#HERcollective Contributor: Meg Prosper
It’s quite a time to be a woman of colour, for many reasons; take a look at FLOTUS, self-explanatory. Also, various groups of progressive women are dominating in otherwise blandly ran industries [the word bland being interchangeable with old, white and male]. For example, take a look at Toronto – for the first time in probably forever there’s a place for WoC to evolve and thrive not only creatively but professionally as well.
With all this change, the ground is shaking and often times we find ourselves in places that are foreign and around people who make us feel uncomfortable and it’s an awful feeling. But, being pressed to break down your ethnicity when tried with an insult dressed as a compliment, is probably one of the worst things anyone can experience. The result of this is exhausting, and often times we play up being strong to hide the things that trigger our fragility, rather than addressing them.
‘You’re so exotic, what’s your background?’ – hearing this angers me and makes me want to regurgitate out of my nostrils.
[Insert eye roll here] The process of explaining to someone that comparing your genetic makeup to spices or seasoning is dismantling and it isn’t an easy one. You become filled with rage. While rage in a sense is passion and passion is beautiful, the trajectory at which that feeling can become anger is often too quick and steep to climb out of. There is no protection in silence, but addressing this without being stereotyped as an angry [blank] woman is an experience that will try to drag you.
The best breakdown I’ve heard in relation to this question that is marinated in idiocy is in Suheir Hammad’s, Not Your Exotic.
The beat of my lashes ain’t some dark desert beat, it’s just a blink – get over it.
Preach. It’s annoying that my existence is only a topic of interest when it’s a matter of convenience or pleasure. But, when my integrity is being compromised, the same people who admired my hair, my skin, my laugh and my culture, are all of a sudden deaf, blind and mute. All of a sudden the exotic spice that you just couldn’t get enough of has gotten too hot for you. Oh, okay.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself in a predicament that tested my character, my temper and my faith in humanity.
I walked into a dollar store around the corner from my house. On this particular day, I was carrying a tote bag and my purse. As I entered the store the woman behind the cash register gave me the craziest elevator stare.
“I love your hair, it’s so wild”
Her tone was so dry it made me wonder why she even bothered to compliment me. Looking back, I think it was an attempt to let me know she saw me, and that because I looked different, she was going to treat me different. Either way, I thanked her and asked where I could find clothespins. She pointed to an aisle and as I was about to walk away she asked me to leave my bag at the counter. I was a bit confused and when I asked her why she responded with “it’s just policy”. I asked her where I should put my bag and told me anywhere behind the counter. I asked her again where I should put my bag (I’m not trying to leave my belongings unattended), she tells me to leave it on the floor or by the window. That should have been a red flag because;
- The policy is bullshit
- There is no system to enforce the policy
- The policy is bullshit
Naturally, the store’s inventory was trash, shocker. I head to the counter and grab my tote bag. As I’m about to exit, the shopkeeper steps to me and asks to see my bag.
“Why do you need to see my bag if I left it behind the counter?”
“I want to see the bag you walked in with after I asked you to check your bags at the counter.”
“You mean my purse?”
“No, your bag.”
“This is a purse.”
“Don’t argue, let me see what’s in the bag”
“Why do you need to see what’s in my bag?”
“To make sure you didn’t take anything”
I took looked around the dusty ass store and literally let out a cackle.
“I’ll let you go through my bag but when you don’t find what you’re looking for, I expect an apology.”
I let her go through my purse and she didn’t find anything, not even the decency to admit that she was wrong. Her face held no empathy. Her lips were pursed rather tight and even though I had thoughts of prying them up and reaching down her throat to get my apology, I don’t think it would have made a difference at this point.
As I was trying to figure out which display I should kick over, two Caucasian women walked into the store with purses much bigger than mine. She smiled at them and they strolled on in. She didn’t seem concerned that their bags could have very well been harboring a small child. Although I understood the circumstances, I still pressed her for an explanation.
“So you’re not going to ask them to check in their bags?” I asked.
“No, and for the record, I don’t have to apologize to you because bag searches are part of the policy”.
She pointed to a very sad neon orange board with chicken scratch writing that could have very well said: “Welcome to Hell”.
At this point I could have drop kicked her in her throat, I could have made a scene, but I didn’t.
“We both know what you’re doing is wrong, and if this is your way of monitoring theft then I understand why your store gets robbed,” I said in a rather loud voice.
“Don’t be dramatic please, leave” she hissed.
And it was at that moment I truly understood why people set shit on fire.
Meg Prosper is creative. Living in the hyphen of cultures, she works to bring light to issues surrounding identity, visibility, and self-transcendence. She currently works and lives in Toronto.
All images courtesy of Meg Prosper.