featured Image reads: “Uncle Sam. The Old Southern Negroe.”
I thought I’d practice the very act with connecting with you all. I’ve realized it’s been a while since I actually wrote about how I feel, how I am. For starters, I am full throttle with my career and I currently have so much love and support around me. I would like to talk about how I started out 2014 with a job that seemed very promising because of its connections, and the art I would be around. It exposed me to “behind the scenes” things that go on in the local art world. Boy oh boy did I feel grateful for such an experience. In my 25 short days there, I thought this could be the thing that accompanies me in my creative process. I CAN actually have an awesome and fulfilling part-time job to accompany my aspirations of being a full-time artist.
I met some pretty creative people. Hell, with in those 25 days I managed to have met my idol, Alex Grey. I felt like I was on top of the world, and working at this establishment creatively fueled me in all the ways any other job couldn’t even measure up to. Everything was going fine until it didn’t. During my probationary period at this establishment, I came across jim crow era post cards.
[insert the bug gulp]
I was wondering how I could handle this. Can I talk to my boss about it? Would he understand where I was coming from? He is a big ol’ queer like myself, and he’s jewish: can he possibly understand oppression and mockery and how he could relate based on his ethnicity and his orientation? Can I politely give the cards back to him and say not a word in hopes that he’d understand? Should I just walk out and quit? Or, can I figure out a way and talk to an ally about this in hopes that it’ll translate over well to the big boss with out me coming off like the stereotypical, ‘angry black woman’? Guess what I chose…
Meanwhile, waiting for this meeting to officially happen, the executive manager came back from her time off. She radiated diffidence, and envy. During our time of getting to know each other, she mentioned that she cracks black jokes and asked me to not get offended if every now and then she was to crack a few black jokes because, Elaine*, elder black security guard, allows her too.
“No”, I said. “That is a boundary issue for me, and has to be consensual. If Elaine* let’s you do that, fine, that’s on her. I’d rather you get to know me first.” She abruptly apologized reassuring me that she wasn’t racist while continuing to tell me trivial cases of reverse racism with in the education system. Realizing that maybe I should have not said anything else, I jumped to tell her that there is no such thing as reverse racism once you understand the way systemic oppression works, and that the correct term in which she meant was prejudiced. After that spiel, I told her I no longer feel comfortable with having this discussion.
Big Boss enters the room with our lunch, I leave out to go use the bathroom, cry, smoke a cigarette, and take a breather because I felt in my heart that this opportunity would be ripped away from me.
I come back into the most uncomfortable situation, dead silence. Big boss instructs me to work on dusting rabbi art in the corner, while he entertains supporters, and even our mayor. I couldn’t keep my charade any longer; eyes growing puffy, irritated from the dust, and fighting back the onslaught of conservative tears.
“Sarah, I think we’re setting up shop early, and you’re free to go home a little early.” I then said okay and ran for the bus. I come to work next day thinking I have an ally to talk to about the recent race baiting incident. I explained to my co-worker what happened, and my fear from the very beginning, showed him the Jim Crow Era postcard and left them on the cash register while buying one of them for keeps. He then promised me that we’ll get to the bottom of this together. Work was over and I went home.
Not knowing it was my final day, I come in to my job with high hopes to actually have the conversation around recent events. I get settled in, eat my breakfast and go on the sales floor. I notice one of my co workers storm out of the room. I waved to him, he walked very fast with his head down not even acknowledging my presence.
“Sarah, may I talk to you?”
“Sure, is it something bad?”
“This just isn’t working out”
“Why, have I done something wrong? What are you terminating me for?”
“I don’t know. I can’t tell you that. I am just an old man with a gift shop. I am an emotional old man, and I feel that you don’t belong here.”
He didn’t even wish me well, or offer to give me a recommendation– but leaned in to give me a hug. Perplexed, I accepted and walked away. I walked away, I took that walk of shame that felt very similar to the black and brown women and men that searched for work during the plight of emancipation proclamation, and through the civil rights period and was rejected for the color of their skin. In that moment, I felt unsafe, and let down by theory of the American Dream. Employment felt worthless for this emerging artist. I didn’t even find sanctuary in this museum– If I can’t find it there, I can’t find it no where but with in.
So what did I do? Gained almost 40 pounds in body weight, depressed, and found myself applying for food stamps. This was hard. It took me almost 7 months to get myself off the ground. It was in October 2014 when I found myself applying for a yoga work-study at a well-known yoga studio here in chocolate city. It was also October when Scars was officially published– my art adorning the cover, and in my mailbox. In November, I was granted the yoga work-study and has since lost about 20 of those 40 pounds!
And whaddaya know, January came and I had a solo exhibition. What my yoga practice, therapy, and creating again has taught me: NEVER give up. That job didn’t give me worth, it propelled me in to my purpose. I could had done so much… I was considering it too but you know what, karma has this way of exposing the truth. The divine has this way of making sure things roll in their natural order. I am not saying that this establishment should be left off the hook, but I should no longer seek for these kind of people to care about me, my being black, my feelings, nor my art. Let this experience of mine help nourish cultural elevation, and valuing oneself. I now know, that I will mobilize with in my community, that I will give my business to those with in my community, I will actively seek allies that are familiar with black and brown oppressions and build with them, and I will place value in black artistry, black curation, and black galleries. There is value in being black and having an experience like mines.
I am really saying my peace here y’all, crying. Yo’, I was afraid to write this… But nah, this is as real and as trill as it got for me in 2014. I am still trucking, and surprisingly, still growing.
asterisk* for the sake of hiding the identities of people involved.