Why Black People Always Nod To Each Other
or, I’m Right There With You.
Blanket statements are my favorite, so I’ll start with a grandiose one: Black people always nod when we see each other on the sidewalk.
It’s a slight nod, though. Not like the kind of nod that you do at the Christmas table when your Aunt Ellen asks you if you want any more of her special fried chicken, and you do, but your face is too stuffed with mashed potatoes to be able to choke out “Hell Yes”.
It’s a simple movement. The chin rises up just a few inches, and returns back to its regular position. Bing-bang-boom. Over before it even starts. If you blink, you’ll miss it. The Universal Black People Nod. Seen on UPN, BET, and at certain times of the day on the intersection of Bancroft and 82nd. White people are mystified. “Do they all know each other?”
The answer is: Yes, white people. We sort of do.
At the park where I jog (
read: chain smoke and scare pigeons) I often run into older black women. The formula for interaction is always the same:They say hello, and I say hello. They do the nod, and I do the nod. And we head out on our merry way, probably never to cross paths again. I go back to scaring pigeons and she goes back to her walk. Leftover in the air is a sense of amity. I’m telling you, the nod is a real thing.
But the significance of the nod doesn’t lie in what is being verbalized – rather, what’s most important is what is not being verbalized. This non-verbal gesture, the quiet hellos; they all say one thing: “I’m right there with you.”
Now, Loretta and I (Loretta is what I named this fictional conglomerate of every black woman at my local park) do not know each other, but we know each other. When Loretta looks at my hair, she knows that it took me at least seven hours to braid from root to tip. She knows what type of conditioner I use, because there are only so many that work for hair like ours. Loretta knows that my momma and I probably woke up a lot of early Sunday when the moon is still slung smack dab in the middle of a hot blue sky. Loretta knows that we would tiredly heat up the hot comb over the stove, and she knows what the room smells like when the comb hits that perfect, scalp scorching temperature. She knows that I got nicked on the ear a few times by the blistering metal of the comb, and that my mom tries to blow on it to make it better. She also knows that blowing on it does not make it better. IT DOES NOT, MOM. IT JUST DOESN’T. AND YES, I’M CRYING! MY EAR IS ON FUCKING FIRE! YES, I WISH YOU’D HAD SONS TOO!
Now, Loretta and I do not know each other. But I know her through my mother and father, and through my aunts and uncles, and through history books that showed people like Loretta in black and white photos waiting outside of a “Colored Only” restroom on a swelteringly humid day in Selma, Alabama. And I know that white people of the time (not the educated, cultured white man of today) probably looked on her like she was of a species separate from human – a primitive leech on the tat of society – when all poor Loretta wanted to do was go to the fucking bathroom.
So, here’s why that’s funny.
Being black is a like terminal illness. Hilarious, right? Once you realize you have it, it’s yours for life. You can buckle under the strain and throw your hands up screaming, “Life just isn’t fair!” Or, you can join a support group, buy some nice warm hats, and ride out the storm together.
This is where what I call “Black Camaraderie” comes into play: Every terminal illness has a support group. I mean, we’re all stuck with this disease. We might as well slowly die together.
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” said my resident Caucasian and close friend Charlie Pocahontas, who earned his name by openly talking to cats and raccoons in public. “When black people band together to help each other out, it’s called ‘camaraderie’. What’s it called when white people band together and help each other out?”
I thought for a moment. “Institutional racism,” I said. And right then and there, Charlie’s head exploded. No more Charlie. Thanks, Obama. In Charlie’s memory, I’ll explain to you the argument that so aptly blew his little white mind.
Systematic racism is a term that describes the way that public and private institutions offer certain advantages to white people that are not available to people of color. And we know that systematic/institutional racism still exists because the system that our founding fathers set up during the dawn of our country’s creation hasn’t really changed all that much since conception. We all know that white people are okay with change (Thanks again, Obama) but it seems like that kind of change is only really warranted when it affects the communities for which this country was really designed. If you’re wondering what communities I’m talking about, I’ll give you a hint: It’s not mine.
