I don’t want anyone to be intimidated by this piece. I just want to highlight what it’s always like for us being the only minority or in spaces where there are so few of us. There is a way to engage us without doing a forensic interview.
For instance, if we are sitting in the Walgreens waiting for our meds and we strike up a conversation (small talk), that’s cool. I’ve done that bunches of times. Same applies when in the grocery store line, at my kids’ football games (when my kids were small), in the laundromat, or while sitting in Starbucks having coffee.
But if I’m in an upscale department store and I’m being followed and asked incessantly can I be helped while there are plenty of White people walking around looking lost…well that’s too much.
Or if I am the only Black in the community and I show up to the HOA meeting and someone comes up to me and starts an uncomfortable inquistion that would never happen to a new White person…that’s creepy and intrusive.
Here’s the thing. Take a look around before you ask questions. Is it a sacred White space being violated by a Black or Brown person who isn’t the help…asking the wrong question could be problematic and seen as you noting the fact they aren’t usually there…meaning you aren’t used to the outside being in your space.
Is it a question you would ask a White person? Asking “Where are you from” is innocent if you’re just sitting in the airport waiting for your flights. Asking me where I’m from at work where I’m the token Black hire could be problematic, depending on where, when, and/or how you ask? Like, if I say something really smart in my business meeting and you have a bias that implies Blacks shouldn’t know what I know, you may ask me where I’m from. That’s awful and shows what you are thinking.
One huge problem is that White people often don’t have boundaries. We (Blacks) were trained not to ask White people anything, because they were allowed to have privacy and space (from back during slavery times, never question/talk back to your Master). Whites say whatever they damned well please, whenever they damned well please, and they see nothing wrong with it. Whites don’t even realize the caste system norms because they are so ingrained in our system.
Study up on Jim Crow etiquette and Black upward mobility after the Civil War. It will help you understand why White people see nothing wrong with asking us questions, why Whites are hostile to us being in their spaces, and why segregation is apart of our culture. There is a reason we are asked stupid things, and it’s woven into the fabric of America.