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A MONTH ON RACE: The Polish Tenant Stripped Bare.

stripped bare

                                                                                  I

She said, after peering down at my laptop screen, “you keep reading these things about race. You're letting it effect you,”   “whether I read or not, it effects me," I replied.

“People make fun of my polish accent, I don't take it seriously,” she added, still standing over me. “it's not the same," came my response, all too familiar with such comparisons, "and by the way, if you did take is seriously – I wouldn't be sitting here telling you how better to react.”

She sighed floating back to her cut of lamb on the stove. “But there's no racism anymore,” she seemed forced to add. “Beyonce and Kanye West rule the world!”

I turned to my screen. Not fully resigned, but not wanting to go on. For both of us the day was already long in the tooth. We needed to eat and have some sleep. Not this.

 

                                                                                        II

The meat sizzled on the pan at medium heat. She wondered around the centre of the kitchen, head down focused on her cradled tablet, one ear plugged, the other free and facing my sat down, flat pack posture. Both of us whirlwinds about the internet.

“Is Rihanna black?" She startled me with, still staring at her tablet. “Yes,” “fully?” “I think so,” “she's not mixed?” “I'm not sure actually...” I said looking at her, openly expressing my disinterest. In the silence my honesty created, I felt bad. “My sister shares the same complexion and she's not mixed,” “Hmm,” she utters, unconvinced.

...My sister is the same complexion. Or is it that my sister's nose and lips aren't as pointy and thin for the comparison to be made? Is it that my sister shows up to the world carrying her hair the way it grows? Then I look at the tenants nose and it too isn't as pointy as Rihanna's, her her lips not as full. She hadn't an accurate line of things you could attribute to a race except her skin colour.

“hmm,” she reused to turn from me and acrobatically open one of the cupboards. Out came a pan. No other questions followed.

During the fry up, I google Rihanna's ethnicity to found she did have mixed ancestry; from Scotland and Ireland. Then I thought; couldn't the tenant just have googled it herself?

 

                                                                                            III

Our final discourse. One that only I could perceive as having a thing to do with race. We had already stripped away social constructs of relationships in this conversation. We had pushed boundaries on gender differences – sort of. Then; at that slippery juncture where trial blazers sit too comfortably, she summed up her divine right to get the man and relationship she desired by pointing out her obvious attractiveness. Fingers bending back towards her, scanning from her head to her chest. “I-am-pretty.” As self assured as I-Am-Caesar. The drum of war that didn't com from a confidence within - I had thought - but from a handle gifted by societies trusted and epicurean staple. A society that pitched long blond hair and a tall slim body as the pass go to beauty. She bottled the hair and killed herself in the gym for the other.

'I-Am-Pretty', because hordes of men with money matched her on dating websites and lavished her on dinners. Pretty because those billboards she passed on the way to work were like mirrors held up for her so whenever she declared, 'I-Am-Pretty', the world would reply, 'Yes-You-Are'.

'Yes-You-Are'. Pretty enough to not ruffle the fabric of the work place and make her Eastern European accent incidental to herfabric matching looks.

I wonder how pretty she'd feel if such stabalising clarity was swept from beneath her.

Hmm.

 

A Month on Race: The Boyfriend

the boyfriend

THE BOYFRIEND

The Boyfriend was either hard working or perfect at maintaining a face that searched for chores. He had a performative chic coolness he brought to the workplace blended with the black and greys and trendy trainers he wore. He cared about those things. But it wasn't obvious, unlike my all too noticeable off centre self. I worked slow and sang the Bush, badly, and was reprimanded for both. Every reprimand was – I had to surmise – perfectly metered out. I deserved it. He deserved his almost immediate managerial role.

Then I would wonder how much work it might actually take if I was truly keen. Wondered; had I have gone up for the role alongside the boyfriend, would they consider equally all the hard work I did? Or go for what they know. I wonder into abstractions such as; is it me or is there an air of sycophancy for white middle-class men in the workplace. I wonder why they seem to shoot up so quickly in people's estimations. Would I have to have worked harder for longer or have been much more smart and tactical about it all?

But sometimes I get these congratulatory dreams where I pat myself on the back for my poor work ethic. My work ethic like a 'screw you' to the conveyor beltish - sci-fi upright - target hitting exemplary employee - all for what?

A memory of mine I kept from schooldays draws its curtains at around that point. A teacher of mine is telling me I would have to work harder than the white boy next to me also enduring detention – and me honestly thinking, 'what's the fucking point of working harder for the same outcome? It's bad physics'. I wonder if that train of thought has become the pick that burst every recent employment opportunity; responding to social norms with a 'what's the point' vibe. Then I snap out of it. It is 20 something teen after all. You get out what you put in. Yes, bias lives, but not in my situation. I have just never been good enough.


 

But how to be good enough? And is 'good' an equation? Or random? I binge on TED Talks for answers and feel more revved up than inspired. I also couldn't help but think; to be a cultural philosopher or to grace the dais in the public sphere these days all a person has to do is make some general but positive assumptions and more importantly promote productivity. I re-watch an Alain de Botton documentary about status and it calms me but I still desire deeply for a better status.


 

It was my mispronouncing of 'Zeiss' that made the Boyfriend call me a philistine at cigarette break. After, I went, in a passive mood, back to receiving and hanging up jackets. Beyond me was the tall concrete walls, the repetitive noise and the shit show. In my head played 'Hounds of Love' for some reason. That was the evening I met the boyfriend's girlfriend. She was a photographer with a silver crop top, a thin strapped, cute sized backpack and bags of rock star elements about her.

