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.