Black Like Me: A seminal work, a 1959 experiment in which an author darkened his skin and traveled the South, opens with the sentence, "What is it like to experience discrimination based on skin color, something over which one has no control?"
Okay. Now, let me get one thing straight, up. I want it said that there may not be one other white person alive who is happier than I am about the election of Barack Obama, a man of African descent in the White House after 200 years of discrimination and a shameful lack of fairness by our hands. About that, I must be clear. That needs to be said.
Still, now that that seems to be on the road to recovery... well, what about me? Yes, what if you're short like me, dammit!
I felt a cold wind of worry and change as I saw Michelle Obama get out of that car. Inauguration Day. You saw her. We all did. She climbed out, tall, leggy, well-shorn, in that outfit. Wearing heels. Not a slouch in sight.
Happy, happy, happy as I was, I felt a sudden chill go up my tiny spine.
I know where this whole thing is headed. South!
Trust me, there were years and years and years when I was in fashion. I could clear entire aisles on airplanes. Yes, up till now, I've had men jumping up in planes to help me put my luggage into the overhead rack. I'd lightly touch my carry-on, glance up from downswept eyes, and men would scurry. "Let me help you get that up there, Honey!"
But now, you all avert your eyes. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking about that First Mama, Michelle. She of the damn long limbs.
You're thinking, "I'm not helping Ms. 'Short-thing', followed 'shortly' (ha ha ha) by, "How big can her luggage be?" (See, I made the joke myself, before you could. That's what we who face discrimination do. We laugh in the face of our pain). I can hear your tone. Your undertone. You think these dainty ears can't hear, but they can. (I've heard 'em all, I have a brother). You don't even realize it's not okay. That's always the first step of discrimination. Unawareness.
No longer am I in fashion. I know. I can almost smell it.
It could almost make me think fondly of Nancy Reagan. Of course, not the 'ketchup is a vegetable' part. But she was petite, probably made Ronald feel like she needed a little help.
But "she's no Michelle Obama," the men will now decide. Now that the winds of change are blowing across our new and apparently larger nation, "Michelle doesn't need anyone's help," you'll say. Yes, as those winds now cry out 'No More' to bite-sized portions, "Michelle doesn't need help."
Let me take a step back. That same Inauguration Day. I was going to a friend's house to watch this blessed event -- and let me remind you once again -- 200 years later -- there is not one person alive who is happier than I am about this election. We're all on a collective date with Barack Obama. I need that to be said. Still...
The setting is my local Ralph's. It's about 6 AM. I stop to get chips and salsa.
I glance up at the Taco sauce. It's on the top shelf. Of course. I gazed at the sauce (don't get me started on top shelves), and I felt pain. "Help me!" I wanted to shout. "Help... me!" But I felt too proud to shout.
Two -- it just so happened -- cute, tall white dudes came into the aisle. "Everything's so easy for them," I thought as I watched them grab two bean dips, then "how bigoted of me!" and I stopped myself. What would Pres-elect Obama say? I started to ask, "Can you..." But before I could get out my simple, basic, and face it, human request, do you know what these two surfer dudes did? Dudes who I suspect have never suffered discrimination in their lives??? They looked over my head, and continued on their way. Over my head, did you hear me? As if I wasn't there!
I put the chips back. I left. With $5 in my pocket and not Ralph's.
In a recession, mind you.
I saw you. I saw you, avert your eyes. I know what you're thinking. "Brother Barack got himself a tall, tall girl. She's quite a drink of water. And she is nothing but a help to that guy." (Trust me, I know how men are -- how you think -- how you can talk yourself out of any commitment, even one as tiny as helping me get Taco Sauce off the top shelf). You're saying, "Yes, this short chick's cute and sassy, but if I get that Taco Sauce off the shelf... yeah, she's got a nice smile, I can see that, now... but c'mon. I get the sauce down, and the next thing you know she's got me reaching for the Tabasco... and then we're going for coffee... and next thing you know, we're getting married. Someday, I could be President, too! But not if I hook up with this short-ie. All the time it took Brother Obama to write those fabulous speeches, it was because he didn't have to help Michelle. If I hook up with this short chick... very nice smile... Stop it! I'd never get anything done! I can tell. She's a 'reacher.' She'd be all up in the White House, making me put up shelves on the top of the Lincoln Bedroom closet! Fuggedabout it!!!" "Nice breasts, though."
Or maybe it's even worse. Maybe you didn't see me standing there at all. (Ouch).
It doesn't help my situation that Michelle is so freakin' fabulous. Yeah, yeah, I hear you all on TV. My ears can hear! I've got feelings! I think it, myself. "Check out... that camel and black ensemble. God, you need legs to wear that. I'd have to cut off the... well, the whole camel if it was me."
