Systems of Dominance,
and the Perceived
I met an older Black man last Monday morning in front of the Whole Foods. I was sitting under the overhanging waiting out the rain. He came out of the store into the downpour and looked at me and smiled. He shrugged. I smiled and shrugged back. He told me to make sure my umbrella didn’t blow away. And at the moment he said that, as I followed his pointing finger to my umbrella, it began to blow away. I shot up, chased it back then put my foot on it. He came and sat down next to me.
This isn’t a story about the amount of alcohol on his breath, OK? He had on a quality hat and rain jacket, and donned a nice messenger bag. He was jovial. He told me that he also knew I was Black and answered that his people were from South Carolina. And when he suddenly became belligerent: You know they don’t NEVER! wanna see two black — African Americans talking together! I noticed that he was also wearing khaki pants with ragged hems and white sneakers with black shoelaces with no socks. He meandered. I thought him so very strange. He hesitated when I asked his name, saying that he had already told me when he hadn’t, and that I had never told him mine when I had. When he finally told me, he said that he didn’t like giving his name out. He held long periods of lucid direct eye contact with me, but there seemed something intrinsically locked about him. He told me a tale of what he deemed racist white boys, and I asked him not to stare so provokingly at the white men who walked by in various stages of greeting joyfulness and skittish dis-ease. I don’t think I would’ve noticed so many black men walk by in various stages of greeting amusement and curiosity if he hadn’t been sitting next to me. But I’m not really sure this is a story about his Blackness either, OK?
This is a story about what he said at the final end of a long, rambling conversation.
“I might look at a woman’s body and think that it’s interesting”, he said, “like that woman”, he vaguely pointed to a woman walking by.
I stopped him. Interesting? I asked. I began laughing and asked him why he would use the word “interesting” to describe a woman’s body.
“Because that’s what it is”, he began laughing too. “Like a tree is interesting. A man is a tree too”, he said. “We’re all branches of the Lord.”
I nodded but said that I still found his use of the adjective fascinating because I had never heard a man describe a woman’s body as “interesting”? Maybe “hot”, or like a “brick house” or —
He shook his head and said that those descriptions were nothing, that they didn’t mean anything because it was all about the mind and if she didn’t have the mind then nothing.
I think this is a story about my surprise. About what it implied. That I was surprised because of an unconscious bias that his sex was incapable of such complexity. I mean, I was molested as a child by a man who looked like me, a Black man, but the experience also left me with a sense of superiority to him because of his immorality. Whether it was topical intelligence and/or a constant pursuit of genitalia, I was not often presented with a 3-dimensional character. What I was really saying was that when and if I was ever angered by inequality and past memories, I was angered by a supposed oppressor, oppressors, who I had oftentimes experienced as dumber than me.
We finally had to go, and we both stood up. Our bodies kind of leaned into each other for a hug, but I was the one who finally initiated it. But he didn’t really hug me, which was even more surprising to me. He sort of made his body stiff, like a tree, and put his arms around me.