I was out for lunch with a friend the other day when I spotted this cardigan in the window of a small retro clothes store in Brixton. It looked just like original art to me and could have been costume from a blaxploitation film. There was this big rounded 1970s collar with dark brown calf-pelt panels stitched down the front. I liked it immediately. Walked into the shop, pulled it off the mannequin, and tried it on. It looked pretty good to me in the mirror. So, I turned to my friend, and I asked, what do you think?
She said, “I don’t like it.” I said, but why? Is it too pimp? Too much animal skin on me? This white woman browsing a few feet away looked up from a clothes-rack and said, “It looks cool.” Thank you. I thought so. She glanced behind at my friend, very briefly, then turned to me again, and said, “It fits you very well in the shoulders. Do you mind?” But before I could say anything in response, she had reached out to stroke a patch of the animal skin on my chest. She smiled, gently. “It suits you.”
Now, I had no interest in this woman whatsoever, beyond a bit of banter with someone being friendly in a store. But my friend, on the other hand, she was livid. I swear I could see daggers shooting from her eyes. I’m canvassing other opinions as well, I jest, quickly directed at my friend, but also including the three other people in this intimate shop, all white, and all now staring at me in this cardigan that looked like it might have been worn by Richard Roundtree in Shaft.
“No impulse buying now,” said my friend, handing me back my jacket and ready to leave. “We’ll walk around first, and if you still want it when we come back, get it.” Yes, mum, I thought I heard my inner child reply as we huddled back out onto the cold Brixton streets.
It was about twenty minutes later when my friend finally turned to me and said, “That bitch in the shop. She didn’t know whether you were my man or not. She all up in your face wanting to take you home and show you what the good white pussy have to offer.” I said, you didn’t really see it like that, did you? She said, “That white bitch standing there disrespecting the black woman and you right there going along with her.” I said, you what?
She said, “You laughing and joking with her like that while she disrespecting me.” I said, you have got to be kidding. I was just being polite. Who is this damn woman? This woman don’t mean nothing to me. She paid me a compliment. I didn’t see any reason to be rude to her. “Well, I wanted to slap her in her face,” my friend said. “I could have been anybody standing up there with you. No self-respecting black woman would ever be all over some man she just sees out shopping with another woman. The black woman knows her place. These white bitches are so brazen. Always in heat for our black men.”
I thought, damn, girl – I didn’t know you cared! But to save the peace, I just didn’t want to say anything further in my defence. But I thought to myself; this is insane. You and me ain’t even fucking. Our relationship is strictly platonic. It would be different, maybe, if we were dating or fucking. But you know that I’m a gay man. I don’t dig you in that way. You need to chill.
A few weeks later, I pulled her up on it, but she said it didn’t matter that we were not dating and she couldn’t see the significance of that point, anyway. The important thing as far as she was concerned is that I didn’t stand up for her in front of this white woman and that was tantamount to disloyalty in her eyes. I didn’t pursue the matter with her again because I didn’t want to get into a big argue and I wanted us to remain friends. But it taught me a good lesson on how different people perceive the same situation. And I thought I’d blog about it to get other people’s perspective.
Was I disrespecting the black woman or was the black woman being insecure and overtly sensitive? I might have appreciated her response more if she had swanned up to the white woman and said, “Honey, this one is taken,” then linked her arms through mine as we waltzed out of the shop. That might have been fun. It certainly would have shown the kind of confidence that needs no man to stand up for her. What do you think?
And before I’m accused of disrespecting the black woman by writing about it here, she has given her permission for this blog post. 😊