Hey, thanks a lot, Michelle. Yeah, you! That's who I'm talking to. You with the great attitude!!! How can I not see you? You're freakin' six feet tall!!! What'd you play, basketball??? (Do I sound bitter)?
I'm done. Toast. History... I'm so out of fashion. I had my moment, but thanks to Michelle and Barack, it's pretty much over.
Short people -- like so many oppressed and burdened before us -- we're fine when we're serving you. We're fine during a pogrom, or standing on a cold bread line, yeah, then you're all about the short chick. You want us short and low to the ground when you're running from bullets. We of low-maintenance are highly desirable when bullets are involved. So when you want to dodge the Nazis and duck and cover under bushes, then you'll be calling me.
Damn you, Michelle. Damn you and that fabulous coat with the long flowing lines.
Yeah, we all caught your little stroll up Pennsylvania Ave. You were striding, no less. Cold, but running on adrenalin. Everyone commented. But not me. I saw the new 'you.' Girl was walking proud. No more of the obligatory 'hunch', the one-shoulder down, the embarrassed lean.
Look at you, striding. Looking tall and straight ahead and proud. Who do you think you are, the First Lady?
Oh, yeah. Well, what-evah.
You think it's hard getting a cab when you're black? Well, try being five foot me! In fact, try taking a walk in my hi-tops down any urban street on a rainy day. Trust me! You'll think you're taking your own life in your hands! It's like a spinning wheel, trying to dart and dodge all your umbrellas!!! SEE me!! Do I not exist? I exist!!! I'm a human!! I just want to wear long coats and ensembles like everyone else!
The truth is, this is America. And like I said, I did leave Ralph's without my salsa. Economic sanctions are a great way to fight. That's what I can do! If I can't reach the top shelf, then I won't shop in your store, and it's you who will suffer the consequences. Mr. Ralph's. Mr. Trader Joe's. Mr. Kroger-Gelson's! Economic sanctions are one resource we minorities do have, and you cannot deny me my rights. Chips and salsa are my basic American Inauguration Day right.
So let's just say, yes, that Barack Obama has broken through doors we never thought would open. But let's not think it's all simply heaven. I mean, has no one in the universe ever heard of a ladder? I know, I know it's the recession and all, so I know all you stores, EVERY ONE OF YOU (that's still left, that is), you'll use that as an excuse. "We can't afford a ladder!" "We're trying to cut back!" Well, I'll tell you what. You find a way for each customer to have fair access to guacamole and maybe then I'll return.
Forget the ladder. I'd even be happy with a stepstool.
And just to share with you, Mr. ACLU, and anyone else who might care, I kept a place called "North Hollywood Hemster's Tailor" in business for over twenty years!!
So, this is to you, Michelle. You're one long drink of unhemmed water. Someone who's never stood on a bath stepstool, wondering if the bottom half of her outfit is okay. Yes, things are easy for you, Michelle, you and all those other tall chicks, people who have never even owned a straight-needle or a hem-hook, nonetheless, nonetheless:
Shouldn't it be more important to me, you know, the state of the world?
Every day I see the headlines with President Obama, I feel like I'm in a dream state. A fugue state. I'm not exactly sure now's the time to start complaining. "Obama plans to close Gitmo." Today's headline: "FIX IT" he's told Citicorp who bought a corporate PLANE with OUR bailout. I watch as if the past decade might be erased. I watch as if I haven't been entirely insane. I see justice finally prevail. (Just not for me)?
No. This is not what Mr. Obama would want.
I know I said this was about me, but I was wrong to do that. I'm going to try being inclusive, like them. I can see now that when I was watching Michelle Obama walk up Pennsylvania Ave., what I should have been focusing on was that she is descended from slaves and she now lives in the White House, not that she was wearing heels. In fact, I pledge to not answer the countless emails I still receive from David Plouffe at Team Obama, where they amazingly ask me -- a citizen -- what I feel is important: I promise not to write, "Ladders for Short People!". I will continue to type, "HALLIBURTON!!!" And I will pray for salvation.
I've been so self-absorbed.
Being black you can't change, as John Howard Griffin said, back in 1959. Well, thank God. I guess I can stand the problem of being 'looked-over' for that of being 'overlooked.' Like black people have been in so many places for so many years. Black people who spent 200 years not being served at restaurants. In fact, I would happily, gladly and willingly keep my small problems, any time and anywhere.
There are some who might suggest I just buy myself a pair of heels. But you do the math. Six inch heels? I'd be five six. I can't even touch her heels, the heels Michelle walks on.
Okay, seems I can't be tall like Michelle. But gracious like her, now, that I can try.