One morning, passing a pair of men on the street I said, “G’morning!”
“What?!” one of them caustically replied with a wrinkled forehead. They were both of African descent.
Having Black friends for most of my life, I’ve heard about their struggle to be accepted regardless of their skin color. And having had my own racially-discriminating experiences, I could relate to some degree to receiving the ignorant hatred of some white people. This response was no surprise. Clearly, the men hadn’t heard me well.
“I said, ‘Good morning!'” I smiled.
Unwrinkling, he said “Oh! Good morning to you!”
The men waved and smiled back. The one whose defense had been up nodded his head in understanding. Was it possibly the first time an Asian person greeted him that way? That would not surprise me after observing the cultural divide in the San Francisco bay area.
Cultural separation leaves room for prejudicial fears to live and incubate. We make it worse by remaining introverted in the presence of others, keeping our eyes downcast, our ear canals plugged with earphones, and our attention on our internalized conflicts. This was the first thing I noticed about people living in San Francisco. It’s a travesty of American culture perpetuated by our obsession with mobile technology. I say this while sitting on a New York City subway, typing on my ancient Android 2.3 smartphone.
In Brooklyn, it’s common to hear “Good Morning” from people of different ethnicities, some neighborhoods more than others. Walking the dog one morning a few days ago in Brooklyn, at least 5 different strangers said “hello” or “good morning” or smiled and made eye contact. They had different skin tones and were different genders.
Manhattan is another city.
One of my black friends described her situation at work in a store on the downtown side of Manhattan. “If I leave my hair natural, people look in the window but don’t come in. But when I straighten my hair, people come in.” “People” are mostly tourists, and mostly white. This dismayed me.
Before leaving for the west coast in 2012, I used to go out of my way to tell a black girl with natural hair that her hair was beautiful to encourage her to keep it that way, and hopeully encourage others to follow. Some hair straightening uses chemicals in a permanent process. It’s as unnatural as a straight-haired girl getting permanent curls.
New York in general is not as plastic as other cities like Los Angeles and Miami where boob jobs are almost a norm. And in San Francisco, women tend to be as natural as any outdoor type. Except for black women’s hair. That too is a disappointment.
When are we going to learn to accept people the way they are and stop pressuring them to look “acceptable”? This goes for Asians and Hispanics too. It’s one of the reasons I wear an Asian dress in my acting headshot.
Oprah should lead the way in going natural, not for black women to follow her example, but for white people to start getting used to the look.
It’s a shame that the media only acquaints the general public with some sub-cultures of America and not others. What will it take to have a black leading lady with her natural curls? When will an American movie, backed by a major production company, have a starring East Asian who isn’t a martial arts master? When will the numerous industries of the world value heterogeneity the way we value the plethora of available fruits and vegetables in the world? Perhaps that would be taking things for granted, but at least it’s beyond cultural discrimination.
The only industry that seems color blind is technology. Maybe it’s because programmers are behind network firewalls. Let the worldwide tech industry convene in one place and slap insularity in the face.
[edited February 16, 2015]