So, being at the present Summer Solstice ritual prep, I am starting to feel what I think I can sufficiently label the “Only Negro Syndrome”, where you are the only Black person in a sea of White faces and slowly, but most definitely, this starts to irk you.
It. Is. Tiresome.
Only Negro Syndrome is when you have to act differently than you usually would, much less relaxed than usual, because you’re thinking with the double consciousness of “Hey, I’m trying to engage myself with the activities at hand,” and “I am probably going to hear a racist joke or experience a microagression before all this is over.” Or the ever popular, but occasional, “Am I going to die?” To avoid racially-focused comments and microaggressions (even if it is near inevitable sometimes):
– You try to avoid any and every known stereotype you know about Blackness. This means you remove most slang or you’ll be dealing with the White folks around you echoing as if severely mentally challenged and completely hinged on that particular slang. They will think that you’re the living version of the creatures they’ve seen on such wildlife documentaries such as The Wire, The Corner, The 12 O’Clock Boys. In their minds, it is perfectly fine to live out their poverty porn fantasies since, to them, you somehow consented to getting boiled down from a multifaceted human being to a modernized minstrel character just because you didn’t feel like talking as if making a formal speech. You change your clothes, anything that could look like it didn’t come from Lands’ End catalogue could be seen as “threatening” and, all of a sudden, people don’t trust you being alone. Ever. If you have natural hair, you’re going to be on edge because they want to touch you and you want to hit them out of surprise because grabbing and stroking random people is not cool.
– You avoid “stereotypical” foods such as anything that could possibly come from a chicken, regardless if it is fried, baked, roasted, salad-ed, whatever. If it is watermelon, gotta avoid it, even if everyone else is getting a slice. It doesn’t matter if it is the only fruit you see, it’s only a plain fruit, a healthy summer treat when they eat it, but get seen eating it while Black, here comes the Black jokes. If it is soda, you avoid purple (grape) and if there are sweets, avoid apple flavored (but somehow apples themselves are perfectly fine). If it is greens (kale, collard greens), either stay away from it (it will taste disgusting, I can assure you) or risk race jokes or just stomach all the “We just discovered this! Let me tell you about kale!” from the White folks who are baldly and awfully appropriating foods you grew up with. And if you so much mention “cultural appropriation” or “culture vultures” or “no, you didn’t because Black folks have been eating this ever since we were dragged to this country”, expect hurt feelings. To them, being called a racist is faaaar, far worse than experiencing racism.
– You try to be agreeable because apparently any form of protest or amplified emotion is “angry”. Like, you could be jumping up and down in joy and it’s “anger/violence”. Or, again, you’re going to be mockingly mimicked because oh hey, the Black person is doing something! We should do it too! That and you don’t want to risk getting chucked out because someone was upset you didn’t find their Trayvon Martin/twerk joke funny. Even if the White person (or people) want you to painstakingly educate them on the history of racism, it’s not because they genuinely want to learn, it is so they can get into a hissy fit and try to derail by making it about them personally.
– You’re going to have your English corrected. Even if you have a degree in English literature (*cough cough*) and can not only explain the structure of a sentence down to the disjunct, adjuct or conjunct but the history of the progression of English from its start to now, someone is going to think it is smugly funny to correct your English. Again, using any relaxed speech while Black somehow effortlessly communicates “uneducated”. Even if the person you’re talking to speaks as if their cerebral speech center is controlled by a convulsing, rabid raccoon and a careless teenager.
– Dumb down and sanitize your culture and heritage…a lot. Again, it’s like everyone drank lead paint growing up because your culture apparently isn’t valid to anyone but you. Instead, it’s is a cornucopia of mocking jokes, memes and broad but negative depiction of “otherness”. You’re going to hear the word “ghetto” a lot, especially from people who A) have never lived in one a day in their lives and B) are terrified to simply drive down one. The people who live and exist there aren’t people, they’re things, objects, npc zombies and criminals. Don’t ask for or reference anything that is too embedded in your culture because if the White folks feel as otherized as they’re making you, someone is going to get their feelings hurt and you’re going to have to deal with being the bad guy. Or it’s going to get mocked incessantly because, well, I already explained above, your culture and heritage is discount bin fodder to them. A suburban school shooting is a national tragedy, a drive by shooting is hilarious. Black history is barely secondary trivia, White history is mandatory and primary.
– Get thanked. A lot. Oh my gods, you would have thought you discovered world peace or the cure to hunger or cancer or something. As the only non-White person there, you’re thanked for showing up as if you being there saved the event from going snow-blindingly White. Now, it is snow-blindingly White with a speck of peppercorn chucked in for good measure. They don’t want to change the culture they have, which keeps minorities away like a repellent. Nor do they want to talk about how they’re creating a culture that keeps minorities away like a repellent. Nor do they actively want to do anything besides bump their gums about why it is so difficult to keep/attract minorities that are staying away because the culture is such a repellent. Nope, it’s much easier to pretend nothing is wrong and that minorities just don’t want anything to do with them because those finicky minorities are so close-minded. (Yes, this is the black hole calling the kettle and the pot “black”.) It would just be easier to thank the random Black person who wandered in (and is probably planning to wander away now) and stayed for longer than a couple minutes while marveling to them – a lot – why they can’t attract a more diverse set of people. And then go promptly deaf or enraged when informed that the problem probably lies within them and not in the people they’re trying to bring in.
Even if you started with the intention of “Going along to get along”, it’s going to wear on you eventually and you’ll start to feel irritated more and more as time goes on. Or you just want to engage less and less with whatever is going on. You want to be yourself but know that if you tried, it’s going to be a lot of headache. It doesn’t take much to go from “Friendly Negro” to “Militant/Scary Negro”. It’s just that you see everyone not having to really put on a mask to reduce dealing with something as sucky as racially charged aggression (especially since that can turn fatal) but you do and it’ll begin to wear on you that it isn’t fair. It is frustrating, to say the least.
It is frustrating because you don’t get to have as much fun. Instead, you have to be on the cautious look out or awareness that someone is going to make a race joke (because it always happens, no matter how faint), starts droning on and on about whatever White Savorism expedition they’ve been on (“I’ve been to the ghetto! Did you know they wear shoes there? I helped one brush her hair, it was like brushing cotton. The little girl’s hair was soft as a sheep, I wish I could stuff it in a pillow.”), and of course, how not racist they are by being completely and totally racist. You’ve got to be on guard because, honestly, you don’t want to get sideswiped with someone’s cultural bigotry.
If there were a Black Pagans group or one for minority Pagans, I’d join quick. It would be nice being in a place where people don’t grab my hair like I’m a petting zoo, make really object comments about race while thinking they’re so enlightened and expressions of Whiteness everywhere. I don’t expect for White Pagans to be progressive that much when it comes to race given my and other Black Pagans personal experiences as well as just dealing with Whiteness while minority as a whole. I rather avoid the trouble and just fellowship with others I don’t have to be that skeptical around.
When it comes to Pagan spaces that are White dominated, basically, they don’t want to solve the cultural problem which creates Only Negro Syndrome because they feel that they are not the problem and that such a problem doesn’t exist where they are. Whereas I am strongly deciding to just remove myself from going to these events altogether. They’re nice and I like the theatric of high rites but it’s getting to really not be worth it, plain and simple.