Stills from Reassamblage by Trinh. T Minh-Ha (1982)
“Cockroach neva right before Chicken”
The question of where this title came from made me itch a little bit. Ok yes, a favourite writer of mine Christine Baumgarthuber used this title in reference to food, and class. But does she get to monopolise such a cooL double entendre? I wanted to pay tribute to class and cooking was the appropriate heuristic for a blog about food.
Granted, I am not referring to any real cooking committed by myself
[in this post], but I think my personal experience pertains to being a part of the cooking class. I am a waitress, and the level of value I attach to this statement is incredibly wrapped up in my self-concept, my position within society, and the time which passes as I am a waitress. So much of my experience is entangled to watching eyes, and the secret thoughts their faces hide, when I tell them I’m just a waitress.
And of course the ticking clock, a very loud clock, signalling when I will mature into a role aligned with my educational level and class expectations for me
One of the greatest emotional encounters I have with my job is shame. It creates cavities in crannies I discover a new, and I find myself playing an endless game of filling up the gaps with self-affirmations and mindful meditations. This enduring battle falls in at several levels but each require the same letting go and counts of breath from 5 (sometimes 10, other times 200).
Since being exposed to Anthropology I’ve certainly become consciously invested in the things which are taken for granted. The everyday is the substance of our study, so naturally following this course, my swift transit on to life in Huddersfield came with an obsessive analysis of the mundane in my life. Unfortunately this mode of thinking didn’t equip me with a skill set which sells well on paper, and again after 6 years of experience, I was a waitress, at the lowest rung of management hierarchy, but at the height of my Anthropological inquiry.
As a waitress, creating a self-owned image can truly be an ambiguous and challenging feat. You’re exposed to an ultra-visibility whilst simultaneously having many aspects of yourself left out of the picture. In my dress, my manner and my constant doting on customers, always looking busy, I’m under surveillance. Countless times I’ve found myself at the whim of comments on my appearance, about how I am allowed to move and speak, and within that I feel my self-esteem deplete. The vulnerability you face as serving staff is heavy because people read you in a cutting across of race, socio-economic status and gender. To be taken as a trope and an archetype is at the root of this superficial interaction. Compared to my white counterparts, the anxiety of post-university life was supported by the statistical reality that Black students are increasingly more likely to work in roles which they are overqualified for.
Despite the fact that many of white people in my graduating class have had a similar experience with job seeking as myself, I’ve come to know that this overqualification isn’t simply the job description, but it is an affective gaze which burns through my uniform, and modifies the position of my bones, flesh and blood. The place where i feel overqualfiied is in absorbing insulting experiences and transforming those into a controlled and mediated response. I know it as racism and I live this as misogynoir.
In my day to day experiences I am constantly jumping through hoops about the way I must use my body, about the ways my body should and should not be present, and which modifications are appropriate. This alignment is something which is painted in white, and femininity as follows. In this AFAB body of mine, we feel the ways that women think they are protecting us from the wrath of men. Dare I really fall out of beauty, and surrender my humanity at the cost of that? Those thick and dark features which bleed from me are an assault of what is expected from me, and morph into a spectacle of blackness. I see my proximity to whiteness as something which gives me a better treatment in my work place, and my disobedience to conform to this leaves me vulnerable to spectacle once again.
Its amazing how many people love to speak on my hair. And its amazing how many times this statement as to be made. By now we know this cliche, its been said, been written a thousand times over. Yet it is still a perpetual experience for black people. Those of us, women aligned, know the Rosetta stone of violence, which has scripted the realities for any of us within the category of four. I know how much better I am treated when I wear braids, and even more so when they are blonde. I know how many more smiles I receive in lipstick and blushed cheeks. And even then it’s my white and male counterpart who is somehow given a master label of charm?
My scalp itches so much of the time I’m there, but I fear how touching my own scalp, allows the image of non black customers reaching into my hair too. Maybe if I let the employers I never had touch my hair, the could feel that my hair was “normal” too and I would be great at serving people anywhere.
To continue the motif of my previous post i want to reopen my encounters with liminality and waves. Again in my journal, I found myself opening to poetry which fell off my tongue whilst encountering a customer who compared me to exactly like their grand daughter, “she’s tall like you and half-caste“. The extra height I found in my hair worn proudly out didn’t really matter that day, my zig zagged strands reverted into my scalp and I felt exposed and unprotected.
It is a difficult experience to recoil and to have to understand both the subtext and just explicit context of misogynoir, but my body knows all to well how I must respond. With smiles and humour to brush it off, but each stroke leaves just a little bit of residue until your brush is stiff with paint.
I have no real conclusion and my structure went out of the window, but to the to all of those service bodies in service industries I hear you, and I will re-open this wound soon.