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)