Black History Month: Excerpt from “Whose Song?” by Thomas Glave

From Whose Song? And Other Stories

“- And Love Them?”

Only now I hate them. Well, no, I shouldn’t say that, I really shouldn’t and anyway you have to be careful saying things like that and especially who you say them to because it’s the kind of thing they’re always looking out for to hold against you, the kind of something or other they think they can use. And they always use it, without ever understanding the feeling. They always use it, without ever taking responsibility for their part in it. They’re always waiting to jump on you for something, catch you in something – that’s the way you’ve got to deal with them, that’s what makes it so hard every time. And after a while you learn that you can’t hate all of them anyway or all of anybody. Not for long. Sooner or later it passes into something else you recognize, and I guess deep down hate anyway isn’t the right word. I consider myself an educated woman. I’m logical, I read the papers; I observe, I think, I respond. And react. I’m still pretty good-looking for my age, people tell me – you couldn’t tell I’m getting close to forty-whatever, it doesn’t matter how old, it’s no big deal anyway and if it is you know it shouldn’t be. A woman’s life begins at forty some people say, and I think they’re right. Someone I used to know what really honest, one of them but still really honest, told me once that I could still even pass for a teenager and I believed him because I know it’s true – how you keep yourself, it’s all in the mind. My mind’s really sharp, that’s what keeps me going. Like when I sit next to them on the train in the morning on the way to work and think about them. That’s when I try to feel them, feel what they might be thinking or feeling. But most of the time it feels like you can never tell what they’re thinking or feeling. One of them used to work with me at the office – a sweet, very charming girl from Guyana or one of those islands. She spoke so nicely on the phone, people said; she was so polite when she took messages and spelled out their names correctly. It was like she always had a smile in her voice. But she left two months ago – she was finally pregnant, she said, after trying so hard for so many years, and wanted to have the baby in Guyana or wherever it was. I found out later her husband was involved in some kind of trade union thing down there on one of the islands. I wish them a lot of happiness together. I certainly will miss her. She was so polite, so kind; what I call a real human being.

But that’s what I mean – that way they have of holding back. I still can’t understand it; it hurts me deep down and makes me really furious, to tell the absolute truth. And then after some more time of it I just get sick of it all, the same goddamned situation over and over again, and it’s like I’m always thinking, what should I say? What should I do? But you can’t Let them know that because all they ever are is angry, very angry, and it’s like they think they’ve got an exclusive corner on it so they can bully the rest of the world into shutting up or being afraid. And as soon as you even try to open your mouth to explain that maybe, God forbid just maybe you might have some feeling too they give you that disgusting sickening awful look that’s no look at all and then go into that sulky silence they’re so good at. I’m pretty intuitive, I can tell moods. It’s like they don’t want you to know they’re angry oh no, but then, oh, believe it, they do want you to know. They force it on you. You’ve seen it: those ugly expressions. The ugliest expressions in the world. Their lips get thin then and they stare at you with that hating look. But then (if I said this to one of them, you could be sure they’d take it the wrong way) at least when they react that way you know, most of the time, that things won’t get out of hand. It won’t be like when they get really angry and go out into the street and do all the wild things they do, setting fires and turning over police cars and killing innocent people just in the name of anger. They’re not human then. I’ve seen them, everyone’s seen them – like what they did in L.A. in ’92. The thing is – they could never understand this – I agreed with them. I didn’t think they were wrong to be upset. I told two of them, friends of mine (Tracy and Angela, two girls who work with me in the legal division; they don’t always seem to be looking for an argument like some of the others) – I told them, you’re right, you’ve got every right to be angry that was a ridiculous miscarriage of justice’ I couldn’t agree with you more (I told them this, oh yes, the truth, I told them), I can’t believe that even with a videotape of them beating him and everything else that they still allowed those men to go free. Awful, I said; just not right, I said. And I meant it. It was all true. But then – here’s where it gets so hard – I wanted to tell them that maybe they should have looked at it all a little more closely before they got so upset, because those men were police officers and they were only trying, really, finally, to do their job, can’t you see? – it can’t be easy going through what they have to go through every day of their lives, imagine being a policeman’s wife, would you want to have to experience that trauma every day of your life? Well, yes, all right, you could say maybe they went a little too far. I’ve never seen police violence like that before in my life. It upset me for an entire week, I almost had nightmares like everyone else, I’ve got feelings too; but maybe – did they ever stop to think? Did they ever try to have some compassion for the other people in the situation? That guy, the criminal, might really have been dangerous, who can ever know these things when they’re happening? Because even after they hit him a few times he kept on trying to rise up from the ground toward them. Maybe they were afraid, after all. Wouldn’t you have been? Wouldn’t anybody have been? Because you can’t ever tell what someone’s thinking. And they showed some compassion, finally, the officers, because they didn’t shoot him the way they’re trained to do. It’s like you just can’t tell who’ll try to kill you in the world these days, everything is so dangerous now with all these drug dealers and crackheads and all out in the streets, everywhere, and all these rapists and serial killers too. But no, you can’t tell them that. I couldn’t tell them that. They would just get all upset again and tell me I’m being what they always call you when they can’t call you anything else – it makes them feel good when they call you that because then they can sit back and hate you and blame you all over again for everything that’s wrong in the world like you made it that way. It’s always you, never them. It’s so hard, so sickening, because I really like Tracy and Angela, they’re nice girls, so well-spoken; we even go out to lunch sometimes together and manage to talk about all kinds of things like books and music and even modern art. It shows you how much people can have going on upstairs when they want to. I really value their friendship so I never tell them these things, and that’s one of the things that makes this all so hard and horrible because – if you don’t already know – imagine how hard it is to be friends with someone when you can’t even tell them the truth because they’re so sensitive about what they think is right that they can’t deal with reality or what anyone else thinks. They’re very emotional. All of them are, there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just a cultural thing, and it’s like you know they’ve probably been hurt in one way or another by things that have happened to them – little, stupid things.  But after a while even that begins to sound too much like another excuse.  Haven’t we all been hurt by something?  But some of us still manage to think . . . .
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Thomas Glave walks the path of such greats in American literature as Richard Wright and James Baldwin . . . he cuts to the bone of what it means to be black in America, white in America, gay in America, and human in the world at large.”
—Gloria Naylor

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