I wonder, have you noticed yet? Have you noticed your skin-color-bearing compatriot out of the corner of your eye? Because I have. I am, in fact, indisputably and acutely aware of your presence at the other end of the room. Your presence: it’s this huge, thundering, elephant in the version of this room that’s inside my head. It’s been a good fifteen minutes since this event started, and that good ol’ elephant has been nagging at me all the while.
There are folks in this room that I know and there are folks in this room that I don’t know. There are folks I like and folks I don’t like. But one thing I do know (and don’t like): all these folks are white folks. Except you. Except you, stranger at the other end of the room. You are not white, and for that reason I am writing to you.
I want to come up to you at the end of this event, come up and ask, “Hey, how’s it going?” casually as if we know each other. I want to come up and have a conversation, about the intellectual weight of what we’ve just listened to or about its vapidity (which is it? I haven’t been paying attention), about the décor in here, about that weird headline this morning, about the weather or about sports. About something, anything, I’m going to be honest and tell you that I couldn’t give a fuck what we talk about really, as long as we talk and laugh, casual as can be.
We’d talk about all sorts of things. Except about how I came up to you only because you’re the only person here who doesn’t reek of whiteness. We’ll leave that aside, thinking it, but not speaking it, not acknowledging it, merely accepting it quietly and letting it sit over there in the other corner of the room.
Or maybe, just maybe, if things are going well, halfway into our brief and friendly conversation, I’ll drop a joke, a Never would have done that as kids if we’d had white folks for parents! or a Can you believe all the plaid in here right now? White people, amirite? Hahaha and we’ll giggle a bit and move on. And we’ll carry a tiny sense of relief, a tiny awareness that, yes, someone else has noticed how fucking white this room is.
I’ll be honest with you, Other Brown Person: I’m a little terrified of how this goes. I don’t even know you! You might be an asshole, or you might be having a bad day, or you might also be that brown person who’s always in a room full of white people except you’re not so fucking nervous about it all the time. You might not give a crap what I think about this. But, real talk, that’s not even what I’m most worried about. I’m worried that the only reason I want to talk to you is because you’re not white, because I know I’m not white but seeing that makes me nervous and I’d very much like someone to confirm that for me at this moment. Real talk, Other Brown Person, this is why I need you right now and I hate myself a little bit for that.
This is a funny place, this room. This shiny, warm, cheery, welcoming room full of white folks. I’ve been here a few times, and I’ve sat in all different parts of the room, but whenever you’re here, Other Brown Person(s), I see you. I see you immediately.
And I have to wonder: do you think like this, Only Other Brown Person In The Room? Sometimes, I suspect you do. And I have to wonder: do white folks ever think like this? Most times, I suspect they don’t. And I keep wondering: are you also wondering? And so I wonder. I wonder, because I don’t know how to ask.
Sincerely and anxiously yours,
The Other Brown Person In The Room