I’ve been debating whether or not to include negative stuff in my vacation posts … but after Monday’s memoir, maybe the restriction’s off.
Of course you know this has to do with my never-ending theme of how people respond to my blackness. But it’s not about Mexican people’s responses to me. No. I’m thinking about how Americans here respond to me.
Forgive me, but haven’t black people been in the States long enough to no longer be a big surprise to white people? Clearly, however, the idea of black people being able to afford vacations in the same places — and in the same hotels no less — as white people is a bit of a shock. That’s the first category of white-person-from-the-States that I’m encountering. They see me stepping off the elevator or walking up the stairs to the main building or getting some help from the concierge and they look completely amazed. (They must be perpetually amazed, however, because there are actually quite a lot a black people in my hotel. All that shock and awe must be eating up their vacations.) I am, of course, being kind to assume that they are simply surprised to find that I can take the same kind of vacation they can. The looks I’ve seen on some people’s faces say a bit more. Something like, “I thought I left you people back home. What are you doing here?” Yeah. Sorry. We’re actually allowed to travel. Get over it.
There’s a secondary set of this category. They’re the people who just decide that I must be from somewhere else. I can’t possibly be American, after all, because here I am in their Mayan Riviera hotel. I must be from … I don’t know … Europe or somewhere. People keep walking up to me and tentatively asking in broken Spanish whether or not I speak English. Right.
The next category of my countrymen is far less pleasant, but in some ways I like encountering them more. They give me the opportunity to call them on their racism whereas my interactions with people in the first category are mostly silent, just eye contact.
These people are the ones who assume that I am there to serve them. How many people have asked me for drinks or told me about spills in their rooms or in the elevator? How many have told me they can’t find their towel cards or wanted to know what time lunch ends at the Hacienda restaurant? Yeah. Because I’m wearing one of the uniforms of the hotel staff. Or no, because I definitely look like a Mexican person. Or no, because … well because … Oh, right. Because I’m black. That’s it. I’m black so I must be there to bring you a towel or help your child figure out how to use the rinse-off shower by the beach. Right. Of course.
As I said, I actually prefer these people. They ask me something and I tell them I have no idea. They express surprise and a bit of disapproval that I’m not more obsequious, more sorry that I don’t have the answer, more ready to go find someone that does. Our conversations go something like this:
“You don’t know who I should ask?”
“Why would you think I would know?”
“Am I wearing a uniform?”
“Do I look Mexican to you?”
“Why do you assume I work here?”
… some random sputtering for a few seconds … “Well … but you … I just thought … ” … a little more sputtering and then a rally in which they pull themselves up and try to do something like look down their noses at me, which is hard because I’m taller than most of them … “Are you saying you won’t help me?”
“I’m saying you’ve made a mistake, that you saw my skin and thought I must work here because where you come from you’re used to seeing black people as servants, not equals.” I hold up my wrist and point to the bracelet that marks me as a guest. “Surprise! We’re not in your country right now.”
“Are you accusing me –”
“Are you saying you didn’t just ask me to clean up the beer spill in your room?”
“But that doesn’t mean … that was just … ” … when the sputtering starts again, I usually excuse myself.
Yeah. I might prefer getting to call these people on their crap, but I don’t enjoy it, either, you know? The assumption that your ugliness is just the norm the world over is so offensive.
And finally, thank goodness, there are the ‘normal’ people, the ones who see me, who guess that I’m American … and who couldn’t care less. They exist! Such a relief when I run into them. They’re a real minority here, but they’re here.