I went to QDP at The 5 Spot last month (Queer Dance Party, for the uninitiated) and found myself — a 30-something, white, married mom — blissfully sweating bullets, surrounded by people of all ages and races, raising our hands to the roof with Alicia Keys blaring through the sound system. I was sporting a turquoise tutu and got a nod of approval from a young, black woman who oozed generosity of spirit. We danced for a while, the music bringing us together, but drifted off as the night went on.
I left that night hungry for a lasting connection with her, and if I’m being honest, hungry for access to diversity in general. Her spirit caught my eye, but the color of her skin made me long, even more, for her friendship — and for that, I felt weak-in-the-knees shameful. I saw and differentiated the color of her skin. Did that make me a racist? I’m supposed to be colorblind, right?
But I’m not colorblind, and I can’t pretend to be anymore after watching the news this past summer about Sandra Bland, the woman who died in a Texas jail cell after having been incarcerated for three days for not using her turn signal. I can’t conceive of a scenario in which that would happen to me.
Hearing her story, I imagined what it must have been like for her to be starting a new life in a new state, and the desperation she must have felt at the possibility that her dream job could be lost due to her arrest. I cannot conceive of how despondent she must have been to take her own life in that jail cell — if, in fact, that’s what happened.
Her experience of living in America is one that I will never be able to fully understand, but if I’m not supposed to acknowledge how shocking the disparity is between her experience and mine — and if I’m not allowed to shout from the rooftops that I want to be friends with the woman on the dance floor partially because of the color of her skin — if those things can’t happen, I remain hopelessly powerless and permanently separate. And I can’t live with that.
I moved to Nashville from California eight years ago. On the West Coast, I have close friends of many races, but have found those friendships harder to come by here. That’s not meant to be a broad statement about the South. It’s just the truth. The problem clearly exists nationwide, and maybe I just got lucky in L.A. But I have to acknowledge that right now, here, in this neighborhood that I love so much, it’s notable when I find myself in effortless contact with people of other races — and that divide makes no sense in such a diverse and thriving city.
An elderly black gentleman and I had a chat over clementines in the produce section at the grocery store the other day. He wanted to know if they were sweet. I told him kids love them because they’re delicious and easy to peel. He grinned and said, “Well, I’m a kid today then,” and placed a bag in his cart. And I was hungry again. I wanted to know him better, to sit down for a meal.
I don’t know if it makes me a racist to reach out for more intimate contact partially based on the color of someone’s skin, so I shy away most of the time. But I got the number of my beautiful dance partner that night. I hope she’s up for a glass of wine, and I hope it’s OK if we talk about race, as well as family, work, and love. I don’t want to be an activist. I just want to be friends, but to do that with an honest heart, I have to admit that we’re not the same. Our experiences, opportunities, and the assumptions made about us every day are not the same.
I’m not colorblind. I’m color hungry. Fortunately, we in Nashville (and thankfully in the country at large) have something accessible to bring us together. We have music writhing up through our history, defining us and reliably uniting us when we need it the most. We should take better advantage of it. Music reaches into the gaps, recognizing and shrinking them.
It looked to me like the folks at QDP had things pretty much worked out. I think I found a new hang. Kumbaya, people. All together now.