The setting: a bedroom-cum-music room at a birthday party. Three other people- M (the host), L, L’s boyfriend- and myself are sitting around talking about our favorite comedians. L’s husband has picked up one of the guitars strewn about the room and is lazily playing at Eagles riffs. A joint is being passed around.
C appears at the door. C is someone I’m apprehensive about due to her having made an offensive generalization about something Indian men all do at the gas station the last time I saw her at one of these parties. I don’t know what the thing she thought they all did was; I didn’t stick around to hear the rest of her story. She also has an offputting reluctance to make eye contact with me, even when I address her directly. I don’t know if this is related to my reaction to the Indian men thing (I threw my drink in the yard and stormed off) or if it’s just general insecurity; I mention this just to convey that I don’t have high expectations for conversation with this woman going into the evening.
“Can I come in and hang out with the cool people smoking pot?” she asks.
“Of course you can come in,” L says. “But don’t go thinking that we’re cool just because we’re smoking.”
“That has nothing to do with it,” I agree. “There are so many other reasons we’re cool.”
“Oh…I don’t have anything against it,” C says. “It’s just that I don’t smoke myself. It makes me paranoid, and I am NOT a paranoid person. I’m the person who talks people DOWN.”
I do not find the two to be mutually exclusive. Sometimes the craziest person is the one in charge.
She comes in and clears herself a seat. We get to talking about music on late night TV. How accomplished Paul Shaffer is; how awesome The Roots are for that “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” dig at Bachmann last week.
“You know Letterman has new, young artists, and sometimes comedians, on every night that he promotes, and I just think that’s so awesome,” C says. “He’s doing so much for music by doing that.”
I’m a little thrown off by her statement. Sure, promoting music/comedy on late-night TV is great- but does she think it’s a new phenomenon? Is she trying to clue us in to something that she thinks we don’t know, as though every late night show doesn’t do this every single night and always has? “Talk shows- with musical guests? You don’t say!” Not to mention that David Crosby and Graham Nash, who were on last week, would be mighty surprised to find out they’re new artists.
Oh, would that this were the only confounding statement she made during the night.
C’s husband calls to say he’s on his way. C relates to him that she’s “hanging out with a bunch of people who are smoking pot, but I’m not,” which strikes me as an unnecessary detail. It’s not lost on L, either.
“Don’t be telling him that!” she jokes to C after she hangs up. “I’m a private person- I don’t need to let everyone know my business; what I’m doing at a party!”
“Oh, he doesn’t care,” C says. “He’s a jazz musician.” She pauses, then says: “It’s not like I told him who you were, your social security number or anything. Or your citizenship status.”
Now this woman has me thoroughly confused. Citizenship status? That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you just throw out regardless of who’s present; it seemed pointed. Threatening, even. Is she implying that someone here might be an illegal immigrant? It must be L’s boyfriend, who is white but has a slight accent I can’t quite place; it has a slight lilt to it that recalls British influence (I’m later told it was a Colorado accent, which I didn’t know even existed. UK, Colorado…I was pretty close).
“You know, your accent reminds me- this one time I was in New York, and I saw this Bahamian woman,” C begins, looking at L.
Aha. She thinks it’s L who isn’t American. But here’s the thing: L does not have an accent. There’s no logical reason to assume she’s from elsewhere. She is, however, black and wears dreadlocks.
That’s some deep-seated shit right there, when you make up an accent on someone to justify your suspicions that their citizenship status is questionable because they’re black and have dreads.
C continues: “…and she was yelling at someone in the street, ‘I AM NOT A N*****! I AM NOT A N*****!’”
“Uh…wow,” L says. It is at this point, in retrospect, where I wish I had just stepped in and shut C down. Whatever more is going to come out of this woman’s mouth is not going to be good. Whatever has ALREADY come out of her mouth is not good. But I’m so utterly, completely baffled by where she’s going with this that all I can do is sit there with said utter baffledom twisting up my face. I’m having a difficult time even conceiving of why she thinks this anecdote is appropriate for polite company, and am admittedly have a morbid curiosity to see where it goes; if she can turn it around into something worthwhile. L’s boyfriend continues calmly playing guitar.
