Sometimes when I'm out in a cafe, I just zone out in my own little world. Depeche Mode's "Sister of Night" is vibrating in my earphones. I'm tapping away on my keyboard, visualizing what my character, Claire, is wearing, what she's saying, what she's thinking about...and this world just fades away.
But sometimes despite my best efforts, I am not in that zone. And that's when I'm listening to you.
I'm sitting two feet away from you in a cafe with a laptop, in Silver Lake, the home of wanna-be writers, actors, artists, models and rock stars, and you don't think I'm typing down exactly what you're saying?
You caught my attention when you mentioned the name of the university my mother-in-law attended. And so I started to type down your conversation. Every word of it.
I only typed for a few minutes and then I had to stop. I felt an anger surge inside me and I had to shut my laptop and leave before I inserted myself into your conversation and told you what I think about you and your little "experiment".
But here in this space, here's what you said and what I think about it.
Younger White Female: I decided to go to a black school that’s less endowed. People who go to Howard or Hampton are from a different social class than someone who decides to go to a poorer black school.
I wanted to be the minority.
Los Angelista's Thinking: Interesting that she thinks everyone who goes to Howard or Hampton comes from a well-to-do black family. And gosh, I just love it when people decide to "opt in" to being a minority when they can at any time use their privilege and decide to opt out.
Older White Male: A little “Black Like Me” kind of thing?
YWF: Kind of.
OWM: Was it a gentleman’s agreement?
YWF: A what?
OWM: A gentleman's agreement. I mean, did they know?
YWF: No. I wanted to be in a place where people didn’t grow up around white people and I wanted to see what it was like just naturally.
Los Angelista's Thinking: How does she know they didn't grow up around white folks? Just because you decide to attend an HBCU doesn't mean you didn't grow up around white people. And why's he bringing up "Black Like Me"? Did she try to make herself "look" more black?
OWM: There’s something about the uninitiated where those things are being formed. So how was it?
YWF: It was hard. I couldn’t figure out how it was going to be hard. I have always been socially confident and this was the first time I walked around with my eyes cast down.
People didn’t speak to me and I didn’t want to assume it was because I was white, when it could be because I have body odor or something. It was good though.
Los Angelista's Thinking: Aww, poor baby. Those black people were so mean they took away your confidence! Maybe they didn't speak to you because they are busy trying to get an education and they don't have time for games and bullshit.
OWM: How long did that last before you were able to break through all that.
YWF: If someone didn’t like me
Los Angelista's Thinking: Um, yeah! Annoying. Superior. Condescending. You think you're so open minded that you're going to go experiment on the little black people.
OWM: So how’d it end up?
YWF: It ended up well. As time went on, there were some things people couldn’t get over.
OWM: Like the fact that you were making them be a part of a social experiment?
Los Angelista's Thinking: THANK YOU for saying that! Call her out! Preach!
YWF: Well, I tried to not make it seem that way, but there was use of space, use of noise, expectations about being quiet because people were... Cause you know, I was the only white person.
Los Angelista: Wow. This is some serious code language here. So are you trying to say all black people are loud and have issues with space?
OWM: Wow, unbelievable. You're so brave.
Los Angelista's Thinking: I know. Isn't she? Because those negroes could have turned their radios up even louder than they normally do, just to drive her quiet, white self insane. Never mind that black people are in settings where they're the only black person ALL THE TIME and no one ever calls them brave.
YWF: I was thinking, in the North... I’ve never hung out with a group of just black people in the North. I had no idea how different black people are from me
Los Angelista's Thinking: Yeah, I've heard black people are so different from white folks that they don't eat, breathe air or even watch American Idol. Yeah, these monolithic "black people" you're referring to -- did you know they're all pretty different from each other? Just ask around and see how many black folks you can find that listen to Depeche Mode.
OWM: How long were you there?
YWF: For a semester. Four months.
OWM: What did you study there? Do they even have your major?
YWF: Well at Brown I'm a classics major and they don’t have Latin and Greek there at a black school.
So I did all really Afrocentric courses, so I’d have to talk about “black things” and talk about the fact that I am white.
Los Angelista's Thinking: So this type of dumb ish is what a $30K a year ivy league education buys these days? Wow. I want to really tell you about yourself. I know you think you're all noble to go slumming with the black people and try to find out about them, but I think what you're doing hurts more than it helps because your intentions are all wrong.
And so I had to shut the laptop and leave because I could feel all my classic physical signs of extreme anger (feeling hot, pulse beating wildly, desire to throw something) starting up.
I know some people out there will think this girl should get an "A" for effort, that at least she's trying to foster some sort of understanding between black and white people.
I don't feel this way. To me, this has nothing to do with building genuine friendships or understanding. I feel sorry for the black students who had to be subjected to her experiment.