Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Represent.

*names, details, etc. changed to protect anonymity. . . .



 
Part story-Part late night rambling. Read at your own risk. . . . 



"You know, I'm fixin' to move."

These were words I heard spoken by one of my clinic F.P.'s when I bumped into him in the hall. Always chatty, I knew this was just the beginning of what would be a detailed story.

Mr. Kiefer widened his eyes and spoke before I could respond. "I was hopin' I was gon' see you! I was thinkin', 'Now, if that woman is up takin' care of folks upstairs in the main hospital and not in this clinic I'm gon' march right up there and find her!'" He let out his signature cackle.

"Hey there, Mr. Kiefer. What do you mean 'fixin' to move?' What's that about?"

My tone was easy and familiar, and rightfully so. I've known him for nearly eight years and have cared for him shoulder to shoulder with three different resident physicians--four if you count the new intern who assumed care after the last one graduated. Usually, Mr. Kiefer made a point to poke his head into the Physician's Room with some kind of teaser to get me in the hallway chatting with him before the visit. This time he caught me coming out of another patient's room so did the honors right there.

Sure. Mr. Kiefer is what Seinfeld would refer to as a bit of a "close talker." He breaks all kinds of rules from entering personal space to speaking too loudly to dropping f-bombs when and wherever he damn well pleases. But I adore him though--especially his little teasers before the visits.

Most of the time it's something like, "Did you know I went and got my medicine on that four dollar list? Hell, it add up if you got four times fourteen!"  (insert signature cackle)

Always something like that. Lighthearted and jovial. But this day wasn't like that. His voice was decidedly serious--and even though he cracked a joke, there was a sadness in his usually twinkling blue eyes.

"Moving?" I repeated.

"Soon as I get all my business straight I'm movin' down to the Alabama gulf shore.  The other L.A."

We then said in unison, "Lower Alabama."  As we shared a laugh, he slapped his knee in the animated way that he always does and shook his head. 

"Won't even get a chance to pick on my new doctor since I'm leavin'.  You know how I like 'em when they're all green."  He giggled as I followed him into the room, but just like that I saw it again. A wistful sadness that washed over his face and disappeared like vapor.  I knew I'd get to see him more after his resident doctor discussed his visit with me, but for whatever reason, Mr. Kiefer wanted more of my attention than usual.

I leaned on the door jamb at first; then I decided to step in and follow my instincts. Yes. There was work to be done and probably someone waiting for me to precept their patient with them. But Mr. K had something going on.

I softened my voice and sat on the foot rest at the end of the exam table. Looking up at him, I asked, "So what's going on?"

"I got robbed. At gunpoint."

Originally I'd positioned myself with my elbow on my knee and my cheek cradled sideways in my hand--relaxed but concerned. His statement caught me by surprise; I stiffened my spine and furrowed my brow. "What? That's awful. I'm sorry."

"Kicked the door straight in. Point that gun right in my face like a old dog. I was holding a hot cup of coffee and plum dropped it all over my nether regions!" He let out an anemic laugh. I could tell it took a lot out of him. This wasn't funny.

"Oh my gosh, sir. Robbed? I'm so sorry to hear that!"

"The guy had a mask on and came marching all through my house hollering at me and everything. He was like, 'Look old white man! Where your gun? Make one move and I'm gon' blow your head off.' But hell, I was too busy worryin' 'bout my nether regions!" Just telling the story seemed to scare him.

I narrowed my eyes and sighed.

Look old white man. 

Damn. Those words spoke volumes. It told me that more than likely, whoever put this gun in sweet Mr. Kiefer's face looked like me and not him. Just like some white folks say "this black guy" when speaking of an African-American man, I'd be lying if I hadn't seen that reciprocated. Seems to me like anyone who looked like Mr. Kiefer would have been just fine to say, "Look old man"-- no adjective needed. 

Look old white man.

Damn.  Who could be sweeter and more harmless than Mr. Kiefer? Who?  This man lived in his same neighborhood for longer than I've been alive. That neighborhood changed big time and all those working poor Caucasians tipped out toward outlying counties when the going in town got either too tough or too expensive. But not him.

