Allo! I call out as loud as I can.
She turns around, then turns back, continuing to walk.
Her dog looked like a Cavalier King Charles at a distance and these days since I want Charlie (aka Scats), to make some babies, I have been known to stop random people who are with Cavalier King Charles - es. Il est male? Elle est femelle? Déjà opéré? I basically try to figure out if they can have babies and if they are pedigree.
So far, no luck. I have no future as a dog pimp.
So today's random call out was no different. Except, she kept walking.
Had it been my white French husband, he would have thought, snobby poufiasse.
But me? I never know.
Is she a snobby poufiasse or is she a racist poufiasse?
Or is she a snobby racist poufiasse?
And that there is the messed up thing. There is always a little seed of doubt because you never know if people are judging you because of the colour of your skin or because they just suck as human beings.
Let me count the ways:
There is a little grocery stand not too far from us whose owner once refused to give me a tissue to pick up Charlie's pooh. Pas possible, he said. Which in French means, f&*$ off. Now, if Charlie poops by his stand, I make it a point never to pick it up, which is hard, because I believe in picking up my dog's poop.
Also when my love and I walk hand in hand, we sometimes get these grief-stricken looks from 50+ year old ladies. It's like they want to put him over their knee and spank him for being with a black woman (more on interracial marriages later). Look who's coming to dinner heifer, I want to say. Sometimes I stick out my tongue at them. Startled, they look away.
And, I am followed by security at pretty much EVERY SINGLE STORE in France. So much so, I asked one security guy at Galerie Lafayette to hold my bags for me. He might as well be helpful. I even put in a complaint but did not get a response. Another time, same store, I was trying on dresses. Fake shoppers went into the cabin next to me and were making small talk as they were - I am not kidding - trying to count the number of dresses in my cabin when I went to the mirror. Smooth.
Am I hyper sensitive? Hyper aware? Seeing racism where it doesn't exist?
Well, I tested it.
A few years back, on my walk back home from the old port, I liked the look of a little bistro with a terrace and decided to stop for lunch. 'It is reserved', said the waiter. (Side note: NOBODY reserves lunch spots at bistros. Unless you're the pope or Meryl Streep in which case you would not be eating at this bistro.)
OK you little jerk, I thought.
So I went to the very next bistro and called my blond German friend Katja who worked nearby and asked her to meet me for lunch. But first, I asked her to try to be seated at the 'reserved' seating spot.
The little jerk sat her right down...waltzed her to the table, almost.
She quickly scooted to where I was, next door, watching it all unfold.
Katja and I enjoyed our meal and when we finished, I walked next door and right up to the jerk who refused to sit me. In my best Fran-glais (this was about 4 years ago) I told him off. Katja, in her 6 foot splendour, stood right beside me and so he knew that I knew.
Exposed, like the rat he was.
So that all of the bistro could hear, I told him very loudly how racist he was and that he sat my friend but not me and that we would never eat there again and tell everyone we knew not to eat there ever, ever, EVER.
It felt great.
And it felt horrible.
Because I just proved racism is so common it doesn't serve you at bistros.
Some of it is obvious.
It was obvious when the parents of the neighbours' kids in Toronto didn't want me to play with their kid.
It was obvious when my 9 year old self had to ask my dad what Nigger meant on the Bloor subway line.
It was obvious when no boys ever asked me out in high school but they always asked out my friend Sara. Boys I liked. In front of me. (Yes, this has to do with whom we are attracted, but more on notions of beauty later).
But most of it is hidden, toxic, silent. Like this lady this morning. Maybe she thought I was not calling to her. Maybe she was in a rush. Or maybe, just maybe, she did hear me, saw me and kept on walking because she was racist.
How often does it happen at job interviews, at school, for promotions, places where opportunities lie?
This is where the true evil of racism lies:
Because it can get you killed for going out at night with your hoodie.
Because you could miss out on a job and never know it had nothing to do with your work.
Because it makes you aware of yourself.
Because it makes you a little untrusting of others.
Because it makes you feel vulnerable.
Because it chips away at your confidence and you have to crazy glue it back together.
And the pieces never fit the same. Sometimes they get stronger. Sometimes, they get more fragile.
I learned today that graduate student at Yale was sleeping in a common area and some miscreant called the cops on her. For sleeping. Didn't wake her up. No. Called the cops. A second time, apparently.
You don't belong here.
This is what the caller of cops was saying loud and clear.
I hope she gets some therapy, training and discipline. As in a year to think about it away from campus. Yale needs to step up.
This caller of cops reminds me of a certain person in my doctoral cohort who was living on the same floor, in the same dorm as me and did not speak with me. She acted strangely and would give me this awkward looks time to time.
'Why do you do that?' I asked.
'I've never spoken to a a Black person before,' she replied.
OK, fine, I will give her that but why not say hello, as if I was a real person?
You know, with feelings and a mind and everything?
My husband never has to wonder.
My German friend never has to wonder.
But those who look like me and those who look like the 'other' in their communities, we wonder.
And frankly, it's exhausting.