This article originally appeared on Medium. Below, an extended version.
I walk off the curb.
I make sure I am not breathing too hard.
I try and smile more.
I slow my pace, especially in p.m. hours.
I speak slow and deliberately.
I mind my hands.
I make sure my shadow doesn’t lurk too close behind you.
I don’t ever want to be too loud.
I let people pass me coming up and down the stairs.
I don’t stare at your children or babies for too long.
I laugh when it’s not funny.
I make excuses for black jokes.
I let you talk over me.
I cross the street.
I sit three rows behind you, no matter where I’m at.
I make myself smaller, at your convenience; not wanting to be too proud, too boisterous, too celebratory.
They called me a nigger in Florida once.
I had that recording session with David in Brooklyn Heights, and that lady asked me who I was going to see, because she wanted to be sure I knew where I was going, she said.
I would dance when they wanted me to.
I would freestyle rap when they asked me to.
Kenneth laughed at me and asked me what that white girl was doing on my lap, and oh, so now I was messing with white girls. That white girl was just my friend, but it didn’t matter then. It never does.
I looked around to make sure the black women weren’t watching, shaking their heads at us, at me.
I used to feel weird holding Jen’s hand in public walking through crowds, through throngs of people.
You begin to associate certain things with “whiteness,” because we associate things with those in proxy to them.
My white friends showed me pomegranates and sushi. My white teacher showed me Swiss cheese and artichokes.
Nothing bad about that, right? Every child and young adult should be exposed to things outside of their norm.
The problem begins when you learn that white means, “new,” “organic,” “fresh,” “healthy.” These meanings say more about race than we want to admit.
Why do I have to explain myself to you, all the time?
I see you walk faster.
I see you look to see where I am headed, so you cannot go.
I feel what you feel when the elevator keeps going, and we get off on the same floor. Every. Time.
I would hold my keys out sometimes, when we lived in the Upper East Side, the entire stretch of block I walked, so you would know that I PAID RENT AND LIVED THERE. Did you say hello out of fear or kindness? Does my black intrigue you?
I take my hoodie off my head in certain places, all to make my blackness more comfortable for you. Is there a way to separate my blackness from my humanness?
Carry on as you have.
You already do.
You already will.