We have a podcast up at Bedrosian for Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric where I mostly am the clueless white lady. But that does give Raphael and Donnajean the opportunity to expand the discussion, so here it is. Mostly, what I learned doing the podcast is how in denial I am. Not that we are post-racial. But that these precious people, like Raph and Donnajean, suffer so and risk death just being out in the world. I just don’t want that to be true. These are cherished people. I’ve been hoping for years that we could get to the point where we are paying reparations, fixing mass incarceration, and the other policies and institutions. But we are still killing people on the street.
So anyway, one thing I did want to discuss was he public space problems of sitting on the bus. Rankine uses the white unwillingness to sit next to her on the bus as another peg on the board of how white people let black people know they are not ok. The whole book is so powerful: it shows you so clearly how micro aggressions fit as small signals and reminders with the big signals–and the ultimate enforcer, violence–in the lives of black Americans. (And people of color internationally.)
There is something I do want people to know: I don’t sit by you on the bus because of who you are. I don’t sit by you because of who I am. My size. I’m a big lady, and I don’t want anybody to be uncomfortable. I’ve always been lucky enough to live close to my work and to have relatively good health despite my size, and so standing for me for the trip is no problem. My train ride is two stops. Ten minutes, max.
I want people to be comfortable and happy on the bus or train. So I stand because I take up space, and if somebody smaller or nobody at all sits next to you, then you will be more comfortable than if I sit by you.
And today I am wearing white pants. So there’s that.