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emptyclothesI stood at a water fountain with my father in 1965, at the age of 7, and asked which one I could drink from: Whites or Coloreds.

I watched my daughter cry for days because her boyfriend’s parents found out I was half black and they went from loving her to forcing a break-up.

I marched for awareness in the Trayvon Martin Case.

My heart hurts for the family of Jordan Davis (17), senselessly murdered because of his skin color.

I have fought over the past year to embrace and love my ethnicity after a lifetime of damage created by a black father who hated his skin color, and therefore forbade me to embrace the other side of myself.

Last night (on the 57th Anniversary of Rosa Parks refusing to move to the back of the bus), I mentally traveled back in time.

I live in a wonderfully cultural and quaint city on the Gulf side of Florida, St. Petersburg. I moved her from Palm Harbor(about 30 minutes North) to be closer to the artistic community that makes this city a great place to live. Yesterday I went to a newly opened establishment just a couple of blocks from my apartment and downtown and was thrilled with this new place I planned to visit frequently, as I felt it would be a great place to write. Like Hemingway and so many other authors, there is a draw to a place you can go to and create. The afternoon visit was pleasant as I hung out and chatted with a friend while watching the city move around us. The wait staff was friendly, the food looked great, and the overall feeling of being welcome was prevalent.

Later that evening, my friend and I were trying to figure out what to do at 7:30 on a Saturday night, when we decided to frequent the establishment again. This time we asked my neighbor to join us. Off we went for a relaxing evening of socializing and sharing creative energy.

Now, as much as none of this should matter, it is very pertinent to the story. One of my friends (S) is black as am I, and the other one (D) is white. We were all wearing jeans, though mine had a few tears at the knee and my White friend was wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt with the collar cut off and flip-flops.

We sat outside waiting for a server and when no one came we went inside and purchased drinks. There was a musician playing a piano and singing lounge music, so we decided to go back outside to talk. Both S and I kept noticing a man hovering about, looking in our direction. As the evening progressed, we laughed and met some other people on the veranda. At about 10:00pm, we decided to leave. We grabbed out glasses to take them inside. S got to the bar first and dropped off her glass then migrated over to the piano player and quietly sang along with him. When they finished, he commented on what a great voice my friend has. At that moment, a friend of S from church urged her to sing a couple of songs for the guests. The piano player agreed and plugged in a mic for her. She sang Natural Woman and Summertime and brought down the house. They loved her! I was off to the side, holding her walking stick and shuffling my feet to the music. S then went to the bar to speak with her friends and was asked if he had a business card for the owner who had also migrated up to the bar. It was clearly an awkward exchange from what I could see. He walked away, walked past me with a rather odd look and I immediately felt uncomfortable. I approached S, gave her her purse/backpack and walking stick and we began to leave. At this point I called S over to look at a photo hanging on the wall and we were separated from D. The owner approached S and I and began to tell S that it was nice she sang, but it was clear he didn’t appreciate her brand of entertainment. He proceeded to tell her that he had a way of doing things and then made a reference to me by saying, “and she’s dancing around with her torn up jeans.” This statement was repeated three times and at no time did he acknowledge me or direct his comment to me even after I asked him if there was a dress code. He then proceeded to say that he had invested a lot of money into this business and was building “a specific kind of environment which S and I did not fit into. Now mind you, he made no comments to D though she was standing there with us. In no uncertain terms he implied he wanted us to leave. This berating, IN his establishment rather than outside away from bystanders went on for several minutes. This was when it hit both S and I that he’d been “watching” us all evening.

This establishment has a casual dress code. Almost everyone in the bar had on jeans. I was wearing the same clothing I had been wearing earlier in the day and while there noticed a woman and her family (white) there for lunch, wearing the same kind of “torn” jeans I was wearing. Both S and I were wearing “backpacks” and we all know what that implication is in St. Pete. At no point did any of this degrading conversation include the other member of our party.

I felt the need to purge this experience so I can process beyond the event and deal with the emotions which will be in my next post. I am still grappling with the idea of outing this person as there will be collateral damage for a few people that have nothing to do with this and will get caught up in the fallout.

That is definitely NOT all.

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