"I ain't scared a nobody. I don't mess with them and they don't mess with me.  I got my dogs and my cats and my Smith and my Wesson," he'd always say. And that's what he'd been saying for the last eight years so I believed him. But today? He was less feisty. There was fear in his eyes.

Look old white man.

Really? Mr. Kiefer? Who would want to hurt him?  I shook my head and pressed my lips together. I could feel my face getting hot and my heel tapping to let out the mounting emotion. I wanted to kick somebody's ass. Right now. Kind of like the way you yank your kid up by the shirt for embarrassing the crap out of you. Only worse than that.

"Got me a nice little place to go down near Mobile. Dogs gon' love it. Now them cats, you know cats got a attitude so ain't no tellin' what they gon' say. You know Miss Ellie had some kittens."
 
And you know, the dogs and the kittens and the fact that Kroger makes some good instant coffee is where our conversation went next. I let it because that's where he wanted it to go and seemed to need it to go.  I stayed silent and offered obligatory smiles and chuckles at all the right times. This image of this seventy-something year old harmless man being startled so bad that he dropped hot coffee all over his crotch haunted me.  He talked and talked and I can't remember a single thing he said after "Look old white man."

Damn.






Or as Florida Evans would say, "DAMN! DAMN! DAMN!"
  
No. I do not have some deep way to end this. No I do not have the answers to all of this. I don't. I do know that hearing that raised my blood to boiling point quick fast and in a hurry.  Oh--and before someone says, "You don't know if the dude who kicked his door in and said 'Look old white man' was of color!" And to that I say this:

0_0 ------>  uuuuhhh, okay-----> 0_v


That reminds me. When I was a cheerleader at my 99.9% black high school and we went across town to a 99.9% non-black cheerleading competition this was what was said in our huddle:

"You better get out there and REPRESENT."

Represent.  That's an all encompassing word in the hood and is usually meant to get you shadow boxing. When you "represent" it means you "show up and show out" -- giving your best effort on behalf of every single person out there that identifies with you.  I heard those words again when I left Meharry to go to residency in Ohio.

"You better represent!" one of my sista-professors said with a 100% straight face. That meant "don't embarrass me." That meant "if you look bad, you make me look bad."

And sure, I've passed that torch and have spoken those words to more than a few medical students with that same dead pan.  Hands on my hip and a growl in my voice--"LOOK--I'm gon' tell you like somebody once told me. . .you're representing more than just YOU up in here, alright? So you better represent, do you hear me?" Oh and trust. They know exactly what I mean. I feel proud when I see them taking that to heart and doing their thing--you know--really representing.

Then, I turn on my television and see this man with this buttery smooth voice speaking to our country with his wife next to him who happens to be from the South side of Chicago.  I see her and I get to poke my chest out some more because even if folks are saying he isn't really this or that, there's no mistaking that she's sho' nuff from Chi-town and knows how to double dutch and cabbage patch. I look at her walking with queens and diplomats with her Harvard Law degree and her chiseled arms and I point at that television yelling, "YOU BETTER REPRESENT, GIRLFRIEND!" And that's my way of saying "you make me proud."

If that's not enough I look out of the window from Grady and can see the steeple of Ebenezer Baptist Church where a man represented so hard for the people that 200,000+ folks came to D.C. to hear him speak and he even got a whole holiday got named for him.  Talk about representing!

And then.

After all that, I hear this. Look old white man. This is how you represent? Kickin' in a door waving a four-four and scaring the shit out of somebody who's just tryin' enjoy a cup of instant Kroger's joe up in his paid-for house? The same one he grew up in and had the guts to never leave?

Seriously, y'all?

No, it doesn't make me any less proud to be black but it does make me mad. I know it's complex and I know there's like 400+ years wrapped somewhere in some part of it and I know all that. But I'm still mad.  Because no matter what anyone anywhere says, as a mother raising black boys that person who kicked in his door was representing us, too.

