The King & I: Notes on the Civil Rights Martyr and My Body Politics
Camptown Ladies, Kara Walker, 1998. Cut paper and adhesive on wall. Overall size 9 x 67 feet.
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So just a few minutes ago, I arrived at my office building on Fifth Avenue in the Union Square Area. I stood in front of the third bank awaiting an elevator. Seconds later, the third bank opened and as I was standing directly in front of it, I stepped in, only to be cut off by a South Asian women to my right, who blithely bumped me hard and entered first.
A few months ago, I washed my hands in the office restroom just after arriving at the office as I had held firmly onto the subway pole on my way in and God knows all the germs nasty Gothamites deposit on them each day. I turned to leave, opened and half-stepped through the door when a white Hispanic office mate, a few paces away, blithely strode through the door blocking me out of my own exit.
A few weeks ago in Battery Park I was blithely bowled over by a white guy on the southern sky bridge connecting the World Financial Center to Church Street.
In all instances, no excuses, apologies or acknowledgments of my existence were proffered. I intervened calmly but firmly. I called attention to my corporeality and the incongruity of what had transpired before inviting dialogue. The elevator woman said, "some people have issues," and laughed with the white elevator riders when I exited. The bathroom women giggled nervously, returned to her cubicle and complimented my brightly colored ensembles in each and every future encounter. The sky bridge man bristled and barked, "What's your problem?!" while the mostly white tourists nearby stared at me like I was stone crazy.
I am not a elevator attendant. I am not a door woman. I am not pavement. I am a person.