Flightless (and Black) in Minneapolis

So much to say, so much time! I am stuck in Minneapolis…still!!! My flight out last night was nixed and I was bumped to the first available flight for this morning, which has turned out to be…guess what? DELAYED. Something about bad weather in Chicago (where I need to change planes) and crews needing to sleep. Anyway, I’m gonna be in this airport forever, so I have plently of time to write about my experience in the Midwest. (Sigh).

Let me just begin by saying that my frustration with not being able to leave Minneapolis was ultimately expressed with me pleading with the ticketing agent to get me to the EAST COAST. Didn’t matter where: Philly, New York, Raleigh…hell, MIAMI! I really don’t care, I’d find a way to get home. I just need to get to a place where people don’t look at black people like we’re martians! The Midwest is another world. One I am not too anxious to get back to.

Do you remember one of my earlier posts in which I mentioned that I lack much of the first hand experiences with racism that has shaped the perspectives of many in my community? Well…let’s just say that somebody has decided that it’s high time to catch Ms. Lexi up on the ways of the world. I have had one too many encounters this week that made me cock my head to the side with that puzzled, “Did s/he just say what I think s/he said?” look. And all too often, s/he had.

All of this has me giving a lot of my optimistic altruism with regards to race relations a second thought. I have been considering moving off of the east coast. I was actively considering (and still haven’t ruled out) the pacific northwest area: Seattle or Portland. And since I’m traveling so much for work, I thought I’d keep an open mind about the cities that are quickly comprising my travel calendar, like Minneapolis.

I actually loved the city the first couple of days I was here. It’s beautiful and clean, a booming metropolis. Quite frankly, nothing like I expected. I am drawn to big cities (except Buenos Aires, I can’t put my finger on why I hated it, but I did). The more I visit the more I am convinced that I am a city girl to the core. Just like when I got to Seattle, in Minneapolis I dropped my bags and started pounding the pavement. I love, love, love being able to walk everywhere: coffee shops, banks, dry cleaners, movies…everything. I am created to live in some city’s downtown. I thrive in the city. Even more in a city that has nature so close. Seattle stole my heart with the lakes and the ocean and the mountains all visible and accessible from the city. I expected that Minneapolis, in the land of 10,000 lakes, would bring me just as much joy. I had yet to meet the locals.

I’ve been in a conference all week (one of the best I’ve ever attended, replete with fodder for subsequent posts) so, primarily my contact has been with women from around the country who are all part of the movement to end violence against women. I’ve met intersting people, and strange people, and people (who still surprise me for 2006 in America) who obviously have had little or no contact with black people. I realize how much the east coast distorts one’s impression of the US. I really don’t feel like a 12%er in Chocolate City, (or anywhere else between NYC and Miami), but the further west (particularly midwest) I’ve traveled, the more apparent that 12% becomes.

I honestly don’t know what the specific demographics of Minneapolis are, but I have not seen very many people of color at all. And, for the first, second, and THIRD time in my life, I have had to bob and weave and repeatedly reposition myself to get the person I was speaking to make eye contact with me, as acknowledgement of my existence. The ticketing agent at the airport literally spoke over my left shoulder, while blowing off my questions about re-booking my cancelled flight. I think I looked back 3 or 4 times to check to see if there was some emergency requiring DHS jumping off behind me, for which I gladly would have shut up and moved out of the way. But there was nothing.

When I add that experience to that of white women in the elevator of the Hilton-Minneapolis who looked at a group of professionally dressed black women and asked if we worked in the hotel because she was having problems getting an attendant to her room, the group from the Women of Color Network who dined together at a local restaurant having to wait 1 hour to get drinks in half-full restaurant with everyone else around us eating and drinking away and I’m left to wonder,”Um, is it just me or did 1964 not happen in Minnesota?”

