Sunday, October 17, 2010
So sue me. But Ive been blessed with a keen sense of self-awareness. Whether it results from growing up an only child or a mild case of Asperger’s Syndrome, either way I am pretty good at recognizing behavior patterns in myself. And lately something occurred to me.
I notice that when I am dining out, I deliberately overtip. Why? Because, being a former server for three years, I know that, whether we want to admit it or not, black folks are terrible tippers. Knowing that, I feel like I have to overtip to make up for all the black folks who have probably tipped this person poorly in the past. I have an odd desire to do my part to save our collective face.
Or, when Im walking my dog, I make sure that my poop bags are clearly, ridiculously visible because in my neighborhood, my fellow black brotha and sista dog owners are notorious for not picking up their dog’s poop. Its like I need everyone who sees me to know that there are black people who DO pick up their dog’s crap.
It’s like I feel personally responsible for countering any negative stereotypes that people have drawn about my peoples.
I still don’t know if this is a good or bad thing. I’m leaning towards bad because it indicates an insecurity about how my community is viewed. And I shouldn’t be insecure right? I shouldn’t care what people think, right?
However, I think its also a good thing to have a sense that every time you step into the world you are representing something larger. Whether its your family, your community, your religion or whatever. I feel as though I represent my community everytime I walk out the door.
I am indeed torn.
Today, I was on the elevator with some colleagues, there were about 8 of us on the elevator, 6 black and 2 white. And two of the black folks were having the loudest, most cuss-laden, ghetto conversation ever. We’re in a fucking elevator. Why are you yelling and using profanity? At work?
So, when i get off the elevator I was chatting with my white colleague, and felt compelled to complain about the behavior. It was like I wanted to make sure she didn’t think that black people in general found this behavior acceptable. Like, if I didn’t say anything, she would think that I didn’t even notice it because it was so normal to us “sistas.” I wanted her to know that we are smart and professional and are just as appalled at bad behavior as everyone else.
I was behind two black women at Starbuck’s who were so rude and ridiculous. Like it was everyone else’s fault they didn’t understand the menu. I mean, if its that complicated, go to Dunkin Donuts. Well, when it was my turn, I was super nice and super friendly and super appreciative. Almost as if to say, Mr. Starbucks Barista Guy, all black women really are not mean, bitter jackasses.
There was this homeless white guy panhandling at the 7-11. I wasn’t going to give him money, but I asked if he wanted something to eat. He asked if I could get him a Pepsi. So I got him a Pepsi, thinking to myself, that “the next time he wants to talk about black people I hope he remembers that one of us helped his broke ass out once.” Now I always ask panhandlers, of any race, if I can get them food because i dont do cash, but this particular transaction with a white guy had that extra umph of “See! Talk about us now! I dare you!”
What is this ridiculous urge to individually take on stereotypes? ?To personally assume responsibility for redeeming bad behavior by other black people and challenge preconceived notions people may have about us? You know what I call it? B.O. — Black Overcompensation. The irresistable urge to show the world that we aren’t all like “that.” Or “see, we’re nothing like what you think!”
Don’t misunderstand, this is not about becoming culturally neutral in front of others. I’m always supa dupa black and proud of it. I don’t hold my tongue when it comes to issues of race or culture or my own preferences or beliefs.
However, when it comes to some of my people’s bad habits, I have a compulsion to counter it, either with my own behavior or with the appropriate level of whatever protestation is appropriate at the time.
Is this a manifestation of a latent inferiority complex? Or a reasonable and justifiable expression of pride? We have a black president for chirissakes! Why do I feel the need to do this? I’m not sure.
I keep waiting for one of those pharmaceutical companies to run a commercial about a drug that treats B.O. like they do for all those other fake diseases.
Whatever the cause of my affliction, I just know that I want the world to know how diverse and amazing and smart and loving my community is, and not get caught up in the media portrayals of pimps and bitches that, unfortunately, some of us are, all too often, proud to embrace.
(cue swelling orchestra music here) For every black idiot I see, I will be twice as smart! For every black thief I see, I will be twice as honest! For every black slacker I see, I will work twice as hard!
That’s just me. Maybe its unnecessary, maybe its an obsolete sentiment, but until they develop a B.O. shot, patch, suppository or some other cure for my black overcompensation, I will suffer with it.
In short, if black overcompensation is wrong, for now, I don’t want to be right.
Please ask your doctor about it…