Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/
Today at my job, I ended up in a conversation with a woman about genealogy and tracing back your roots. I guess you could call it a conversation, but it was mainly one-sided. She was pretty much talking non-stop without giving me much of a chance to interject, but I was somewhat okay with it because what she was talking about was really intriguing.
That was, until the conversation went in a different direction. She suddenly started talking about the history of the Israelites/Jews- who she referred to as God’s chosen people- who were in exile in Babylon and the heathen King Cyrus was used by God to restore them to their former lands. This of course led to her saying that the plight of black people under their white masters was similar to the Jews under slavery.
It then started getting weird when she started saying that God had given wealth to some people and allowed others to be poor, but that physical wealth wasn’t really what mattered because Jesus gave us the gift of eternal life and treasures in heaven.
She concluded it all by saying that it wasn’t about race, but that in the end we would all be under “one kingdom”- that it wouldn’t be about being Buddhist, Muslim, or Hare Krishna but that everyone would be subjected under the rule of the one King Jesus Christ. She also said that the Jews who trusted in God would be allowed into the Heavenly Kingdom but that Jews who did not would be destroyed.
For the nth time I once again didn’t say what I really intended to say. Even when she was talking about how black people couldn’t keep wealth because a lot of times their motives are wrong, I didn’t say what I should’ve said and instead mentioned Michael Jordan, saying he was still wealthy- but qualifying that he carried himself with “humility” and “had a good spirit” man I feel like an idiot.
The problem with these conversations is that I am so used to responding in the “standard” or “Evangelically correct” way that sometimes I just say something “in character” out of reflex or habit. It’s like I’d rather just have them nod in approval and feel really satisfied with themselves- and hopefully end the increasingly more uncomfortable conversation- rather than say something contrary that might provoke a heated debate and keep me embroiled for even longer.
I know that people say you should “pick your battles”- she was a customer, I was an employee; it’s pretty much my job to keep her satiated and happy. On the other hand I keep thinking about how easy it would’ve been to just interrupt her when she started going on about the whole Kingdom of Jesus stuff and just say “Ma’am, I don’t believe that”. Yet somehow I saw in her my earnest parents’ faces and displeasing her seemed to be so close to displeasing them- even though they were miles away and would never have heard our exchange.
I am almost twenty-six years old. I’m tired of this.
I think that religious people take it for granted that they can just speak out about their highly subjective beliefs like they’re fact, and have most people just automatically agree with them. Especially religious people of color who talk to other people of color- there’s this unspoken assumption that, I look like you, so I must of course also go to church (or to the mosque) and have all of these “standard” beliefs on Jesus, that I probably have a “praying mama” somewhere (well, half of that’s true). I think nonbelievers of color have it really hard, and that’s probably why “Black Nonbeliever” groups on Meet-up are so strict with their admission standards.
My dad always used to say, if a person is not financially providing for you- they’re not feeding you, they’re not clothing you, they’re not otherwise keeping you alive- that it basically shouldn’t matter what they think. I wouldn’t take it that far, but I think he has a point.
There is absolutely nothing that woman could’ve done to me. If I had been rude, she could’ve complained to my supervisor- but I wouldn’t have been rude, I would’ve just calmly and kindly expressed a dissenting opinion. Of course, neither of us would’ve changed the other’s mind- but the difference right now is that she goes home peaceful and satisfied thinking that she had a great conversation, and I’m wracked by disquiet and the torment about having kept silent.
There’s also just my extreme politeness- I will be almost effuse in my gratitude- like I told this woman “Thank you so much” even though there was really very little to be thankful for. Of course though that could be interpreted many ways- “thank you for coming to our business” or “thank you for the first half of the conversation before it got all weird” but I knew that I was being a little bit insincere.
Of course, I don’t do this just when I’m put in awkward positions by religious people- and they often pick me as a target for some reason- but also with anybody.
A patron that I currently refer to as “coupon guy” came into my work. He’s constantly giving me coupons for everything from massages to dental work. He’s very garish and flamboyant and is obviously trying to flirt- just doing it in the most awkward way possible.
Anyway, today he told me “I have something for you- and this is a big deal because I don’t usually share these with people” so in my head I’m thinking, Lord, what is it this time? but I really should’ve already guessed.
He pulls out a small piece of paper with a Redbox code for a free day’s rental- he said it came off of a 79cent Big Gulp cup, and admits that he sometimes collects these things from cups that he finds on the ground, because, “That’s money, and people are just throwing it away”.
Anyway I was like, “Oh wow thank you” and do you know that I saved that little piece of paper even though I’m not even going to be going to Redbox any time soon? Primarily so I wouldn’t lose it and feel compelled to lie about it. The question is though, why should I even care? This is a guy who seems to fancy me but apparently only thinks I’m worth some random coupons that he finds on the ground. Yet I’m more concerned about his feelings than he seems to be about mine.
I do this all the time. I will do everything to make myself seem invisible, unobtrusive, everlastingly accommodating and I think it needs to stop. Obviously yes- sometimes it isn’t worth it to get into contrary conversations with strangers, and so what if a rando keeps giving me coupons that I may never use? These things are little in the grand scheme of things, but every time I force myself to bite my tongue I’m perpetuating a belief to my Self that my opinion is not worth it, my feelings are not valid, and my rights are unimportant. If they can speak, so can I. If they have a right to be offended, so do I.
I’m going to promise myself, that the next time I have the opportunity- I’m going to actually come out and say something. I think it’s really hard to do this when I’m used to my survival hinging on my ability to be agreeable. Even though now I’m an adult and in control of my own life, the old subservient attitudes cause me to automatically clam up, and that has to stop.
I’m my own person and I have a right to say what I feel without being intimidated.