She took me, unlike most work colleagues, at face value. Later on that night, we and her friends went to their place. We took and drank stuff that played with my bladder. On my third trip to the lower-case-m-shaped toilet, the girlfriend barged in apologising yet still drifting towards me, checking for things around me. Immediately I thought; she's checking up on me? Why would I need to steal from the boyfriend's girlfriend? Can't a black man have an excited bladder?! 'Reactionary', I responded. In a bid to settle myself.

In my head again raged Hounds of Love; always from the 'shot gun' beginning. The moment I came back into the room she said veiled me from the awkwardness with the same speed she used to enter the bathroom. Plied me with compliments, said she'd love to take photo's of me and when a rock star says such a thing you forget the world you live in and begin to sanitise theirs. The toilet thing became; I would've done the same if it were my flat and I were a woman. It became; my third time at the bog was excessive and needed to be checked on. No shame on her part. No nothing on her part. In a way, it was brave of her.

Before the boyfriend took a job at another venue, work banta of sorts levelled at a point where he was able to affirm my 'fall guy' status at any given turn. And have new employees in on the joke. That was okay though. I thought. Wouldn't call myself a complete fall guy but I wasn't witty enough for quick rebuttals. Clap backs always came hours later when alone, just before I went to sleep. They were always cathartic in a way. Whenever I didn't act it out alone before I slept, I'd layered thoughts of whether all those hardcore, brutish clap backs I was capable of were kept for home time because I didn't want to intimidate the workforce. Or whether I was intimidated by the workforce. O whether I held back because I didn't want to be that guy. That 'black guy', maybe?

And then I'd wondered if I enjoyed being the guy I was presently being and If the only way to survive was to sometimes be that (black) guy. Not only black guys are like that, you're right. Standing corrected I then wondered; could I ever be balanced correctly? Was it too late? I wondered how people would take me if I adopted a new strategy. Might it be too forced? Make them laugh even louder. Is my status already sealed? Shit.

After tumbling down those thoughts, the dreams that follow come stretched out panicked. I am, for example, chasing something that is flying off into the distant horizon and behind me is a wall closing in. The wall is closer and faster. I would wake up from that avoiding the dream and it's subtext. I become pragmatic again. 'Change isn't instant', I would force myself to think. 'Respect isn't dished out equally. I'll have to earn it, and it'll take it's time'. Simple.

Then a few years later I bumped into girlfriend at a gig; single now and with a loose top that exposed her décolletage. A long and cloudy chat was had before I blew away the smoke to first apologise for sending her so many messages in the past about that photo shoot we were supposed to work on together. And then I asked, with both courage and a bit more fawning, why she'd never returned any of the messages.

'My Boyfriend didn't like me talking to black boys'.


 

WHAT!!!

 

Written by

Chima Nsoedo

 

 

 

Straight from the "D". (The diary)

I have partnered with the aurora to write. As the goddess of dawn rises so too does my word count and forced half diligence.

 

Great lines! Great lines! My bad knee for a great line! The thesaurus by my side, the committed google search closer. This is terrible writing but I'm told it must be done. Better for it to manifest here than on a page I wish to publish...

Five minutes passed. Five minutes I committed solely to my thoughts rather than the page. The sun had upped, never once losing time. I play some progressive electro music from a Japanese band I cannot pronounce. They make me anxious. A work colleague (wanted to call him a friend – anyone who shares the news of their parent's death while actively steering clear of emotive words should always be considered a possible friend) put me on to them. They made him anxious, he said. Made him feel as though he is already late for a function he needed to attend. Then I remembered I had milk warming on the stove. Old school. bun microwaves.

I met the milk slightly overheated. The creepy white skin developed on the sides of the pot when the bubbles settled. What do they call that? Lactodern, answers Wikipedia. I am not writing now, I am eating warm porridge. The washing machine taps it's feet and turns its stomach. Thank god for washing machines. Thank god they get so much done for us and display all the giddy hallmarks of having a great time doint it. Then I wonder about the creators of the machine and their philosophy on work ethic. Then I wonder on the philosophy god had when creating such an orbital universe. Then I wonder whether we resemble god in any way. Are we god's eyelids or strand of hair? Are we just mixtures of rock and ice in his churning stomach? Do we exist in god's stomach?

The washing machine's spin has all my attention now. Inside, there is a little nick of rubber missing at the bottom of the protective door frame. This has caused water to drip from beneath the closed face. I watch as a thread of grey water slides down and into a tin which I have placed beneath the washing machine to contain the spill.

My gaze becomes sinister and turns to the top of the trembling machine where two standing vitamin bottles and a shower jell bottle wrestle gravity to remain upright. The tremble takes them closer to the edge. The two vitamin bottles fall – and deservedly so. The tall thin shower jell bottle has survived and to my surprise remains upright. There is less than a minute on the timer, the machine's turn is now slow drawn. The clothes lean on the glass door like young children long weary from the fun of rough play. I look to the table which is to my right and for a second it taps it's feet as if it were standing on top of a washing machine. Then I find the mirror and catch my torso slumping saggy against the pull of the open notebook, weary from the endless cycle of rough play. 

Written by

Chima Nsoedo