The first smile, eye contact and respectful customer service I received was from the black front desk attendant who checked me out of the Hilton (where I obviously was an anomaly), the black ticketing agent who actually answered my questions and directed me to how I could get me flight arranged and booked so that I could get back to normalcy, and the black security agent who was so happy to see another black person that he left his post and walked me to my gate. Now, I know this dude was flirting, but at least I got a chance to ask him what in the world was going on around here. (Oh wait, I forgot the black shuttle driver who was playing Michael Jackson’s greatest hits on the way to the hotel from the airport. And he was fine!) See any coincidences here? I’ve had it. You can have this town. I haven’t been here long enough to do a full appraisal, but from what I’ve experienced, no thanks. I’ve seen enough.

This is but the backdrop for a more detailed conversation I’d like to incite about radicalism, pan-Africanism, black love, cultural competency, integration, tokenism, culturally specific organizations and much much more. I have to carve out more time to write because this trip has churned up a hurricane of ideas I need to flesh out.

I welcome any thoughts on the subjects I’ve just mentioned to prime my pump.

Anyone have experiences in the midwest? What’s up with that?

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8 thoughts on “Flightless (and Black) in Minneapolis

  1. *sigh* i know this one all to well with the little time i spent in chicago. I woulda popped if that lady asked me if i worked there.

    It’s sickening how most of this country still is.

  2. …yeah, I can unfortunately say “I know what you mean.” But I will admit that I’m still in denial.

    I don’t want to know that I’m part of the 12%. I want to be part of the 100% of American citizens.

    At the same time, I do know what it’s like to live in a place where black people have not seen whites. Can’t say that the whites in this situation are treated very nicely either.

    We all want to fit in, regardless of everything that makes us different.

  3. ardentgailla,

    You raise a point that I’d like to flesh out more; the idea that “whites in this situation aren’t treated ver nicely either”.

    I really don’t think good ole American racism is about people being treated nicely or not. All people can be jerks at some point in time to anyone, for any number of reasons. This is why I listed radicalism first in the list of things I want to kick around, because I find myself agreeing more and more with what I have considered over time more radical Afro-centric notions of race and racism and while it is bothering me to a degree, I’m beginning to ascribe more validity to said notions.

    For instance, my initial reaction to your statement about whites not being treated nicely was, “whatever!” I see that as part of life, not as part of racism.

    Power and priviledge play such staring roles in this discussion that I don’t believe these experiences can be compared equally.

    I’m sure to stir the waters on this one. My last conversation about priviledge with a “non-American” left me pulling my hair and pounding my fists in the air. It’s loaded! Discussions get so heated from every side. There’s so much anger around the issue of race in this country which I think stands to confirm the magnitude of the problems.

    And, I understand fully that having conversations about these issues don’t move us towards easy solutions. There are none. You can’t change a culture overnight (or in 200 years for that matter). But, the discussion helps me gain self-awareness, particularly when it comes to the cultural competence required to do my work.

    So, please stay engaged in the discussion.

  4. *having converations about these issues WON’T move us towards easy solutions.

    I really do apologize for the anal retentiveness that will not let me leave glaring typos like this one uncorrected. But in light of the issues, can you see the difference a letter makes in this statement?

    (I should have my head shrunken to discover why I was mortified to live it in it’s original form, with all it connotes. I’ve got some issues, y’all!)

  5. Keep us close to the border so we can hop on a boat if it ever becomes necessary! lol

    I have only been to the mid-west once, and that was for a church thing, so it doesn’t count. All I saw was black people there. Except for a memorable encounter with a white guy in the train station that has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

    Being from the deep south, I see that racism is different in various parts of this country. From my vantage point, it’s more institutional in the south and more interpersonal on the east coast. In the south a white person is more likely to engage you in conversation in the grocery store line, but you better not attempt to visit “their” church or restaurant or you may get politely escorted out. While in Maryland, you can go anywhere you want pretty-much, but if a white person strikes up a conversation with me in the grocery store or even at my kids’ school, I must admit that my first thought is, “Wow, they must not be from here.”

    I visited my best friend’s grandparents’ trailer in Louisa, VA as a child. Why did I visit a trailer park overnight with a white family? Who the heck knows!! But we visited a family there whose child had never seen a black person before and I was treated like a circus sideshow. I’ve had something against VA ever since.

    This country is great, except that it has some of the worst people in the world in it. I say we all relocate to Tobago. I think I see a ship!

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