE POWER TO GIVE A MAN SYPHILIS SITS BETWEEN A PAIR OF KNEES.
That’s all, I think.