I was sitting in my favorite chocolaterie reading “Becoming” by Michelle Obama. An elderly man walked in wearing a sharp blue suit. He tended to his cafe and croissant put before him as I continued reading, pausing occasionally to write poetry in reaction to my thoughts regarding Michelle’s words. Her retelling of the night Barack won the presidency for the first time had me in tears as I too vividly remembered the eve of our collective Black victory. Prior, during, and after hearing the elderly man’s conversation carried out on speaker phone, which I empathetically understood and attributed to his age affected hearing, I had glanced his way wondering what he had seen in his days. Wondering if he had been a supporter or oppressor of my people; hoping he’d been the former. I had studied him, admiring his active lifestyle—reinforcement for my reason to forever reside in New York. Often feeling affectionately towards the elderly, I decided he was precious, and if the opportunity presented itself, I would offer my compliments on his suit upon his exit.
Minutes before, I had penned a poem about walking tall and bolding meeting the gaze of white persons because my ancestors could not without dire consequences. I penned about holding my ground while walking on the streets, because my ancestors had had to step aside to protect their lives. I penned about my desire of carrying on my ancestors’ legacy of strength and resilience. I penned about the sadness that comes from not having our older generations around to see the progress we make in honor of the progress they made way for us.
Ready to depart, the elderly man shrugged on his coat. His movements brought him close to me. Ready to connect, I lifted my gaze to meet his, a smile gracing my lips.
His eyes were focused on my lavender boot clad feet, outstretched and gingerly balancing on the edge of the long bench seat I occupied. His eyes met mine sternly. He looked pointedly from my feet into my eyes with no warmth for my smile, only a chastening. With that he turned and walked out.
A seed of sadness mixed with adrenaline dropped into the pit of my stomach.
This seed wasn’t the only of its kind. This seed originating from the recognition of the “superior white gaze” intent upon forcing me into submission with its glare had been directed at me before. A look you feel deep within your spirit, linking you to unlived memories of hostiles surrounding you before granting themselves the powers of the Creator. A look I had just penned about, forcing my ancestors into obeying such commands as a means of self-preservation.
Prone to offer my precious smile to passerbyers, this seed of momentary sadness often pops up as a gentle reminder to guard my heart.
My smile, offered without thought to my community in acknowledgement of blood camaraderie.
This smile I hold dear and wish to bestow on all to draw us closer.
This precious gift of connection, that I have to protect and reserve for those who would safely shelter it and extend one of their own in mutual vulnerability.
A gift I freely give to blood kin to bridge the gap created by the decisive implementation of division born of colorism ineception.
A gift I have had to learn to withhold when the ever-present “white gaze” washes over me head to toe each day.
A gift only bestowed once the gazers lift the corners of their mouth, first revealing themselves as treasurers of said valuable offering.