A long awaited and precious package came in the mail the other day and I was not home to receive it so I went to the post office today. I have never been to this one that services my home. It is in a part of town that has a large Latinx and Vietnamese population. I timed it perfectly. I decided to go after lunch because I did not want to wait in line for all eternity. Alas, it was a long line and, as the lady ahead of me said, “Why did I come today, the day after a 3 three day weekend?” Oops. I forgot about that.
After about 20 minutes in a non-moving line with only one attendant and about 20 people ahead of me, a lady came from the back of the post office and asked if anyone had a package to pick up.
Two others and I hurriedly ushered to the front of the line to be redeemed by this lovely angel from USPS heaven. A gentleman closer to the front of the existing line was first, and then I came up behind him weaving through the long line of people ahead of me. A tall, slender, white salt and pepper haired man, who had just entered the post office and stood at the end of the line for only a couple of minutes, rushed forward, bypassing the entire line by walking directly in front of the counters to the USPS angel. This tall man and I stood side by side for the second spot in line. Be clear, he did not make his way through the line like the first person and I did.
No, “Excuse me.” No, “Hi.” Nothing. He just stood there as if it was his rightful place on the planet.
I started to take a step back and let him go ahead of me. But…. Sigh! Something would not let me do that. Not today. I realized that I was feeling intimidated. I am 5 feet 2.5 inches and he was at least 6 feet, 4 inches tall.
I felt myself starting to bristle. “O, be nice, Iyabo,” I said to myself. “Let us try the indirect approach and try and make eye contact. Let our eyes speak, ok?” He looked everywhere on the planet except at me.
I struggled: Do I say something and stand up for myself or do I do the “nice Iyabo,” shut up and let it go? I genuinely struggled internally. I did not want to make a scene. But, I really felt it was important to honor myself and ask for a mere curtsey. I also really did not like how he was avoiding eye contact as I bored my eyes into him with no avail.
I really did not know what to do. I did not want to take two steps forward to stand right behind the first person in line. I wanted to respect his privacy. But if I did not move closer, tall, white dude, who only waited a couple of minutes in this busy post office, would have unfairly cut in front of me.
Most of all, I just did not like this feeling of being invisible to him.
Summoning courage that I was not feeling, I politely, in a low tone, said, “Sir, I was in line and you came from the back of the line and got in front of me. I have been in line for a long time.” No need to say anything else, right? I think that is enough information to self-correct.
“Why the hell do you have to make a big deal out of this? Fine. Go ahead if you want. If it’s that important to you… Jeez Louise!” he said loudly, not even looking at me. He did not move. He stood right there.
By the time the person ahead of me was done, I moved into the front of the counter. Tall, white male took a step forward and stood right next to me.
I felt tired. Now, I had to make the choice to tell him to back off or just shut up. He was looming over me like Donald was looming over Hillary, in that second debate. I started that internal dialog that only some of us ever have to engage in: “Is he doing this because I am black? Is it because I am a woman? Does he think I am a Latinx and I do not speak English? Why is he so disrespectful?”
Finally! Thank you, Jesus, I was done. My package in hand, as I left, I said, “Thank you.” Why? Just because you misbehave, I will not sink to your level.
Why? Just because you misbehave, I will not sink to your level.
I held that feeling intentionally. I stayed with that discomfort. I did not hold on to it as one who holds a grudge and grabs at it with righteous indignation. No. I held it and looked at it lovingly, from different angles, with no reall emotion, just wonder. I wanted to write about it. I wanted to think about it. Here is why: I will never know why that man behaved rudely to me. He may have been having a bad day. His behavior may have absolutely nothing to do with race or with gender. However, when such things happen and you never have to ask yourself any of those questions I asked myself, that is privilege.
I chose to stay with those feelings because I have only started to ask myself such questions in the last few years. I never asked those questions when I was younger. The circumstances of life have made me aware that I am considered a black woman in America (sometimes Latinx because of how I look). It does things to you when you cannot easily dismiss another person’s bad behavior as just “rude.” When your brain begins to ascribe reasons to such behavior based on gender and race, it can eat away at you. When this happens to you over and over every single day of your life, it creates problems within. And here is the truth, when it happens to some people every day and not other people, it becomes a community problem.
I felt silenced and invisible in that moment and that did not feel good. I write, not because I continue to feel silenced and invisible. I write because so many go through this day in and day out and do not have the words or even the presence of mind to notice, name and articulate their experiences.
I send peace and blessings towards that dude, whoever he is, wherever he is. I bless myself and rejoice that daily, I am seen, heard, cherished and loved and so this not-really-that-significant experience leaves no marks on my soul. And my hope is that you, dear reader, will notice, name, articulate your experience and lay it down in a healthy way that affirms your very life.
Let me know, when you have had the types of experiences that silence and mute you, how did you process it?