Select field communications and strategies of integration no. 6: she, he, them and Mr. Matthews

He said, "What's with are all the mugs?". He said, "This is because of what my dad did, right?" He said, "We can work it out". The beige mug read Be the Change. The black one, Life is Short. The green one had an Eiffel Tower. We never said anything together again. ****************************

"Côte d'Ivoire?" "Non. Californie!” Smile. Twinkle eyes. “Et vous?" Silence.

Shut down by le tchip as she waved a black wand along the 62-inch length my body. Her face read, "American woman. Who do you think you are?" I wish I'd known her next thought. Resentment, disgust, anger? Not love. No, I did not feel love. A phrase defines my five-year struggle to connect with black people in France: postcolonial identity crisis. If I could have spoken faster French, I would have questioned her question. I’d have asked her about her life. I would have invited her to brunch so we could laugh and sum up every topic with “girrrrrrl”. But no one here says that, and I feel lost. I would have wanted to know what it's like to be so close to her origins; literally close enough to touch the soil and kiss the kin in her homeland every Christmas, every funeral. I’d have wanted to know why she left Africa and what her life is like in France. Out of reverence, I wouldn’t have considered sharing a thing about myself unless she asked. I’d have skipped saying silly things like 'I love French wine'. These lips would have known not to go there. I wouldn’t have bothered mentioning why I do not trust DNA companies. She and I would have already known it wouldn't change a damn thing between us: she'd still suck her teeth. She might have even slapped me had I tried to speak in an appropriated accent to which I was only 17.238% entitled. Never mind all that. She was on the job. The library was scheduled to close early that day and there were 8 people waiting behind me.

**************************** This He and That one

This He looked at me. He spoke to me. He looked and spoke, and it looked and sounded like he looked and spoke to everyone else. He looks like that actor. The little guy from that detective series. A year before, That He spoke to me. He looked past me in obvious annoyance and rattled off a rehearsed spiel about wine programs I'd only dreamed of attending and he seemed to assume I never would. An hour earlier, I’d shut the fuck up in stunned horror when That He mocked my question about the soil structure of Burgundy. In front of everyone, That He sneered, "Oh I see we've got someone here with a little bit of knowledge. Oh. Oh. Ohhhhhhhh." This He once said, "the difference comes down to finesse". This He swirled, tilted, and sipped. I followed, my own glass in hand. This he asked, "do you understand the difference?". This He spoke with respect. This He made That He look like a pompous asshole. ******************************* One day, She A. said, "Hi my name is...". That day, She B. said, "I’ll send you the name of my friend in Paris." Another day, She A. said "Hey, we're all going out for lobster sandwiches. Wanna come?" Later that summer, She B. said, "I think I just failed the fortified." I refuted, "No way!". She B. asked, "You?" I said, "You know I feel pretty good about it". There was the time, She A. said "I think I'll start a WhatsApp group for all of us. What is your number?" And the time She B. convinced me espresso machines are supposed to be loud and I'd have to get used to if I want to have coffee for breakfast." One afternoon, She A. asked "Are you headed back to Paris tonight? We're going to 67 Pall Mall."

It was almost spring when, She B. introduced She A. and I to her partner. We were four around a table of six at a rooftop restaurant oasis. I was absolutely elated to have been invited. I had never called them friends. I figured too weird and too soon. Colleagues? That worked, but friends someday, I’d hoped. Chef smiled. Chef approached out table and declared we were beautiful. A silver-plated seafood extravaganza glided to our table from chef’s hands to a pedestal of pink flowers. Chef beckoned and Waiter took photos of us five with each of our phones. Chef's phone won the right to post. Chef grinned and bellowed about social media. He made wacky jokes about being cool on Instagram while hovering over Waiter as they cropped the image according to Chef’s instructions: "No like this. No move the picture over here, no take that out. Yes. Like that!" Chef exclaimed some corny thing about Likes then invited us to enjoy our meal.

And oh, we did. We enjoyed it very much, the she’s and me. I don't really eat seafood, so I skipped the oysters and muscles. Too textural or something. Besides, I’m from the poor South where decadence wouldn’t dare. Two hours later, we four said our goodbye-until-next-times. Three days later, I finally unpacked. I wondered if it was truly time to let my guard down in honor of my new level of inclusion. The calendar app buzzed, and I swiped it away. Phone in hand, I popped open the photo gallery and admired my souvenir of that day. I recalled jolly Chef and searched for his phone’s final account of we five on Instagram. I found them; they - the beautiful four – Chef plus my three without me. Cropped to perfection. A sliver of a cornsilk shirt peaked along the edge of where I used to be.

********************************

Stevie Wonder and Sunsets. Where the hell did I put that essay? So many years ago, he told me I was talented. He gave me three months of affirmation. I finished college because of Mr. Matthews.

*******************************

“Y'all . . . y'all! Lissen”.

She makes me laugh. I imagine her struggle is hard. I know her hustle is real. She makes me laugh every time. Her dimpled Georgian drawl makes me laugh and she always leaves me hungry. So hungry I could live in her kitchen.

“I want a fried whiting fish sandwich, hot out the grease on Wonder bread with mustard and a couple dashes hot sauce to go with this white Burgundy!”

******************************* She ripped me to shreds. I wasn’t ready. Two hot puffs and I was in tears.

I’d been desperate for a mentor when I found her. First, she talked at me by trying to educate me on life and “this business” as if I didn’t already hold credentials of my own in both. Then she talked over me escalating into various accounts of her own experiences of discrimination. She made comparisons to high school and added a couple of vignettes about that, too. She said my people stood at the end of a long line of her people fighting for a few jobs in an industry determined to outdate itself. She spoke her truth and barely let me do the same. That’s a lie. I mean, she let me speak. Twice. I fumbled both (a writer reconfirmed!). So, I did. Write, that is. I wrote this essay three days later. I wrote five days in a row. Two days into the purge, I wrote to her. I said in a brief paragraph that we would never agree on everything, but her words were insightful and ironically inspiring. I did not say to her that it may have been my vulnerability that heard insult and her bullish style that prompted injury. Our messages clashed and the debris cluttered the space between us. Still, I am only about 53% sure she meant well. I do not know what to do with that number. If I ever find peace in this storm, I'll thank her. I’ll buy her three shots of rum and try the conversation again. ********************************

“Why is there no one who looks like us in the French wine industry,” I asked. “I see us everywhere in the city. Where are we?”. “Why did you leave?”, I pried. “Tell me your story. Help me understand".

He said, "You've got to think differently".

I said, "School me".




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