can you see me? am i there?!

A recent spate of disheartening events have prompted me to write tonight. One in particular stands out. I recently had a dispute with my school’s campus safety department regarding an erroneous ticketing procedure. When I attempted to resolve the matter, I was told by a mediating third party that the individuals I interacted with expressed that I was “very aggressive, rude, and hostile” when I approached them about the issue. They were thus resistant to resolve the matter. I was then told that I should go back to those same people and attempt to “prove” to them that I’m “polite” and willing to work to resolve the issue. Now I’ve had numerous experiences with people’s racist attitudes in my life, but this is one of the most ludicrous, and also amusing.

Not only is it insane that I would walk into someone’s office yelling and being hostile, it is also beyond me that I would later be encouraged to “prove” to them that I am a polite person based on their own false image of who I am. This is not the first time I’ve been unwillingly placed into a robotic, “black woman” body and expected to be some type of caricature that approaches complete strangers by being aggressive and loud. This “black woman” script is an all too common model for folks uncomfortable with the idea of intelligent black people, or black women in this instance. To make up complete untruths and fabrications about my character would be the way they justify their own negligence and ignorance.

I’ve had people snap their fingers and wind their necks when talking to me, expecting that I would return a Maury Povich- produced black woman- response, and be okay with that. I’ve seen those same people conduct “civil” conversations with white women and others. I recently read an article by Helena Andrews on called “Are Black Women Invisible?” Studies were conducted for the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology on the social invisibility of black women, and the  conversations participants had with them.  According to the article, “The study’s participants were given a list of comments spoken during the conversation and were asked to match them to their speaker. Participants either mixed up the comments made by black women (suggesting that black women are interchangeable) or attributed the comments to another race or gender entirely.”

In my case, my true character was made invisible in the scope of the interaction I had with these people. It was colored in with a stock- character stereotype that movies, reality shows, and advertisements blast into society everyday. Whatever input I had or expressed was invalidated due to their belief in the “script” they wrote for me before I even had a chance to speak. Though my situation is limited to a campus dispute, this experience is somewhat universal and echoes larger issues related to people’s inability to decipher between stereotype, ignorance and what’s there in front of them. A black woman who who responds intelligently, unflinchingly and without fear is not a “loud, rude” black woman. And even if they choose to raise their voice, stereotypes should not be attached to them.  However, everyday black women become this, not by their actions but by someone else’s cognitive limitations in seeing them as a true, breathing person with a life, and not a carbon copy robot caricature.

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