The United States of America is known throughout the world to be the place of dreams and the land of opportunity. New York City specifically is thought to fit this mold with the Statue of Liberty greeting visitors and immigrants traveling across the waters to view her glory of all that is possible. During the course of my life, I always knew what I wanted to do, but will say that I definitely held back from fulfilling my dreams with my utmost capabilities. After a lot self-searching, I realized that New York City was the place for me to be in order for me to chase my wildest fantasies and make them become my reality. A city that trailblazed with so much history, a melting pot of cultures, Lady Liberty standing at the edge of our nation to remind us all that despite our messy past, we can always make up for it in the future. It was the one place where I believed that anything could happen. Sure enough, that is definitely the case.
This week, I wanted to go a little more in-depth with my family background, beginning with my father’s side as I have more of a starting point with him and actually note my findings and research. However, I just started reading an American classic, Uncle Tom‘s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe; a book that shares my background in both Ohio and Kentucky. Clearly, the novel has some national importance; I had to learn of its significance during all of my acting and drama classes when I was younger, its stereotyped characters hold much relevance to contemporary literary works, but, of course, its political nature may deem what makes it so popular.
As I’ve been reading, I have had to ask myself, “Am I the Uncle Tom of New York City?” I relate this issue to the Big Apple specifically because I have received more outright racism from “my own people” in New York in such a short amount of time. When I say “New York black racism”, I am referring to downright disgust in a sense of “crab-potting”. I know that I don’t typically go out of my way to “act out of my ethnicity”, but I do make sure that I carry myself well, I am clean everyday when I travel to my 9-to-5 as I carry my Longchamp purse, I switch my straight past-my-shoulders ponytail to occasionally allow for my curls to flock wildly down my back. I occasionally wear nude pantyhose when there’s a slight breeze outside and I decide to wear a dress or skirt. Apparently these traits pose some form of an issue. For one, I have hardly seen any other “African-Americans” concern themselves with a 9-to-5 or a professional life at all in NYC. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure it exists, but it is not as prominent as I would think most people would like to believe. Second, it is causing for me to look like a sore thumb.
Apart from the typical hood boy thinking that I am going to change his life because I have a professional career while he either lives at home with his mother, has a job in which he cannot fully tell me what he does for a living, or is banking on the idea that his rap dream is going to take off, I also receive not-so-friendly approaches as well. Walking through an upbeat and well-off Manhattan neighborhood one day, I was just getting off from work and minding my own when an older “black” woman, no taller than me, and hobbling with a cane shouts at me, “You stupid fucking white slut whore!” Living in New York, I have come to accept that there are crazy people everywhere, and, unfortunately as everyday citizens, we have to let them scream and shout and be crazy walking down the street. However, I was a little taken aback that at the top of this woman’s concerns was that fact that she thought that somewhere I believed that I was too good and wanted to be “white”? Surely, I must have been mistaken. Why would someone shout at me when they don’t know me and saying things that aren’t true?
My question was finally answered only yesterday when I stepped down into the subway on my way to work. I moved onward into the platform to have a place to sit before the train came. I heard a man rapping a song in the distance and I saw that he may have been about thirty feet away. I sat down next to a middle-aged “black” woman, and slowly, the guy who I thought rapping was moving closer in our direction. Trying my best to listen, I realized that he was not actually rapping a song but possibly shouting and talking. Of course, New York crazies are everywhere and you can’t prevent them, but the man kept moving closer. At this moment, I realized that he was talking about some “light-skinned” and how “she thinks she’s white” and “she only listens to the white man”. At this point, I knew that the rant was directed at me. He continued with his talk about how I only go to “light-skinned” “men” and I only believe the “white” man. He walked directly in front of me and I could see the anger and hatred in his eyes as his curses were nonstop. He then walked past me and said how I disgusted him as he flicked me off. Yet, he came back to show me how he too has money in his pockets like the “white” man (in which he pulled out a wad of 1s and 5s), the train pulled up, and he acted as if nothing happened out of the ordinary as he walked away.