Now, people are getting awfully upset about how the people in Ferguson, Missouri are dealing with their impending cases of systematic injustice, but let me tell you something: I was in a sorority in college (and yes, I have littles, and yes, I love them very much (and no, I was not a Delta, sorry)) and I’ve seen classy, well respected white people riot when the song Wagon Wheel comes on. Like, actually riot. Chairs were flipped, people were crying, and Rush Limbaugh appeared and told them that they were all doing “the right thing”. Seriously. Rush Limbaugh was there. (Not really).
But when black people riot, it’s a different story. We’re barbarians. We’re destroying the property of hardworking people who are just trying to get through the day, just like us. I mean, I’m not saying go out there and fuck up everything, but you gotta understand why we’re a little upset. People have been telling us that the system works for us, and it protects us, and if we all close our eyes and wish real hard, racism will eventually just go away, no riots needed. But that isn’t the case. The system wasn’t designed for us, and it wasn’t retrofitted for us when it was decided that we actually are people. And when we scream, no one can hear us, because it’s decided that we are hysterical in our emotions and cruel in our intentions. It’s certainly not because we’re exhausted from being systematically mistreated by a country that we helped build. Certainly not. /s
In fact, I’d liken the struggles of people of color today to the systematic struggles of women throughout history. Now, we all know that women were always treated like shit. But back in the good ol’ days, we used to treat our women like shit, and then diagnose them with a disease called “hysteria”, a big word meaning that women were acting in ways that were terrifying men. Some of the symptoms included sexual desire or unhappiness and was even at one point considered a repercussion of infertility(2) or a “displaced uterus”, which happens to be the name of my one-woman show. As a result of this displacement, many women were forcibly masturbated in order to, in medical terms, get them to “calm their tits.” Ah, America.
And that’s what institutionalized racism really is. Huddled masses screaming their grievences about a system that treats them poorly and then being told to “settle down” by those in charge (who, incidentally, stand to loose the most power). We’re being told that our grievances are insignificant and irrelevant, and that if we don’t like it, we best just pack up our shit and get out. And people think that not liking the system is akin to abhorrence and disrespect for the country that developed (and kept) that system of injustice that continues to knock us down.
Let me tell you something, bitches. I love my motherfucking country. I love baseball, I love apple pie, I love our president, and I love his muscular wife. I’ll pop a fool if he tries to insinuate otherwise. These colors don’t run, nigga. USA! USA! Ahem. Sorry. Got carried away.
I love my country in the way that I love Chris Pratt. Sure, he was pretty damned sexy in Guardians of the Galaxy, but you’re lying if you weren’t a bit sexually confused when he was a chubby Andy Dwyer on Parks and Rec. I love America that same way, flaws and all, but I think that one step at a time we can become the nation that we always knew we could be, the nation that we pretend to be until times get hard. I think that our nation could be Starlord, and I think that we can make it Starlord one step at a time. And I’ll love America no less once we drop all that extra weight and start making some serious changes. That’s what a good country does, isn’t it? We change, we transform, we revolutionize, we rebel, and we remain a people that is united to create a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. (3) If that sounds familiar, congratulations, you recognize the first sentence of the constitution. Have a cookie.
Black camaraderie doesn’t stop with the nod, and it shouldn’t. In fact, I move that instead of a nod and a quiet “hello”, we should do what we really desire – grasp your fellow negro into a big hug, pat them on the shoulder, and say what the nod signifies: “I’m right there with you.” And sure, you’ll get a few odd stares, and you might get a few angry people screaming, “Nigga, get off me! Shit!” But they’ll know. You’re right there with them. And in a system of institutionalized racism in which people of color still have to trudge through every day of our lives, sometimes it’s just nice to know that there is someone right there with you.
Your Daily Dose of Standup
Because comedy can really solve all problems, aside from war, sickness, and poverty.
Today’s set is from Hannibal Buress’s “Animal Furnace” called “White Strip Clubs”