“Punk ass punk!”
“Mark ass busta!”
Wait, wait. Let me rewind. About 6 weeks ago (yes, it’s taken me that long to be calm enough to write about it) me and a friend who was leaving the institution decided to have a farewell night out on the town. We ran into two colleagues at the first place we went and had a great time eating and chatting. Around 8:30pmish we all leave and they go home while my friend and I head to a second location.
She and I had been to this place many times before. In fact, I know the owner and his wife fairly well so we didn’t think twice about going there. We arrive and see it’s crowded but notice that our usual booth is open. We sit. She goes to the bar and orders us drinks. We drink. We talk. We laugh. Great times are being had by all!
…7 minutes later I look up and there are two black guys standing by our table. One is probably 5’8, 170lbs and is clearly drunk. He is accompanied by his ‘cousin’ (they’d just met 3 days ago) who was 6’8 and closer to 300lbs. The shorter one—we shall call him Tom—is drunkenly asking us (read: slurredly shouting) if he should name his first son Armani. We do the typical ‘we don’t want to be bothered with drunk men’ thing and laugh, briefly answer, and stop making eye contact.
To no avail. They sit in our booth uninvited. Tom sits beside my friend and Big Foot sits beside me (I was shocked he could fit in the booth). It’s loud in the bar so I can’t hear what my friend and Tom are talking about, but Tom is the quintessential drunk with his hands waving around, leaning in, shouting, and getting angry for no reason when he misunderstands/mishears things she says. Meanwhile, Big Foot has asked me my name. Thus marks the beginning of the devolution into what I like to call the You’re a Sell-Out discourse.
Big Foot: That’s a Hebrew name? It’s bad ju ju to have a Hebrew name and not be Jewish. You know…they say they suffered. Okay, so like a million Jews got burned up. Who cares? That’s nothing.
Me: O_O wow…you really just said that.
Big Foot: I don’t want to talk about that. So what do you do?
Me: I’m a professor. We both are.
Big Foot: *rolls eyes* Oh..so y’all are those Condoleezza Rice loving b****es. You probably have posters of her all in your house.
Me: (he is talking over me so I went unheard): You don’t even know me. What the hell are you talking about?
Big Foot: I know how black women with PhDs are. Y’all think yall run the world but you don’t. It will ALWAYS be a man’s world.
Big Foot (to Tom): Yo man! Don’t let her (my friend) talk to you crazy. She’s one of those sell-out black women who thinks cause she got an education she’s better than someone. You say what you want! Do whatever you want to do! Forget her!
Now, you can imagine how the rest of that scene played out. My friend manages to not let her rage get the best of her and can speak to them without picking up an empty bottle and breaking it over Big Foot’s head. I commend her because I could not do the same. I asked Big Foot to move so I could get out of the booth and we could leave. He refused. He refused 3 more times. Eventually, they get up and we get our tab to pay. Tom has been apologizing profusely on behalf of his ‘cousin’ but we are so offended and enraged we have no choice but to leave. When I stand up, Big Foot has the nerve to say “oh damn, and you’re tall too. I think tall women are sexy”.
WHAT?!?!?! You just called me a sell-out b****. You accused me of thinking I’m better than people. You told me it would never be my world. Most of all, you tried to align me with Condoleezza Rice.
But despite all of that, you still find me attractive. More importantly, you think your compliment is sufficient to override the disrespect you’ve delivered in the past 15 minutes. Hell, you don’t even know you were being disrespectful because like many in the black community, you’ve bought into the discourse of correlating life success with selling out.
Now, I am a firm believer in ‘lifting as we climb’. I don’t believe that once you are successful you should never look back. I know that my success is because of the contribution and influence of many others in my life.
But does having a PhD make me a sell-out to my community? Or is it because I attended an Ivy League institution? Or that my grad school was the top in its field? Or because I now teach at a predominately white college? Or because I live downtown? These can’t be the reasons because he never asked about any of that.
These things are all facts, yes. But they speak nothing about how I work in low income Hispanic and black schools. How I go to families’ homes to help them figure out how to best meet the educational needs of their children. Or how I coach a step team at a mixed race high school in another school district. Or of the mentorship I give friends, parents, and children in the community.
He knew nothing about me but felt justified in condemning my success based on the color of my skin and the letters behind my name. Are those things an oxymoron? Can one not have brown skin and possess an advanced degree? Or is it that I can’t do those things and still be a ‘legitimate’ member of the black community?
When will we stop internalizing the perspectives of the white narrative and begin to write our own story? When will we recognize the difference between selling up and selling out?