Damn.


"Hey, Dr. Manning? You listenin' to me?"

"I'm sorry. What was that you said, Mr. Kiefer?"

"I said, 'Look like I made you sad tellin' you all that. I'm sorry, Doc.'"

I sighed hard and told him exactly what was on my mind.

"Yeah, man. I'm sorry, too."

***

8 comments:

  1. This is such a sad and beautiful post. Thank you.

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  2. I love the way you wrote that so honestly.

    These colour lines, they're so complicated and difficult and wrapped and intertwined with history. Even though I do not live in the US, I can still appreciate the difficulty of race-relations where you are. Its the same here and I definitely feel it here too. It would be nice to think that the colour of your skin, or your race, was just that. But it affects so much more than that. It affects how people perceive you, your pay, socioeconomic status. Even though it should not at all. And we're working on it, I know we are, but it takes so much time to undo what has happened. And thats so so sad.

    So I do understand why you're sad about the way that people represent. It makes me mad too. Because regardless of whether it should, it does have an effect.

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  3. My eyes and heart ache from reading this. I hope that Mr. Keifer can overcome his fear to stay in his home. Punks represent punks. Don't think for a minute that your beautiful boys are represented by such a jerk.

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  4. What makes me the saddest is that there is still need to represent. Breaks my heart, as did this story.

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  5. SD -- thank you for reading.

    Sweet NZ Lucy -- Always so wise to be so young. I love you, girl, no matter what colOUR you are.

    Kate -- I wish that it was that simple. Punks do represent punks. But my husband was pulled over two years ago and asked to lay on the ground for driving his own luxury car. Because he looked just like some punks who'd just stolen one.

    Sister Moon -- Yeah, it is what it is. Black folks and America . . .it's just a complicated thing. I know you've been living here longer than me, and you are a lover of all people so you get this. But all those complexities make you turn around and look at how far you've come. You look at all those people who couldn't do what you get to do and yes, you push those shoulders back and hold that head high for you, yes. But for them, too. I am proud to "represent" -- I'm okay with it. It just pisses me off when someone else (who has the chance) doesn't fight to give the folks that were sold and separated and mistreated and counted as 2/3 of a man the representation they couldn't have.

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  6. This is so depressing. Good representin'.

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  7. Doctor KD, I know now why you wanted ole PoopDeck Pappy to read this!! I'm sitting here periodically wiping the tears from my eyes and thinking about "representing". You are so right when you suggest that being "represented" by some punk or loud mouth or knucklehead OR some insightful young doctor like yourself is not a choice we get to make. I just happens. How many of US hear on the news about a serial killer or rapist on the loose and quietly pray that he's not a person of color? Because we understand that even if he's on the other side of the world he will "represent" US! I've told the story many time about you coming out to Hughes to interview some managers as a part of a paper that you were writing on "Black Life in Corporate America". You asked the "white" program manager if he thought he would be in that office (top floor, north-west corner) if he were "black"? As he related the discussion to me later, he said that he could only give you the answer that he knew that you already knew, No! You were representing even then. My chest was busting with pride as I listened to him talk about how special you were. Many years passed and ole PoopDeck ascended to that job and office. I was "representing". A young white guy was sent to the Program Manager office for a signature. He came to the top floor and to my office and read the name on the suite W R "Tony" Draper. He stuck his head in the door, looked around and seeing only me, asked " Do you know when Mr. Draper will be back?"
    Your point "representing" is not that simple,,,,

    PoopDeck loved it and you just keep "representing" girl!
    Excuse the misspelled and omitted words...

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  8. Kristen -- thank you, my friend

    Poopdeck -- Dad, I knew this would resonate with you the most. Thank you for all that you have done to make me proud of who I am. Thank you for your shining example and for simply being the man that you are. And for the record, way back when I came to Hughes Aircraft to speak with that VP--you weren't the only one who left there feeling proud. I saw another side of my father that day. .. which made me want to "represent" even more.

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