The girl who usually brings out my groceries when I get my deliveries at City Market is black. She’s a lot of other things, too. We hit it off immediately (21 months ago).
Where I live black people are not even 1% of the population. In seven years, I’ve only seen four. People I know here have told me they have never lived in towns where there are black people. When the BLM stuff was going on in 2020, they were very upset about the black riots. I didn’t see those riots as “Black Riots,” not at all, but I was also bewildered by the whole idea of systemic racism. Really? Why?
We chat every time we see each other. Yesterday was no different, but the conversation turned a little heavy and informative.
I reached for the 15 pound bag of dog food and she said, “I’ll do that, Martha.”
“No, no. I can do it. Us old people are serious about proving we’re still the shit.”
“I wouldn’t,” she said, “I’d kick back and let the kids do it.”
We BOTH lift the bag into the car.
“Thanks so much, Destinee,” I say. “I love to see you. When I see you bringing out my groceries I’m jazzed.”
“Me too, when I see your name I know it’s going to be fun.”
“Yeah. You ‘get’ me.” I say.
“You ‘get’ me.” We laugh.
“I always leave you a good review when I get home.”
“I appreciate that. My co-workers thinking I’m crazy”
I said the same had been true for me in my working years.
“I just tell them they’re not used to working with a black person. We work harder.” There is so much to unpack there it’s staggering. I think suddenly of slavery and shake off the thought. I don’t think that’s in her mind. I think of the other racial slur slung around about “lazy Mexicans.” Her co-workers are mostly Hispanic. I don’t think either of those has relevance in this conversation, whatever goes on in the customer service area of City Market stays in the customer service area of City Market as far as I’m concerned.
To myself I thought, “My co-workers didn’t call me crazy because I’m black. But because, for some mysterious unknown reason, I was different from them.”
Then she said, “They just don’t know how to relate to a black person,” she said, laughing. Suddenly I realized that — apparently — I do. I don’t think about “relating to a black person.” I was overcome for a moment and we hugged. Fuck. “How to relate to a black person.” Huh?
I told her, “I see you as a wise, kind, young woman. That’s what I see.”
“That’s what I try to be,” she said.
Yeah, well, the thing about PEOPLE is that they’re PEOPLE. I know about her mom; she knows about my brother (both drunks). I know she didn’t buy many presents for Christmas, and she knows I didn’t, either. No money — putting art shows together is expensive, and working at City Market is not an Elon Musk type gig.
I got in the car and drove home thinking about all she had said to me and I to her in the space of 10 minutes, including sharing that we each took out our dogs during the blizzard and were over the moon to finally have snow.
Her parents moved here from the east coast. She’s lived in the San Luis Valley all her life. She was born here.
I, personally, have NEVER lived in a place where race mattered like it does here. In so many respects I feel “black,” if that makes any sense. My skin put me on THIS end of Monte Vista and not another. My realtor along with the one who showed us houses only showed me houses on the “white” end of town. My realtor drove around ahead of my visit and saw that there were Hispanics walking in the street of a house I liked and didn’t arrange a showing of that house for me. What did she think I was? Am? What is she?
The world for all its tragic fucked-up-ness is made up of all kinds of people and within each one is a heart beating and a soul yearning to be seen and accepted.
I can’t catalog the students of every color who passed through my classrooms or fully explain what it was like living, for 17 years, in a California “barrio” in which my white friends wouldn’t park their cars. But leaving Destinee behind this morning I just thought how fucked up it is that skin color is part of anyone’s identity. From my point of view, Destinee’s “craziness” is just that she is fully alive. Skin color may be a small part of that, but not all. As for me, I’m not nearly as “white” as I look. I’m not “virtue signaling.” I’m sad.
People need to travel — internationally, ideally, but at the very least within this nation so the moss doesn’t grow on their brains obscuring their humanity. Rabid provinciality doesn’t solve problems; it makes them. “They don’t know how to relate to Black people.” One of the saddest things I’ve ever heard.