Pssst … I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Lean in closer, please. Contrary to popular notion, all black people don’t look alike.
Unlike that segment of the population that comes primarily in one flavor — basic vanilla (well, okay; I’ll give you French Vanilla as well) – our essence is somewhat more … complicated. Our flavors range from the deepest, darkest fudge to golden caramel to I-swear-there’s-coffee-in-that-cream. In a moment I’ll give you the CliffsNotes version of the why.
But first, I’m reminded of a story about my younger daughter. As a preschooler, she felt it insulting and inaccurate to refer to people as black, white, red or yellow because, in fact, no one’s skin really looked like those crayons. So she devised her own system: there were brown people and there were peach people — period. And, according to her, it didn’t really matter anyway ’cause your skin is just a wrapper. Even then she was a pretty smart chocolate chip off the old cookie.
Let’s return to history-light. The Africans brought here during the slave trade came from various parts of the continent and ranged in skin color from blue-black to light-bright-and-damned-near-white, depending on the area from which they were abducted (and how recently in their family trees their female ancestors had been raped by their Arab invaders). Now add to that the wayward weenies of slaveholders who didn’t limit their love of dark meat to Sunday supper fried chicken, thus creating not only further variation in skin color, but tainting the pool with thin lips, narrow noses and straight or curly, light-colored hair. But that’s not all! You remember the game Cowboys and Indians? Well, not all those cowboys were white. So now, add a hump to some of our noses, height to some of our cheekbones and a reddish tint to some of our skins. While you’re at it, slap on some coarse black hair that hangs down some of our backs. I know, your eyeballs are spinning trying to imagine all the possible permutations! In my immediate family alone we range from my honey-colored, hazel-eyed blonde sister to my espresso-skinned, African-featured brother – and everything else in between. We are African, Irish, Cherokee, French and Comanche (it is the latter to whom my mom attributes our vicious streak). When the recessive genes of the multi-generational ‘miscegenating’ skeletons from our closets start combining, even within families, you get a few surprises. We don’t all look alike!
That is not to say, however, that some of us don’t occasionally resemble others of us. I’m flattered when someone mentions that I remind them of Oprah Winfrey. Oprah is an incredibly beautiful woman. And there is a resemblance. And I’m flattered by that comparison.
However when an ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agent at Miami International Airport hauls my ass into a room filled with 75 to 100 people speaking everything but English I become, to put it mildly, more than a little nonplussed.
When I’m kept in detention incommunicado and without my passport – which they’ve confiscated – and with no explanation as to why I’m there and how long I’ll be there, I’m quite perturbed.
When finally I’m told that I “fit the description” of a fugitive murder suspect — also named Williams — for whom the Miami police department is on the look-out, I am very seriously concerned. Could they not have given me – and my mother who was with me when they dragged me away — this information at the beginning instead of denying that they knew why they were holding me? And, by the way, if I was indeed a suspected murderer on the run from the Miami po-po, would I seriously be entering Miami through customs?
I subsequently found out that their fugitive is 6’1” tall; I’m just a wee bit shorter at 5’5” (okay; I’m 5’ 4-3/4” tall). Their suspect is 36 years old; while I appreciate the compliment, I’m chasing 60 with a vengeance. Their culprit has tattoos up and down both forearms; the only thing covering my sleeveless arms was sunscreen. But when I discovered that their suspect is MALE (damn that Tyler Perry for portraying Madea so convincingly), I went completely bat-shit crazy.
Eventually, I documented that while they might have been as dimwitted as Dudley Do-Right, unlike he and his Mounties, they hadn’t gotten their man after all (yes, also contrary to popular notion, I had to prove my innocence). Once I again had my passport securely in my hands, we had our inevitable exchange. The agent in charge was unappeasingly apologetic: “he’s a new officer and was being overly cautious; we apologize for the inconvenience, Ms Williams; this should never have happened.” I’ll leave my actual responses to your imaginations, but I did point out what, to me, was as clear as the moonshine that had obviously pickled their newbie’s brain. Even making allowances for the fact that we’re talking about a dumb-ass backwoods south Florida redneck (in contrast to my south Florida friends with functioning gray matter), if he couldn’t exercise better judgment in this new job of his, he shouldn’t be in it.
What a nightmare with which to end an incredible vacation. But at least, for me, that part of it was over.
But I am on the warpath and for ICE, this nightmare’s only just begun …