You are a young, black woman going to a Sunday matinee play. The play is an adaptation of one of your favorite books of recent years, Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. It’s a book that first put to words the effect of racist microaggressions on your life. You read it and finally see that, no, you haven’t been imagining things. That errant, useless conversations about “affirmative action” and “no, your father wasn’t a deadbeat dad -- he’s dead. Cancer,” followed by “yes, black people actually get cancer" were real. Your pain is real.
Suffice it enough to say, you’ve been looking forward to this matinee. For weeks, you checked the play’s website to see if tickets were on sale. You decided a few years ago that going to more plays will improve your writing. Oftentimes, you’re going to support actor friends in the same way they support your impossible dreams. Reciprocal relationships are manna from heaven.
Plays and most artistic productions still being very elite and very expensive to experience and create, you worry that Citizen might be out of your price range. You’re relieved to find a ticket --near the stage no less -- for twenty-five dollars. You head to the theater, which is just a short drive from your apartment in Mid City, and wait in the lobby for it to begin. The lobby has ample seating, and you find a spot with enough room for your long limbs and tote bag. You often worry about your body being a nuisance because of its shape, size, and color, so this is a relief. You begin to flip through the program, trying to read every bio, even the stage manager’s (it takes a village, right?), until you feel a tug on your tote. Someone is sitting on it; they didn’t notice it. You wonder how someone can’t feel a bag that contains a laptop, but you politely tap the shoulder of the 60-something white man who’s committed the crime. He looks at you confused -- what could you possibly want? -- before realizing his error. He does not, however, apologize. This pisses you off, like the many times people, typically white, have failed to see you. You're reminded of the vignette in Citizen about a white subway rider who knocks over a black child on the platform sans apology. She, too, failed to see that child's humanity.
But you are out in public, and black people in public cannot show anger (even justified) without harsh consequences. So you ignore it and continue flipping through the program. But then you hear your neighbor announce gruffly to his wife, “Another play about race relations. Why? I think race relations in this country are fine.” Your initial reaction is to shout “Of course you think race relations are going fine. The relationship thus far has gone in your favor.” You want to rage. You want to be heard in the same way you hear others. In the way you see the dignity in others.
Reciprocal relationships are manna from heaven.
Instead you laugh a deep, rolling cackle that tumbles out of your throat and shocks the ears of those around you. “What is wrong with her?” their eyes ask. This only makes you laugh even more, an exorcism from the pits of your stomach til there’s nothing left but hot, dry anger. You feel as if you will laugh until you die.
And then the usher announces the opening of the doors, and you shuffle in to find your seat. The show must go on.