The Performance of Life
One of the ways I maintain good mental health is to spend as much time as possible in places where I can just be me; meaning I can just be without thinking about how I am being. The challenge of trying to act as observer while trying to be present in the moment is taxing.
Everybody performs sometime; with our parents, bosses, teachers, whatever. Being an adult often means feeling one way and acting another.
A small example of this is the battle of the Smonday; that moment on Sunday when I realize that the weekend has been too short. Occasionally, I may even contemplate getting out of work the Monday. Yet invariably, Monday morning comes, and the adult in me forces myself out of bed and engages in another week. There is a good chance for the first few hours of that morning I will perform my job and being a good employee, until eventually I will just do my job and go about my day. It’s called earning a living. If you’re lucky like me, you do what you love so that you can find joy in it, even on bad days.
It seems like it has been an eon since I thought about my performance of gender. Truth is, when I rounded 30 I felt like I came into the mantle of woman, in that by that point, I had such a clear sense of my right to be my own woman. As such, I have found it hard to care what others think of me in relation to being a woman.
When it comes to Blackness however, survival requires performative skills. I was speaking to a friend the other day, and in trying to explain to her what it is like to be a visible minority I said, “ I would love to get through just one day without thinking about the fact that I am Black!”
I think the statement shocked her as much as it did me. For me the shock came from the truth of it. I can’t think of one day since my early 20s where I was not brought to an awareness of being Black. Some days it is the guy trailing me through the store, some days it is the shock of a colleague when I articulate a good point, some days it’s a young Black gay man being brutalized and having a rope slipped around his neck.
Black history month is particularly challenging. While bringing forward the hidden stories of achievement is uplifting, we also have to look into the shadows of history and reveal the ugliness hidden there, if it is to mean anything. That so much of it goes unattended and unacknowledged, and that we have to continue to fight to be regarded as human, makes it that much harder to put on the masks.
When I was a girl, a mini-series called Roots was on television. It was on too late for me to watch, but my mom, who was not a tv person, stayed up late to watch the entire series. On the Monday morning, as I was dressing for school, I noticed my mom was not going through her regular routine. I was surprised when my mother, who never took time off, who was sitting there fit as a fiddle, told me she was skipping day. “Up too late?” I quipped. “No.” she replied. “I don’t trust what will happen if I have to go in there and look those White people in the eye. I don’t trust what I might say.”
I laughed then; my mom is ever the lady, the idea of her popping off was laughable. Now however, I soooooo get it, and I am not laughing. While I have never felt the need to avoid all White people, I have to admit, there are some I only see when I have the strength to perform. Moreover, there are entire systems I avoid because the chances of me having a bad day are highly increased if I don’t act “right”. This includes the justice system, the medical system, the academic system, and the banking system.
So you will have to forgive me when I am not out, about and happy go lucky. Fact is, some days I just feel too Black to act otherwise.