Where You From Pt 2
Politics and Activism

Where You From Pt 2

"White Space," thoughts for an essay from my ongoing work of creative non-fiction

Where You From Pt 2
Karin Yearwood

They say southerners are more charming and charismatic than northerners. They smile and say hi to strangers. They offer friendly assistance to those in need. People in the south are just nicer, right? Well, I'd guess so. I've never lived in a southern state, although Maryland can be considered quite southern based on economic and social infrastructure adopted from the south in the twentieth century.

I wonder what the issue is surrounding the words, "excuse me." Do people in the south say "excuse me" when they need to get by or accidently brush your shoulder or step on your foot? I ask because I know for sure they don't do so enough in Maryland. I mean white people don't do so enough. At the grocery store in aisles barely wide enough to allow two carts to pass side by side, white people will often stand there in some kind of "deer in the head light" trance waiting for me to move. I often wonder, couldn't they simply say, "excuse me?" Then I'd politely move aside to let them pass or reach for whatever they need that is in my vicinity. But I guess begging for a pardon from a colored person is uncomfortable.

Once upon a time, black men were required to remove their hat when in the presence of a white woman. And they wouldn't dare look a white man in the eye because that would suggest they are an equal. It would mean their lexicon is like that of a respectable white man, and let’s be real, colored men can’t read or write good.

There is something quite fascinating and disheartening about the black body. Dark skin tones have high levels of melanin, the chemical that gives skin and hair its pigment. Melanin gives black skin enough elasticity to stretch a youthful appearance to ages beyond what is considered youth. Black skin doesn’t burn in the sun. It actually radiates, growing darker with every intense beam of light struck against its surface. Like they say, black don’t crack. There are so many beautiful things about the black body. There is even beauty in its ugliness.

When black is present against a white canvas, the eye sees two things. One, much white space around a black figure or shape. Two, black space that is swallowing or infringing on white space. For much of my life, I have seen myself in the frame of the first visual. I have pictured myself as a little brown blob in white space that is immeasurable. Where does it begin? Where does it end? Who defines it and sets the terms? Can we negotiate the terms? Yes, there are terms. Whiteness seems to have a preexisting contract, though. We only negotiate the conditions of the non-white.

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