• Nyle Amin

Now You See [B]ME

A few weeks ago I had seen a video taken by a White woman in Target of a Black mother confronting her for reaching over her daughter for a bottle of shampoo. Watching this video I thought that it was an overreaction. However, the comments and the discussions that have been posted in reaction to this video claimed that White people tend to not see Black people in public spaces and that this wasn’t an isolated incident. When I read tweets like this I didn’t know how to react. I couldn’t possibly say anything as I hadn’t experienced an entitlement like this back home and hadn’t heard of any cases before. I thought maybe because I’m not black, I can’t relate to this microaggression. Well, that is, until last Monday.

I was next in line at a Starbucks when a White male who was around my age- maybe younger- walked towards me. I assumed that he was joining the queue but, instead of standing behind me as one usually does, he decided to stand beside me. I thought this was unusual, but not alarming. When the customer in front of me, well us, had moved on, I began to make my way to the till but so did the guy beside me.

It was only when the cashier, who had the same puzzled look on his face as I did, gestured for me to come forward that he realised that I was even there. Instead of apologising for the mistake he simply waved his hand as if to say “after you”, as if he was doing me a favour by allowing me to go before him. I just shrugged it off and continued to place my order.

I replayed what had happened as I waited for my drink to be made.

*Note to self: don’t order after a group of gals in a Starbucks because you will be waiting forever!*

The guy had walked straight towards me so I was in his eyesight. It was clear that I was waiting to be served so how, or rather why, had he not noticed me? It was then that I remembered the Target video.

Had I, too, just experienced the alleged invisibility that people of colour are subjected to regularly? It was a weird thing to get my head around. Normally my skin colour is a reason why I’m noticed; whether it’s on public transport or in a shop, I find myself being watched for suspicious behaviour. But to be overlooked and ignored was a new one- well this trip was about new experiences I guess…

The video was discussed on The Real, an American daytime talk show, and their guest co-host, Amanda Seales, suggested that this happened because we are culturally trained to operate in certain ways in certain environments. Meaning that a person of colour acts in a certain way when they are around their own kind to when they are around White people, which echoes Fanon’s theory of ‘self-division’ that I studied during critical theory at university. She states that this is also true for White people, as they conduct themselves/ interact with people in different degrees of politeness. This means that they will have certain mannerisms around other White people that they don’t have around people of colour.

Having said this, this isn’t me excusing the behaviour of the guy in Starbucks or painting all White people with the same brush. I just thought that it was interesting that I had this experience in New York as I hadn’t experienced it back home in England, or at least hadn’t taken notice of it. Clearly, this isn’t the absolute worst form of racial injustice there is, I even feel like calling it racism is a reach and very much plays to victimhood culture. It’s a microaggression. It’s just something that I think that we should be mindful about when we conduct our business and to be considerate and just be aware of those around us.

Also, I think I should address the extended period of time between this post and the previous one. I had planned on writing about how last week marked one month since I arrived at JFK but the piece didn’t sit right with me and there wasn’t an interesting angle I felt I could write it from so I decided to postpone as I didn’t want to publish something subpar.

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