So, I have to ask: do I not belong in the New York City “Black”? Am I this city’s version of Uncle Tom by appearance? Were my parents really together in order to have the whitest-black children possible to slowly assimilate their family lines into “perfection”? I do highly doubt the matter, but in a place like New York City, why should my skin complexion or professional matters be the largest concern? A city where dreams are supposed to be made and everybody is something different, why am I called out to be the disgusting needle in the haystack? I do honestly believe that we as “African-Americans” will always play the color game in our own color, but I find it interesting that it seems to be more prevalent in our nation’s northern most corner. How has legit racism against our own survived in this quadrant when it was once the place where we all tried to run in order to find a safe a haven? Our ancestor’s journey through the Great Migration was only in vain if we do not take advantage of all of our open and endless possibilities in this huge city. More so, why have hate for those who respect the will to do better with their lives? This is not based upon the fair complexion of my skin, but my desire to be an American professional. I have seen that dream carried out throughout the US South, and so many people long to travel to these southern megacities to find their dreams and discover themselves. Why can that dream not be found in 21st century New York?
- Today in Theatre History: UNCLE TOM’S CABIN ON BROADWAY – August 23, 1852 (padavisblog.wordpress.com)
- Uncle Toms, Aunt Jemimas, and Other Distant Relatives (daratmathis.wordpress.com)
5 Replies to “Keeping My Place: Am I the Uncle Tom of New York City?”
Well written story. I am sorry that you had this experience in the city I am from. I find the predicament the Black “race” is in increasingly disappointing. If you make a move to be successful or achieve a goal you are targeted. Its a shame that the color of your skin is still an issue, unfortunately if it wasnt your skin it would be something else.
People on the whole are insecure, judgmental, and biased. Blacks are by no means an exception.
Thank you for reading and commenting! I just feel as if it will always be somewhat of an issue unless we continue to further educate our people. Hopefully, the more knowledge and success will mean less crab-potting, but, unfortunately, I think it is within our culture to always hold some sort of competition among one another.
I too live in New York City. I’ve been here about a year an certainly have not had these experiences. Your feelings and thoughts are your feelings and thoughts and I do agree that there is an issue among the black race where we often do not raise each other up as much as we would rather tear each other down. But to say that there are not many African Americans in New York pursuing 9-5 careers seems a bit absurd, and overstated. How can you possible know that with as many African Americans exist in this city? I would also take into consideration, as your blog states, that New York is the city where people come to pursue their dreams and that 9-5’s are not as typical as they are in a more suburban part of the country. People make their means all kinds of different ways in this city, often by working many jobs. For some, a 9-5 is just that – a 9-5. Some dream of more and pursue multiple jobs doing something they actually love. That’s the beautiful thing about this city. It’s full of opportunity.
In regard to the woman calling you a “white whore” or something of the sort when you were in the affluent manhattan neighborhood, as you mentioned, there are a lot of crazy people in this city, and perhaps she really wasn’t talking to you or anyone at all for that matter. Also as an African American woman in New York of a fair complexion, I’m confused for other races all the time by people of multiple walks of life. You are an African American woman of fair skin, and in addition to that, you have died your hair platinum blonde. In the case that the woman was talking to you, perhaps she only saw the back of you. The combination of your lighter skin, the blonde hair, the fact that she may have only seen a very quick glimpse of you if anything at all, in addition to the fact that the woman was more than likely not mentally well, it seems very likely that he could have mistaken you for a white woman, and not meant anything by what she said to you as a young black female.
I know that I’ve encountered many African Americans with lighter skin that seem to have complexes about their ethnicity and appearance. I think that there are absolutely issues within the black race amongs with each other that I too am not sure will ever be solved. On the other hand, at the same time, there are also issues with black and self acceptance in who they are a people that can only be solved by accepting ourselves and loving who we are as people. God made all of us different, with varying strengths and flaws and it’s up to us as individuals to love ourselves. When we love ourselves, it’s easier for the world to love us as well.
*If there are typos, my apologies. I wrote this on my phone on the subway to work.*
First of all, thank you TREMENDOUSLY for reading and for your response! I feel as if sometimes it’s better to talk about such issues so that we can all better understand one another’s experiences, and these are just that: MY experiences while living in New York City.
