The Easiest And Quickest Way To Make A Bunch Of White People Mad At You (Hint: Just Say “No”)
Last week, when walking through the door at one of the four coffee shops/cafes in my “this is where I’m working today” rotation — a placement determined by an algorithm that includes a free and strong wifi signal, food, available parking, lukewarm toilet seats, nice people working there, and an average room temperature conducive to Black people with iron deficiencies — I noticed one of the cashiers having an argument with a customer. It wasn’t an argument argument. There was no furniture moving potential. But there was a clear disagreement, and the customer (a well-dressed White man in his mid-40s) was clearly annoyed. The cashier, a 30-something Black woman, was more bemused than anything. Which I’m certain made the man more annoyed.
He eventually left in a huff, and I took his place in line. Curious, I asked the cashier what happened.
“What’s up with that guy?”
“He wanted the bathroom key. But it’s only for customers. I told him he could have just bought a water or a cookie, but he refused and got all pissy. So I refused the key.”
“He then asked to see my manager. And I told him I am the manager. And he left. Really though, if he had just not been an asshole, I would have given it to him.”
Of course, it would be wrong for me to use that occurrence as an opportunity to make some grand synopsis about race. Because you could substitute the races and the genders there and still have the same outcome. What happened there might not have been completely race-neutral, but it definitely wasn’t race-dependant.
But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that there is a certain and specific type of entitlement that exists with (some) White people. It stems from an inherent belief that everything that can be seen, touched, heard, tasted, or smelled can — and should — also be accessed by them. And, it’s not just a pervasive ownership. It’s never just being a guest. Or even acknowledging the possibility that being a guest — that being somewhere that will remain unauthorized until authorization is granted — is something they can possibly be.
And for the people who possess this belief, the very worst thing you can say to them; the one thing that goes against their every idea, thought, and action — ideas, thoughts, and actions reinforced since childhood — is “No.”
Actually, that was a bit of a lie. “Nope” is just as bad. As is “Nah.” And “Never.” “Nawl” sucks for them too. Even “Maybe later, but just not right now” stings like a kidney stone.
We saw some of that here on VSB this week, as (some) White people reacted to me saying “maybe we should all step back and let Black women have the first glass of Lemonade” like I unveiled a plan to turn every Banana Republic into a jollof rice food truck. It’s 11:39am EST right now and they’re still leaving angry comments I’m never going to read. All because I said “No.” Which I’m beginning to suspect is the White person’s Candyman. Maybe they fear if they hear it five times in the mirror, Nat Turner will appear.
And I’m sure other people — even other White people — can recall experiences with this particular type of White person. Maybe it’s a neighbor. Or a classmate. Or a coworker. And they can be found in cubicles annoying colleagues with their need to insert and assert their opinions when none have been asked for or needed. Or at coffee shops arguing with cashiers who are merely enforcing a rule posted on the fucking door. Or on city streets screaming at police officers because the officer dared tell them to not drive in the bike lane. Or on TV wishing to receive the Republican nomination in the race for the President of the United States.
Also, for the type of White person crushed by “no,” hearing it from a Black person or in relation to a “Black” thing seems to be especially devastating. Like their souls have been pierced with a rusty corkscrew. Or like a Clippers fan this morning, forced to acknowledge their playoff hopes rest on the shoulders of Austin Rivers. Because, who the hell does this Black person, a Black person, think they are to dare to tell me, a White person, what I can or can’t do? Forget about the Audacity of Hope. For Black people telling White people what they shouldn’t or can’t do, it’s the Audacity of Nope.
On some level I want to empathize. Because no one really enjoys hearing no. Even my five-month-old daughter, who doesn’t quite get all words yet, squints when she hears no now. Like “I can’t comprehend why you’re saying that word around me.” But then I remember where we are. And how we (Black people) literally had no legal right to say no to a White person until like 19 years ago. And then I leave the house to go work again, equipped with an attaché, some Tims, a Bougie Black Girl shirt, and a pocket full of 400 years worth of “No”s; ready and willing to hurl at any White person who doesn’t believe I should own them.