The B44 bus is the last leg of the trip home from my night job. It is just about exclusively a Black World bus. There are, very occasionally, non-black people aboard, but it’s usually a very monochromatic ride. Tonight I looked up at one of the busier stops. About ten or twelve people got on. All but two of them were wearing leather coats or jackets. And, maybe because I just wrote about him last week so he’s on my mind or maybe just because, I thought of Vladimir.
I am the only black woman Vlad ever dated. I may, in fact, be the first black person that he ever had more than a three-second conversation with. These facts meant that he often said unbelievably stupid things about black people. When folks hear this, they assume this is why he and I stopped dating, but no. I could forgive him his stupid comments, even as I chided him for them and pushed him to see that they were, in fact, stupid. They seemed to come from a place of just not knowing (what I will call ‘innocent ignorance,’ like the kind children have) rather than a place of racism. Although he’d been in the states several years by the time I met him, his whole life in St. Petersburg was spent not ever knowing a black person, getting all of his ideas about African Americans from movies, tv shows and music videos. It was no wonder he didn’t really know anything.
Another thing that helped Vlad was his ability to see that all the things he thought must be true about me might not, in fact, be true about me, that maybe all the media images he’d allowed himself to believe weren’t completely accurate. I can respect someone who’s willing to adjust a viewpoint, willing to look at another side of an issue, and Vlad was nothing if not mutable. He would hear me out on anything and actually think about the points I raised. We would exchange crazy-long emails over the course of which he would reason his way through some issue or other, finding his way to a new mindset. (The only thing he was unchangeable on was his littering … something so repugnant it would surely have led to our break-up if his infidelity hadn’t come along first.)
Back then I had a short leather coat that I wore until it basically disintegrated. I rode up to visit Vlad one weekend (he lives in Massachusetts), and I wore the coat. As we drove away from the train station, he commented on my choice of outerwear.
“I see you have this leather,” he said. “I was wondering when I would see you in leather.”
“You expected to see me in leather?”
“Of course. I know that your people always wear leather.”
Oh. I see. While he got a point for saying ‘your people’ and not ‘you people’ (what a difference that ‘r’ makes!), I still took issue. Well, if Vlad had been on the bus with me tonight, he’d have thought I’d led him astray with my assertion that it was absolutely not true that black people wear leather all the time. After seeing all those leather-clad people get on board, I looked around. More than a third of the other passengers were in leather. Hmm … what would I say to Vlad today?