Among Beasts

Artist: Benjamin Thompson
Artist: Benjamin Thompson

Hey Gang!

If I have trouble finding my way to this computer to type out a story, it is usually not from writer’s block. No, rarely is that the case. Offline I probably say too much and I try not to bore you with so many of those terrible details. I also try to stay away from topics that are taboo to speak of. Those things that make us grip our knees a bit harder when someone brings the topic up. I must ask you to please begin gripping at this time.

I was walking around a store back home a few weeks ago and I remember I was just meandering through each aisle. Never really checking on anything; just observing. I truly enjoy those minutes where you are almost oblivious to your surroundings. You are just present. Well, I remember walking down the aisle and something happened that hasn’t happened to me in a long time. I saw the woman in front of me take her bag and shift it from the side of her where the bag was facing me and then to the other side of her. I saw her knuckles create a death grip around the strap as she walked sure-footedly past me at a brisk pace.

She saw me and thought, “There is a guy that is going to rip my purse from my shoulder and run through this large department store with it, making a quick getaway.”

Her irrationality was insulting. I wasn’t dressed in a manner befitting whatever stereotype she probably held. I had nothing on my head but glasses. Yet, to her, I looked as if I were going to snatch her purse.

I would like to say this hasn’t happened before but it has. The cause or why they believe that this would happen is not the issue for me. The issue is what that means to me, to us, people who have had this problem. Don’t mistake this as a simple race thing. Ask the Indian person who finds hate for being mistaken for a “terrorist”. Ask a person of middle eastern descent what they have experienced. Keep going with these. Keep asking the same questions. Then ask, “How does it feel?”

I remember when it first happened. I was 11 and at a store with my mother. A woman walked past us and gripped her purse tightly as she walked by while giving me a dirty look. I asked my mother why she did that and my mother said, ” Don’t worry. That’s her problem. Don’t make it yours.”

I suppose she was right. It happened later as well. A few friends and I would walk around a store and the LP people would follow us. Some might say I am mistaken and I will say that I can’t blame them for believing that. It makes me angry that I work so hard to be an individual and it is all for not.

Color me grey.

I want no color or identifier. If this is what comes with it; let me be grey. I think of myself as a proud person. I don’t celebrate any side of my heritage. Black, White, Shoshone; they are of little relevance to me. They are like having green eyes or blonde hair. It is a trait, not who I am. I live this way and I treat others this way. We operate on the maxim of how we wish to be treated.

In my ignorant bliss that is devoid of color, I am drawn out when things like that happen. It brings you back out of that cloud you are in. It sends this cold feeling down your spine and your cheeks turn warm. You feel disbelief. You wonder what you did that caused it to happen. You. You. You.

It seeps into you. It reminds you that no matter how hard you try, you will always be thrown into reality, or at least our culture’s reality of what you are. I can get degrees all day long but I still know what it feels like when people look at you with resentment. Not of stature but of what you represent. I am sure you may have different views and I would love to hear them but I have to say mine. I know this has happened to many people but why don’t we talk about it?

A little more than 100 years ago, my hometown had one of the largest race riots in the country. This is not a southern town, by any means. This is the capitol to one of the bigger states that were part of the union. 100 years is not a long time.

I look in the mirror and I see a semi-handsome, devastatingly charming, and funny young man (hey, my self-esteem isn’t too bad, right?). That is who is in my mirror. To the world, I am many things. I am a statistic. I am a thought that someone has conceived from watching too much Law and Order: SVU.

This problem comes from both sides. I may seem like a criminal to some but to others I am not part of that group because I don’t speak colloquially.

I let this bother me a few weeks ago and it hurt. I thought of what people did for women’s rights in the early 20th century and for civil rights in the 40s 50s and 60s. The dreams of those people . I wonder if they are embodied today?

I remember this old philosophical saying that played in my head while my hurt writhed and turned in on itself until it was anger. “He who makes a beast out of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

Isn’t that easier? To be that beast. Be the entity that is no longer at the mercy of social niceties and norms. Not sociopathy but something close. I thought that after all these years of speaking in a vernacular that showed nothing of regional dialect and of reasonable poise, years of gaining knowledge of myself and the world around me; I thought that it wouldn’t hurt as bad as when I was 11 but I was wrong. It cuts a bit deeper.

Beasts. I have met a few. They are frightening individuals but only because they enjoy being a beast. I won’t do that.

I love meeting new people and enjoying new cultures. When someone says the “n” word or speaks poorly of white people, they both cut deep. I am every bit as much white as I am black as I am Shoshone. Why is it that those traits have created a barrier of hate between me and getting to know a culture or a person?

Ambassadors. More than 40 years later and every person of color has to be an ambassador to their race. For multiracial individuals, you have to be able to represent more than that. You have to blend into the palate.

I am tired of being an ambassador or a surprise when it comes to education and the like. I love my caramel skin but to me it is a symbol more than anything.

I wish I could sit here and be more uplifting about this. I wish I could say, “but on a happy note!” There is a blurring line but it isn’t prominent. I sit here typing to you and all I think about is how much work I have done to be an individual and something as simple as a word that is said, not even about me or to me, can bring me down to a base level. It doesn’t matter who says it or what race they are. The word has meaning.

Words are powerful. Words are dangerous.

I will always strive to be the individual I want to be. I don’t want to break stereotypes because that means I was in one. I want to be outside of a stereotype. I want to keep my skin tone but cover it in grey. I want all of these things for me and for others because it is dangerous to be among beasts.

-Chris