Sunday, November 25, 2007

Credits and Debits

Latoya Peterson at Racialicious has a great post up on the term "Bougie" (as in "bourgeois"), often used as a derogatory term for middle-class Black folk who are seen as "inauthentic" or insufficiently connected to their Black roots. One of my classmates this term used the phrase "bougie Blacks" all the time (very much in quotations, however) -- but I didn't realize it was so widespread until now. Anyway, Peterson's post is really more of a series of stories than a cohesive unit, but they're all good. This excerpt in particular, however, struck me as particular poignant:
Once upon a time (read: four years ago) when I was waiting tables at a spot in Dupont I happened to serve an older African-American man who worked for the DC school system. I asked him for his order, told him the specials, and was perplexed by his ever widening smile.

“You speak so well,” he beamed, and I inwardly cringed. “What school did you go to?”

I explained that I went to school in Montgomery County, but he continued to smile.

“You,” he proudly pronounced, ” are a credit to the race!”

I smiled weakly, hoping that the other tables around him did not hear.

OMG Please tell me he didn’t just say that around white people!

My mind whipped around for a few frantic moments trying to purge some of the memories this man had involuntarily called forth.

Stop it. Stop it! I don’t want to be a credit to the race. I don’t want to be part of the Talented Tenth! I don’t want to be different! I don’t want to stand out! Because if I stand out, and I am the credit to the race, what does that make my cousins? What does that make my friends? Are they blight? Why do we have to be marked as better or worse? What do you want from me?

My mind swirled, but the rational part of me realized that I was on the clock. I smiled and moved on. He left me a 40% tip.

"Smiled and moved on." So it so often goes.

3 comments:

Juris Naturalist said...

Why not be different? Why not stand out? Why not leave the ghetto-love attitude and those who dwell in it behind? Why not speak well and have something to say?
Why not rise above mediocrity and become and do something?
Read some Ayn Rand.

Latoya Peterson said...

Thanks for love.

Juris naturalist - hilarious that you bring that up. I love Atlas Shrugged and the Fountainhead - but what the Ayn Rand institute is spewing is some bullshit. I've been thinking about developing a post on that...maybe I will move that one up in the priority ranks...

David Schraub said...

No problem -- I'm a fellow Montgomery County native, so I like to see our alum repping in the blogosphere.

You're also far kinder to Randism than I would be.