My most recent recordable Holy shit I'm black moment occurred while visiting my partner's family in Maryland. It was that unseasonably hot weekend in April that you might remember- the one that had been preceded by lots of welcome rain and chilly air, so that the 96 degree FridaySaturdaySunday temperature seemed like punishment from impending summer months. (Summer knows everyone likes Spring better, and she is so passive aggressive about it).
Anyways, I was walking around in a stupor for a while, groggy from the heat and who knows what else.
I sat on the couch to read a magazine under the ceiling fan, and in no time I was chin-deep in nap-sleep.
The 5 foot flat screen TV was droning non-stop in the background as I dozed off, talk from mammoth men in suits about draft picks for football teams. "How bizarre is this?" I thought to myself, sequins and ruffles buried in my nostril from the decorative pillow beneath my head, "...a whole show dedicated to watching people react to people choosing players for a football
team...this would be so much more entertaining if this was a draft pick for performers in a Broadway musical..."
...fade to black.
I dont know how long I was out for, maybe 30 minutes, give or take. As my eyes struggled to stay closed in sleep, I could still hear those annoying sportscasters voices far away inside the TV.
"...really a prize, that one...never seen anything like him"
"...at 315 pounds! A big guy, definitely an asset..."
"Powerhouse! He is a powerhouse, I said it then, I said it before, he stunned coaches with his agility last year in the..."
"...always with his head in the game- look at him! He's a steam train! He is really going to take his new team far, I tell ya..."
My eyes stay open, but only partway, unable to get back into calm sleep mode with the TV blaring so much bullshit about things I cared nothing about.
I hate football.
But I cant get up from the couch.
I have found myself mesmerized by the images I see on the screen, flashing from a row full of talking heads, grinning maniacally and for some reason yelling at the top of their lungs (don't they know they are on TV and people at home will turn up the volume if they cant hear them?) to a graphic of a black man caught in mid-running pose, a football nestled in the crook of his arm. The image of the man is spinning slowly, one of those diagrams put together from lots of photos so you can see his body spinning at 360 degrees, the better to see all the details of his He-Man muscles sparkling under the sheen of his skin. Statistics are stacked up in an unadorned font next to his spinning physique, information like weight, height, alma mater, hometown, favorite color, aisle or window preference. The talking heads, who happen to all be mostly white men, are discussing these stats and talking about how this football player is just about perfect; he is so strong, so quick, so physically fit and essential to the work that needs to be done to make a football team winning and effective.
Holy shit I must be black cause as I am watching this, all I can think about is this memory I had from when I was little of being taught the most absurd, heartbreaking details of what it was like to be a human owned as property. The white people would auction off the slaves and indentured servants, have them standing on a block so that everyone in the market to buy could see for themselves how strong and physically capable these slaves were, how essential they would be to helping do the work that needed to be done in order to make the slave owner's profits winning and their business effective.
Im pretty sure it wasn't my sugar-coated-only-in--the-month-of-February-elementary-school-in-Alabama-Black-History-education that taught me this.
I think maybe I learned it from watching Roots.
But its there, inside my head, this image. And laying on that couch on that ridiculously hot day, watching that stupid draft pick on TV, I couldn't help but turn it into a modern version of that nasty part of history that I remembered from so long ago. They were showing this beast of a black man on screen and idolizing him not for his sense of humor, or his wit, or his major in biology, or tendency to cry watching romantic comedies, but for his physical power, and thats it. For what he could do for them. For the money that he could make them.
I don't think that this is a perfect metaphor.
I don't think that football is the only machine that benefits from the physical prowess of human beings, I don't think that this is an experience relegated to only black men in this country, or women for that matter, and I don't think that the black men in this scenario are being held captive and stripped of their power- I think they are capitalizing on the benefits just as much as the white team owners. Its a symbiotic relationship. I get that.
But thats why Holy shit I'm black! Seeing the image of the black man on the television screen, his motionless body turning around on a tiny pedestal like a collector's edition item...I doubt it affects anyone else the way it affected me.Thats what being Holy shit I'm black does to you- it makes you see the world in totally different ways than others. Like wearing beer goggles. But instead of ugly people looking cute, its other people looking racist. Or something.
This isn't a perfect metaphor either. I need to work on these.