Monday, May 7, 2018
COFFEE, COLLEGE, and FEAR
At the very start of this I will say that this is not about theater, but when the feeling takes you, then you must write it down. What is more theatrically dramatic than that? Anyhoo, right around the corner from where I record my fun, sometimes ridiculous podcast is a Starbucks Coffee that was calm between the morning rush. I quickly found a spot next to a plug for my laptop, just like every other pain in the ass that thinks his/her script or blog post is gonna change the world. Anyway, I politely asked the person sitting next to the plug, but not using it, if he would kindly keep an eye on my bag, as I rushed to get in the really short line to get a Venti Dark Roast and a delicious Chorizo, Egg, and Monterrey Jack Cheese Sandwich. I had no plans to meet anyone, and I could clearly go back to the studio to do what I am doing right now: Drinking said coffee, Eating said sandwich, and typing such world changing prose.
About 30 seconds into checking my emails, because like many budding writers I love to procrastinate, I noticed that my receipt was not only on the table in front me, but facing out. Anyone who walked by would not only see the coffee and now empty sandwich bag, but they would also know that I paid for it. Therefore, I am justifying my presence in the space, because there may be someone sitting in this room, extremely “threatened” , and will call the police. I also noticed that it was done subconsciously.
I'll admit that if you did not know me, as I sit typing in this Starbucks, nor could you "hear" the enthusiasm and passion that I have about theater and other things (check out my podcast), or notice the various colors of feather boas that I own, you might mistake me for one of those "suspicious" looking characters that just might shank you. Oddly enough, the comfort that you feel by what you might presently be seeing, does not mean I wouldn't shank you. It just means that your defenses are being fooled, and to quote Zoraida, SNL Ellen Cleghorne's NBC Page character, "what makes you think I won't cut you?!"
Since the famous "sitting while Black" incident at Starbucks became a viral sensation, another story about 2 young Native American teens on a college visit tour, being stopped and questioned by police because someone on the tour was "uncomfortable" by their presence, broke last week. Now the 2 men in the Starbucks incident have since settled with the city symbolically with a promise to help future young entrepreneurs. Starbucks gave them an undisclosed settlement, scholarships to college, and free corporate mentorship. Starbucks will also close their doors for half of a day for "cultural sensitivity" employee training. Good luck with trying to undo years of what many still do in their sleep.
The real question should be asked, because like my receipt turned outwards, do they have to prove to HER that they are part of the tour so SHE can feel safe? Get Over it, lady!!! I shouldn't have to make my receipt known to validate my presence, and it is not those kids' place to make her feel safe. I am not sure how big the tour group had been, but if she is the ONLY person to have issue with them, and no one ELSE felt "threatened", who designated her to make the call in the first place? If the tour group was small, she should have tried to be a tad bit more welcoming, banded with the other members of the tour to not be too close, or maybe pull her kid closer to her for protection, instead of reaching for her phone and showing her fearful sense of entitlement. If I were these 2 Native American teenagers, I would be looking at that college with the lawyer that those Starbucks brothers had and figure out what my major should be without any worries about paying for it.
Now being a man of a certain size, age, hue, out gay, having lived in Texas during the 70's/80's and half of the 90's, and all while watching this nation continually fight its shaky history of racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia, I'll admit that I, too, maintain a side eye for all kinds of "suspicious" looking people. I also note that I, too, have felt unsafe. However, in those moments, I ask "how far is the exit from where I am standing? " I will check to see if there is ANYTHING that I have on me, just in case I have to defend myself. When walking home late at night, I check to see if I put my keys in between my fingers in my pocket, because if someone is going to push up on me, especially after I have taken the time to do my own "racist-xenophobic-I-think-that-they-are-after-all-the-white-women" assessment, they will get stabbed in the neck or eye with a MEDCO front door key. I will have to use that as a weapon of choice, because that is easier to explain as to why I have my keys out rather than a gun.
The fear mongering that our current administration fosters is spreading infection like a virus, and it needs to stop. It is infecting people at such rates that the Centers for Disease Control should be called in to investigate, but thanks to this current administration and their shenanigans, even that department is a hot mess. These so called "vigilant" people are slowly, but surely moving towards becoming passive aggressive "vigilantes" using the police to carry out their fear filled plans. This Trumped up panic that people are feeling might be real to those folks, but because many people in this country refuse to read books, watch only Fox News, never travel, and live in that white cloud of fear, they make it so easy to be manipulated and unfortunately trigger happy. Now of course this is all based on THEIR experiences and history. If you really think about it, the people that they SHOULD be fearing are the ones telling you to be afraid. Like my childhood minister, Rev. Gates, used to say, "when you point the finger at something or someone, three fingers are pointing back at you."
MY history and experience in this country has forced ME to do things like really watch the way I speak, be more mindful of the places that I go (as a black and gay man), watch how I walk, and be cognizant of what I wear, because the fear of the hoodie, dark skin, and low hanging pants is still very real in America. Any black man of color, growing up in the south gets those lessons everyday. For the record, I am not big on the low hanging pants, but to each his own. I have encountered many "suspicious" people, and yet with all of MY experiences, calling the police on them is never the first response, especially in a public place like a college. Oddly enough, it never seemed like a legitimate option. I want to honestly ask those "scared" individuals, "are any of those thoughts instilled in you through the actual actions of others or stuff that you've heard has happened as you walk through your everyday life? " The insane thought that comes over me: By doing all of those things to make sure others feel safe, I can still sit in a New York City Starbucks in 2018, and subconsciously wonder if I will be the next "suspicious" human about to make some person so nervous enough to call the cops on me. WTF?
So America, do me a favor: Read a book, travel, stop watching so much Fox TV, stay vigilant, because we all need to be watchful and mindful, but also CALM THE F**K DOWN. No one really wants your guns, women, or your children, and the ones who do will more than likely NOT look like me, or the 2 Native American soon-to-be college students, or those 2 young entrepreneurial and industrial brothers in Philly. You might want to look in the mirror, or better yet, Ask Susan Smith where those "suspicious and threatening" people are, and what are they capable of doing?
Have a blessed day, and go see some live theater.