But lest I think I can’t possibly get any more confused by C’s train of thought, she attempts to explain:
“It’s just that, you know, I think people need a way to differentiate themselves. People want something to make themselves stand out…”
WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS CRAZY BITCH SAYING? Her words have NOTHING to do with ANYTHING. Her own statements aren’t even related to each other, let alone the conversation we were previously enjoying, and are succeeding in nothing but being absolutely, unapologetically offensive. Is she TRYING to be offensive, or is she really that goddamn stupid? I’ve never seen someone be this un-self aware before, but nor have I ever seen someone be so intentionally inappropriate, so I honestly can’t tell. I don’t want to be witnessing this, but I’m not going to walk out of there now: See you, L. Have a good time with this.
“Wow,” L says again. “This is so uncomfortable for me. SO uncomfortable for me.”
“Oh! I’m sorry- it’s just…your accent reminded me…I mean, I wasn’t talking about YOU-”
So it’s the latter: she really IS that goddamn stupid.
“No. This isn’t about me,” L says. “You’re talking to me- you MUST be talking to me; I’m the only black person here- but this isn’t about me.” I am shaking my head in, again, utterly baffled agreement. The boyfriend continues to play.
“I’m so sorry! I think you’re really cool, and-“
“Oh, I am, sister. I am the coolest goddamn person you’ll ever meet.”
L gets up to leave, which I take as my opportunity to walk out on C as well. C continues to plead. L turns around, explains that she’s not mad at C- but she has to tell her these things, because if she doesn’t, no one else will.
Is she right? What would I have done if L hadn’t said anything herself? I was half tongue-tied by the preposterous words C was speaking, and half expecting that L’s boyfriend would be the one to jump in and defend her. I certainly didn’t expect that L would have to be the one to do it herself; that somehow by default it should be her calling someone on their racism when the others present knew damn well that C was being inappropriate. White people will never stop being racist in the absence of minorities if other white people don’t take the initiative to shut them down, same as I think men should shut down sexism in other men instead of assuming a woman will be the one to handle it if she’s there, and if she’s not…well, no harm no foul. (HARM AND FOUL INDEED, my friends.) I understand the importance of true allies and not letting your principles be compromised by being part of the in crowd- so if L hadn’t jumped to her own defense, I wouldn’t have just let it go, right? I’m a better ally than that…aren’t I?
L comes out of the bedroom and takes a seat on the couch in the living room next to me and the cat. It feels wrong to just leave it at that, but I didn’t know what else to say. Sorry for the stupid-ass white lady?
“You alright?” I ask.
“Yes, I’M fine,” she says. “That was just fucked up.” I agree. “But I’m fine. I hope you know that. And I do not want to talk about it any more.” I nod, and we go on petting the cat in silence.
C comes down and joins us in the living room. I kind of can’t believe this- if I were her, I would’ve cut my losses and taken my leave following that incident- but nothing she can do or say at this point is going to surprise me; her instincts do not seem to be calibrated well. L and her boyfriend have one last piece of birthday cake and say their goodnights.
Once it’s down to the trusted crew at the end of the night, I tell M what had happened.
“Yeah, she felt really bad about it,” M says. “It’s too bad, because poor C, she’s actually really sweet. We went out back and she told me about it. She just has no filter- she’s from Jersey, you know. You gotta appreciate that sometimes, when someone is wholly untouched by all the PC-ness and just says what they think.”
“Yeah, I dunno about that. I actually really think being PC is good, because I am not a fan of racist bullshit. I can totally appreciate not having a filter, but that’s not what this was about. She wasn’t filterless- she was brainless. This was about her being totally clueless and ignorant.”
Filterless is great in people who are NOT racist assholes. People who have thought enough about the world we live in to have some awareness of when their lack of filter might offend, but say it anyway- I’m okay with them. But C didn’t have that level of awareness. She really thought that when hanging out with this one black woman reminded her of this other time she saw a black woman, in a situation that involved offensive language, it would be a good opportunity to relate that story, apropos of nothing. Mostly she just outed herself as someone who is actually so hung up on race that she can think of little else to talk about when hanging out with a black person, and who assumes in the absence of any evidence that those with dreads are not US-born.
So in conclusion, L’s a badass who’s built up some admirable self-preservation skills at the other rodeos she’s attended, C’s a crazy bitch who I will hope in vain to never run into at a party again, but the next time I inevitably do, I vow to be quicker on my feet.