Do I Smell?
By Kevin D. Moore
The other day, I met a man with a great year long tan from Kenya, Africa. Yup…you guessed it… He is a black man. Or…you could say that he is an African American. Actually, that is incorrect. He is an African who lives in America with a great year long tan. Ok… He is a black man.
Well, once I knew that he was from Africa, I became curious as to his experiences here in America as a black man. I wondered if he may have experienced some of the same things I experienced in my life or some of the things other black Americans have experienced.
Once I asked the question, I became very surprised by his answer. He informed me that at first he wasn't aware of being treated any differently than any other person (e.g. white, brown, yellow, etc.) He stated that, regardless of how he was treated, he probably wouldn't have noticed the difference because in Kenya the issue of difference is not color based but "tribe" based. He said that there are over 40 tribes in Kenya and all have a different culture, tradition, and way of life. So, as a result, he was never truly aware of differences associated with color.
Unfortunately, after living in America for some time (which he loves), he slowly became aware of some of our American color issues. He said that he didn't really know that he was being looked at differently until he had a memorable eye opening train ride in our nation's capital.
So… He tells me that he was sitting in a seat on the train. Being raised in a tribe that taught manners and courtesies, he slide over as far as possible on the two person seat to ensure that there would be plenty of room for another person to sit down. He said that on that day the train was extremely full. But after awhile, he noticed that none of the white people would sit next to him. Instead, they would stand. He even tried to provide more room on the seat. But still…no white person would sit next to him.
For the life of him, he couldn't figure out what was wrong…
Now, I have to tell you… While listening to this story, my mind briefly wandered as I pictured the situation in my head. I could imagine him sitting there trying to figure out what was wrong. Not understanding color issues in America, I could actually see him begin to wonder if maybe the problem was that he was unpleasing to another's senses. In other words…maybe he smelled bad!!! I could see him trying to identify the offending area without anyone noticing what he was doing. I could see the distressed look on his face as he tried unsuccessfully to find where the smell was coming from.
At this moment, my mind refocused on him as he stated to me how bad he felt that white people were not sitting next to him. He said that he felt so bad that he finally stood up so that others might then be willing to sit down. And, he was right. Once he got up, white people started to use this now fully vacant seat.
While standing, he said that he was still trying to figure out what the problem was. It wasn't until some months later and after numerous train rides that he realized what the problem might be. Needless to say, he was not happy with his realization.
I thought I could hear the pain in his voice. I must admit that I wanted to ease his pain and tell him that it had nothing to do with his color. I wanted to tell him that the reason white people would not sit next to him was because he smelled. Of course, that wasn't true. He didn't smell but at least he could do something about that.
To be honest this is the first time in my life where asking the question "Do I Smell?" brings more joy than having to ask "Am I The Wrong Color?".
Either way, having to ask either question…really stinks!
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