I love that DC Comics has been introducing (and re-branding, in some cases) a whole host of new superhero characters that are not white. But I have to wonder, why are so many of their faces covered entirely?
To be fair, keeping one’s face protected whilst battling supervillains with toxic…
It IS important, and I did ask that Strix’s arms be bare to show that she is African American.
But yeah, faces need to be shown. Agreed 100%.
The power and importance of representation.
This is a story about shame.
I was on my way home from work the other day. It’s a chilly evening, and I’ve just said my goodbyes to a close friend who volunteers down in the East Village. Having just made it to the corner of 8th street and 6th avenue, I thought I should have something to eat before catching the train out to Jersey. Something quick.
All I want is a hot dog, so I stop into Gray’s Papaya. You can hear Yes’ “Owner of a Lonely Heart” blaring merrily over the loudspeaker, and near the counter is a black homeless man singing, dancing and making forced conversation with the cook manning the register. The insinuations that he should leave have no effect.
I order my hot dog, and, without realizing it, I start mouthing the lyrics. Humming where the words escape me. Bobbing my head. I’m being obvious. It only takes a second, but the man meets my gaze. And all of a sudden we’re singing together. He smiles wide, and all you see is emptiness where his two front teeth should be. He stumbles, and you see he’s a little shaky. He’s been drinking.
When he comes over, I don’t know what to say really. I tense up, a little on edge. But in the end it doesn’t matter. Pretty soon we’re playing air guitar over the bridge.
“Yeah, I know the songs,” he says with some pride. “I may be a street nigga, but I know.”
A few more classics come on the radio, and we get to talking. He asks my name, and I tell him with a firm if tentative handshake. We talk about music and a bit about living on the street. How he grew up in DC before coming to New York. How he’s an old guy, and he loves the old songs.
“Lady Marmalade” comes on, and he seems excited.
“You know who sings this?” he asks, and I’m a little ashamed that I can’t remember.
“Patti LaBelle,” he chides. “My mother used to do her hair when I was growing up.”
With that, he gets into his pitch. He says something like:
“Now you know what I’m about to ask. I know. But you look like a good kid. And I can tell by the clothes you wear that you hang with the white boys…”
I cut him off. I offer him my hot dog and five bucks since I thought he was so cool. And I thought that would be the end of it. Instead, he excitedly says he wants to take me across the street to show me something.
Suddenly this wasn’t a cool guy who just happened to be homeless. This was a homeless man who might do God knows what. I had to get out of there. At this point, I tell him I need to get back home. It’s getting late.
“Trust me, man,” he says. “You know what’s across the street? Electric Lady Studios. Jimi Hendrix played there. You know who Jim Hendrix was?”
I nod. “I know.”
“Then why you acting scared?” he asks. “Give a nigga a try.”
I turn my back on him.
His name was Jay Jackson. And if you Google a map of Greenwich Village, you’ll see he was telling the truth.
I’ve spent the days since feeling like I robbed Jay of his dignity. So much, from my initial reticence to my begging off at our conversation’s end, showed me seeing a homeless man first and a person trying to be make a connection second. That, even if I was smart to walk away, I was acting cowardly. Because a connection, however brief, was made.
Even that five bucks is colored by my privilege. As though I must be such a mensch to give this poor old man a little bit of my money. How gracious of me.
But the worst part? The worst part is that I couldn’t remember Patti LaBelle. That, in his inferring by my shirt that I “hang with the white boys,” I had in some small way betrayed him. That my blackness and therefore my understanding of his experience was forfeit even before I walked through the door.
This is about privilege and how privilege is constructed.
But most of all, this is a story about shame. And how I wish I did more.
You don’t understand how amazing this is.
There’s a woman I know
And makes me wish I could show her the world
Every inch of her sings to me
In a way saying
Have some wine
Undress me with your eyes
And tell me what you see
Call it trite
I see a memory of pearl skin
And a soft, wry smile
She’ll laugh at your little white lies
Dare you to try her
Cause those eyes?
They hold you
Wrapped up in her
Fumbling for the right words to say
Nights pass as swift as whispers
Restless in her arms
The low rhythm of skin striking sweat
Lost in a sea of satin and wrinkled cotton
What must the neighbors think?
Morning comes, sunrise on an old city
Quiet as the seasons changing
And for just a moment longer
I won’t wake you
Crowned as you are in daylight
I wish you could see what I see