The Zero Mile Post marked the meeting of two railway lines and possibly the beginning of the city of Atlanta. Zero Mile is a series of sometimes fictionalized and sometimes real stories based on real life in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Nicki Salcedo
Let me help you see. It might be scary, because it’s true. You have to get out of your eyes and into mine.
It starts at the movies. The screen goes dark. They are about to tell us a story. A man appears on the screen. He is black. He will be the first to die.
Someone has to be disposable. It might as well be us. It has been decided.
We watch the preview for a movie. We do love science fiction movies. And horror. It takes us away from the real world. In less than three minutes, we see a man being attacked by an alien. He is an astronaut and likely a doctor, but he has to die first. You have my eyes now. So you can see. They would never kill Ryan Reynolds or Jake Gyllenhaal. They are too white, too pretty, to be killed by a space parasite.
I used to love space parasites, but not anymore.
Another movie appears. There is a woman on the screen. She is black. She will curse you out. She is the kind and sassy maid. She is the spunky kid. She is your second best friend. Never the first BFF. She will tell you to dump your man. She has only two settings: all-seeing or all angry. She never gets to play the part of the shy or beautiful friend. Or the accountant. Then we might care about her. We’d understand why she is angry.
We turn on the TV. They are playing re-runs. Remember that show set in New York that had no black friends? Do you remember the one where they got wise and added a person of color to the show? She was the Asian friend. Ten million people in New York, and they couldn’t find one single Puerto Rican friend? We find this hard to believe. The Asian friend got dumped in the most flippant way. You know why now. Because you can see. Why would we care about her anyway?
I liked that show a lot. Just because I like something, doesn’t mean I don’t notice when something is wrong. We notice all the details. Even the ones that hurt.
I’m in a constant state of forgiving people.
We saw the movie “Get Out.” Everyone is talking about it for a reason. The only spoiler is this: It is a movie done with thought and care. You think it’s a movie about racism, but it is a movie about another kind of racism. When you have my eyes, a scary movie looks an awful lot like my life.
Yes, this is my natural hair. No, you cannot touch it.
Today, these are extensions. No, you still cannot touch my hair.
I actually do know how to golf. Yes, I have met Tiger Woods. And Spike Lee. But they’re not my friends.
My black experience is not the same as the woman next to me, or the man, or any entire race.
I do count the number of black people at the party, in the meeting, and in the restaurant. Every time.
I make a mental note when you talk about race, even in a positive light, then look at me for affirmation.
I don’t think about race all the time. This is hardest thing for you to understand, but if you are really using my eyes it will make sense. Race is a label you put on me. You have a teacup that you are stirring. You like to tap the porcelain to remind me of my place. It is scary because it is real.
I don’t want to talk about race all the time. Movies are guilty of this. Books are guilty of this. You want people of color to talk about color all the time. It’s not fair. I want to talk about soccer and rainstorms and alien parasites.
My black experience is exactly like your experience. You wake up and try to survive each day. The only difference is that one of us feels hunted.
I am constantly forgiving you. They know not what they do.
You are forgiven. Like a benediction before we’ve started the conversation.
Nicki Salcedo knows the loops and the backroads of Atlanta. She is a novelist, blogger and working mom. Zero Mile stories will appear on the Atlanta Loop on Wednesdays. (Editor’s note: Due to technical issues, this column was published a day late.)