I’m aware of it all day, every day. We’re triggered all the time, even the best of us. On the plane ride here. I’m sitting next to a casting director from Broadway, and I asked him what he thought about a particular show. He took a long pause.
So I say: ‘I guess you didn’t like it.’ And he tells me: ‘The entertainment industry is forced to put on stories from marginalized communities, even if they’re not good.’ He said that to me. As a Black person. It’s like, dude. I’m just trying to make conversation. And there it is. Suddenly I’m back in my blackness.
What am I supposed to do? Do I engage? Do I turn this into a learning moment? Or do I l just let him off the hook? It’s work. That’s what it is. It’s work. That’s my challenge. To walk into a room, and not have to work mentally. To be aware of my blackness; to not forget it. But to also be present. And focused. And productive.
Right now I’m at a climate change conference, and I’m one of the only Black people in the room. I’ve had decades of practice, but it still takes me five minutes. To transition. To stop worrying if people believe that I belong here. To stop feeling like a unicorn. It’s five minutes of work that nobody else in the room has to do. It’s a choice to be aware of your whiteness. It’s not a choice to be aware of your blackness. It’s the difference between going to a new upscale restaurant, and going home to Mom’s table.
At Mom’s table, there’s nothing to figure out. You don’t have to think about what to order. Or what you’re wearing. Or what you’re going to say. You’re at ease. That’s why people go home: so they can feel at ease.