Friday, September 19, 2008

being busy - and being invisible at church

good gracious!
this week has been a little bit full.

had a date on monday (which was fun), worked furiously to get ready to leave town for a meeting on tuesday, was in indianapolis on wednesday for my meeting, flew back, worked furiously on thursday to catch up and now - hey! more working furiously while also getting ready for a church retreat over the weekend, a birthday party and maybe a tennis date.

but what i really want is a nap.

speaking of church, here's a little story i haven't had a chance to share. it reminded me that, as progressive as my congregation is, it has a LOOONG way to go to recognize something that Macon D over at Stuff White People Do has written about here and here. (And has posted a fine analysis of non-white reaction to what white people do here.)

i was with some church folks at a farewell reception for a church colleague. most of the people there were from Session, some i recognized from my years as Deacon, and some from my position as board member on the non profit organization housed at the church. in other words, these were not complete strangers to me.

but as the cocktail party wore on, it became clear that people did not recognize me to the same extent that i recognized them.

little old white ladies rushed up to me and cooed, 'oh, stacy! it's so good to see you here!' repeatedly, they did this - even after someone else had introduced me as 'Ding,' member of the Such&Such Board. oh, the stiff smile i'd wear as their eyes would blink and flutter and i could see their confusion, which probably sounded a little like this:

'what? but - but - stacy is The Black Girl! this is a Black Girl, so...this must be stacy! but she says she's not stacy! but she must be! why isn't she stacy?!'


when i put in my requisite 90 minutes of cocktailing, i sat in the lounge area to check my messages on my cell phone. a man from the reception came up to me, hugged me and said, 'oh, stacy! it was really good to see you tonight!'

i had been standing next to this man when the departing executive director of our organization publicly thanked me for my service on the board - and said my name.

flatly, i said, 'i'm not stacy.'
he said, 'oh.' silence. uncomfortable silence as i stared at him, with my cell phone in my hand. i was not smiling.

he said, 'well, it was good to see you.' and rushed away while i really tried not think bad thoughts about white people - and failed.

who is stacy? stacy is the african american woman who runs the very successful tutoring and mentorship program at our church.

and, clearly, the white people i serve with at church think she and i are exactly the same person. this is not the first time this has happened to me. at our mission benefit, at a board dinner, and during coffee hour while i stand at our organization's table during a fundraising campaign - i am every other black woman in church except who i really am.

do white people really not see the differences between us? do we really blur and blend into indistinguishable shapes? are we just all brown and black and yellow blobs that float indistinctly in and out of white vision?

this is the kicker: not one person apologized for mistaking me for stacy. not a single word of apology passed their thin, christian lips.


Macon D said...

I'm sad to hear this happened Ding, but as you know, I'm not surprised. I call my fellow white folks on this when I see them doing it--"Pay ATTENTION, man!" etc. I hope that does some good.

And hey, I'm honored that you've read my blog that closely! Thanks for the linkage.

ding said...

thanks for writing a very good blog!

the invisibility takes a toll; yes, i can turn it into a snarky, jokey story (which i did when i got home for my roommate) but it starts to build, like plaque.

Orange said...

On the bright side, nobody called you Brown Sugar.

But wait. They didn't all exclaim, "Omigosh, I'm so sorry! I don't know what I was thinking. You are...Ding? It's so nice to meet you, Ding."? They should have.

Sometimes white folks do cringe when they mistake one black person for another, as "Jeopardy!" whiz Ken Jennings' wife did. Some of the church people might've gone home and told someone, "I'm so embarrassed!"—but they ought to have acknowledged it to you, too.

liza said...

Ugh. Horrible and so familiar. I've been "confused" with the other Chicana on our faculty (yes, the other ONE at a liberal arts school with about 150 faculty members) who is at least 20 yrs older than me. And looks NOTHING like me. OR, similarly, people subsitute my last name for some other Spanish name ending in "ez" so for example Sanchez, Rodriguez, Hernandez, Gonzalez,all pretty much stand in for each other. The worst in when it happens via email, but at least I can send them a written reply which is easier than doing it in person. It also forces them to apologize, in writing.

ding said...

20 yrs older than you? wow. there's no excuse. there really isn't.

that's what i kept waiting for - a public recognition of just how very rude they were - and none came. it was a little shocking, considering how WASPy they all are, and how so very correct they are with every other aspect of behavior within the church.

i'm going on a retreat with these people tonight and tomorrow. i wonder how many times someone will call me Stacy, then?

it really just pisses me off - i mean, i manage to keep all the white people i know straight in my head!

liza said...

I'm always tempted to say "I know, i know, we all look alike" while chuckling when it happens. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I have said something to that effect once after a drink or two at some party--HORRIFYING whoever it was that offended me. It made the whole situation worse, so I don't exactly recommend it, but it did please me, sort of. The stupid thing is, I felt like *I* was the one who was rude.

ding said...

they should be horrified. they should feel abashed. it was horribly rude of them. frankly, i'm tired of giving clueless people cookies for their ignorance.

is it bad that i think it's like disciplining a child? smack them across the ass once and you get obedience later.

yeah. that's bad.