I, too, have been in the city for about a year now. However, I will say that my perspective has definitely changed as I have relocated between the boroughs. Granted, I am not saying that there are NO professional blacks in the city, but in the area where I was living beforehand, there really were not many. By professional, that can mean any consistent job or career field of choice. I would travel to work and be amazed at how many other people were not going to work around the same hour in the mornings, and it was interesting to me that I would go to job interviews in Manhattan or when I would go to work that I would be the only black in the office. I’m not saying that blacks are not there, but I did not see much of any. (Of course, that could be a series of other things to take into consideration as well.) Along these lines, I am also a performer and came to the city to live out my artistic dreams. So, I also understand a busy non-typical schedule. Then again, while pursuing my artistic love, I did not encounter many blacks WHERE I LIVED who took their passions seriously. Yes, they like music or they may like to act, but those who I spoke with were not very proactive in pursuing their dreams. That was disheartening to me because I thought, how can you live in a city with so many opportunities and not take advantage of any of them? I also believe that this may be an issue of natives; you take for granted what is right there in front of you. Having lived in New York for nearly a year myself, I want to explore every option out there.
In regards to being called out of my name, at the time of the woman tossing the slur at me, I no longer had my hair dirty blonde (platinum blonde is much lighter). At that time, I had actually gone back to my natural black hair color, and when the woman cursed at me, she was walking straight on towards me. So, she definitely saw my face. It is what it is. It’s something, unfortunately, that I have gotten used to and use it for whatever creative muse that I can (including the fact that the woman was probably completely nuts). Having had my skin color my entire life, you learn to deal with it – as we all do who walk around living in a shade “outside of normal”. Sadly, it’s the institution in which our lives may have to experience, but it doesn’t mean that it has to shape who we are. At the end of the day, I love who I am and always have and never really focused on my complexion unless others brought light to it.
I do agree with your last comment: we must love ourselves. At the same time, however, I find it oddly strange when we do love ourselves with full confidence (not arrogance) there are still people adamant to tear us down. Such is life.
Thank you for taking all of my comments into consideration as much as you did and truly taking time to write back.
I wanted to comment on your discussion of how African Americans in the city seem to be lacking in seriousness in accomplishing their goals/dreams. I’m honestly not sure this is really a “black thing” as opposed to a people thing. Pursuing your dreams, especially artistic ones are scary and not everyone is as passionate as they say they are about something. I’ve found that to be the case with just people in general though. Coming off of my first year in New York working solely in the media and entertainment industry as a recent college grad, I’ve seen this a lot in the last year. It’s easy for most people to take a job because it pays them well as opposed to it being something they are truly passionate about.
I don’t know. It seems like you have a lot going on with your thoughts about all of this. In the original article you spoke about African Americans in the city pursuing 9-5s and how it seemed that few of them were as if that were such a terrible thing. And now you mention artistic endeavors and how so few seem to be pursuing those as well. It’s interesting. I’m just not sure you can make such wide generalizations about a city that is host to millions of millions. I sit on the subway and sometimes just wonder where everyone is going, especially when my day is getting started at what I think is an off hour. But that’s New York. With the job Ive had in the last year, because it has only been in media and entertainment, my hours changed all the time. But I was working a full time job, anywhere from 40-60 hour weeks. I’m sure millions of other people have similar job hours in the city, whether it’s in the same field as mine or not.
One thing is for sure – everyone is doing their own thing in the city, whether it’s fighting for a dream, or just trying to survive, or both. Out of all of the places I’ve lived in my life, I think this place cares the least about the color of my skin. That goes for blacks, whites, and all in between. Being someone that is also of a light complexion, I’ve received all kinds of confused statements from people growing up and now into adulthood. White and black people think I’m bi racial. I’ve been asked if I’m of Spanish or Latin descent more times than i can count in this city. I wouldn’t say being my complexion is “not normal,” I would say that it’s who I am and I don’t think there is a real normalcy in terms of race anymore. Not with the way the world is going. The mayor elect of New York is about to be a white man with a black wife and bi racial children. We live in a promising world in a very progressive part of the country. There will always be ignorance among all races, nationalities and sexualities. There unfortunately is not a cure or that. But the world is certainly a better place than it was 50 years ago, even 10 years ago.
You may be letting your race and the color of your skin define you a bit more than you have realized over the years. You didn’t ask for my advice and you don’t need it, but live your life in this grand city! You live in the greatest city in the world! Take advantage of all of the wonderful opportunity and life that it has to offer! Forget the rest, and live and love. You only get one life chance at that.