One day, I was window shopping in my local shopping mall. It was mid-winter and super cold. I bumped into a buddy I hadn’t seen in several years. We hugged and decided to catch up with a cup of coffee in a local coffee shop. As we sat down I noticed she was looking at me with a curious look – downright stare down. I could have stared her down too, let’s face it we’ve both aged – we are made of degenerative cells and not soapstone – but I didn’t. Instead, I went into an interrogative mode and Oprahed the crap out of her. If she was suspicious of this line of questioning, she didn’t show it – instead, she followed up her responses with “and you?” implying I answer the same question I asked. And I followed up with “you know same ol crap!” And then as if on cue, and simultaneously we checked our mobile phones for non-existent missed calls and urgent messages. I don’t know why this impromptu bump-into-an-old-buddy-and-have-coffee felt awkward but it was tré awkward.
We ordered cake and tea (in a coffee shop – I could see the waitress’s disdain and look of contempt), and as we tucked in, my friend piped. “I’m going to ask you something and it won’t come well…. I apologise in advance.” I don’t like it when people start sentences that way – if you are going to ask unpleasant something just do it and face the consequences. What if I said no thanks? Would she go ahead and ask anyway? I doubted as she was fidgety because of the time I took to answer her. I was mid chewing a carrot cake that tasted heavenly and wanted to savour the moment – I don’t do this often – it costs £3.75 for a slice that disintegrates like glucose in my mouth, but it was still heavenly. I then sipped my now cold tea (stupid winter) to wash down.
“OK” I said as several thoughts, which I won’t bore you with, crossed my mind.
“Do you bleach?” she asked as she looked at me suspiciously. I nearly threw up the heavenly carrot cake. I did not expect that; I was thinking more along the lines of singledom and the NHS – most times I feel like scrawling on my forehead… ‘I just work there I don’t run the NHS please don’t shoot or ask about money!’
“I don’t. Why?” I said as I looked at her contemptuously.
“Well I haven’t seen you in ages, but you look younger than when I last saw you, and you look very light skinned.” She said and waited for my response.
Did I hear that right? I think I did. I didn’t ask her to repeat for effect, but I answered flatly.
“Thanks for the former and no thanks for the later!” I said
I went on to explain in greater details than was necessary, and at the risk of sounding bragadocious, that it was winter and I hadn’t seen the sun since September, I eat well, sometimes I exercise and I inherited great genes.
Just then, a thought occurred to me. So, what if I bleached? What if one day I wake up and decide I am in the wrong race/colour and want to be a white woman. So what? Would people still ask ‘if I bleached’ in condescending tones and superior attitudes? Or would they be sympathetic and say things like “she was not a happy black woman” or “I am happy for her now she’s decided she was a white woman” or “Awww…. Bless…” etc etc.
I then thought of Martina Big. The white woman who now identifies as black. She’s gone through 3 tan injections to change the colour of her skin. She’s had insane breast implants too, but I don’t think that’s anything to do wanting to be black though. I remember with nostalgia the ITV’s This morning interview, and how Phil Schofield almost had a nervous breakdown because he could not understand how someone could think race is about colour, I don’t think she did. However, I agree race is not about colour as much as gender is not about genitals. Probably there’s more to it than we will ever understand as to why people want or need to alter their ‘assigned-at-birth’ anything? As Phil so candidly put it – being black is not skin deep, it’s about culture, history, struggles (bold and double underscore), etc – nothing is skin deep.
By the way, Martina now plans to visit as many African countries as possible to learn the culture etc and become one of them, first stop Kenya – Kenyan slay queens please welcome your sister. I don’t know where she has to go to learn ‘speaking like a black’ woman because her voice is quite irritating and not ‘black’ sounding.
So Martina tanning herself black and now ‘identifying as black woman’ borders the realms of controversy – actually no …. lives in controversy. Me possibly bleaching is cause for concern and a stupid move, but people changing their gender assigned at birth and identifying as another gender? Not a mental illness as some right wings suggest, but an innate need for people to live as who they feel. Why then are the ones who want to change their skin colour judged so harshly? Rhetorical or not – food for thought. Are we living in a world where some life-altering changes are more important and acceptable than others?
The same question Phil posed to Martina can be asked to many transgender women out there – if they know or fully understand the struggles of women; and to many transgender men out there – if they know or understand the struggles of men. Recently there was a raging debate on radio about transgender women working with victims of abuse perpetrated by men, and whether it is appropriate for victims to turn up at a refuge home only to find their key worker is a biological man.
Oh well, issues worth debates. One day I might bleach my body white, eat lots of turmeric to turn yellow and then identify as a Simpson – then visit my coffee shop buddy – now that’s controversy.