I was at the furniture store with my boyfriend. It was one of those large outlet stores with huge windows, couches on display, and of course the default grinning salesmen.
This particular salesman welcomed me into the store and then pointed a gun at my head. With a smile, he told me that he was going to take my temperature as it was standard procedure. I grimaced and whipped out my wrist.
I did it so quickly that I think I startled him. “Can you use this instead?”
“Oh,” he laughed. “I never thought to do it that way.”
The impact of being Black during the pandemic is really living a completely different experience. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I’ve seen the memes and tweets about temperature guns numbing your pineal gland or erasing your memory. And that’s not why I preferred to have my body temperature read at my wrist.
I don’t think people and Black people especially should have any level of familiarity with a gun being pointed at their temple. No matter what kind of gun it is.
In the furniture store, I couldn’t help but think about Tamir Rice and his tragic end from playing with a toy gun.
The small gesture of a temperature check seems innocuous, and it generally is. But I am always reminded of how charged that act is. And on a more primal level, my body doesn’t know the difference. I still hold my breath, sometimes my armpits get a little sweaty and I always feel a sense of relief when it’s over.
But truthfully it’s not over. That weird feeling persists. There are always these little things that are happening to remind me of my difference. To highlight my sensitivity as I react to things.
The latest uniquely Black pandemic experience I had was in a Barnes and Noble bathroom.
I entered the restroom and was greeted with the steady sound of the air dryers as an older white woman dried her hands.
When I went to wash my hands the faucets worked and so did the soap dispensers. But the air dryers had gone on strike in the two minute span since they had last been blowing hot air.
The older white woman was touching up her lipstick and she noticed my predicament because it was reflected in the mirror. She was genuinely puzzled. She came over to swipe her hand under the dryer and it began blowing a powerful current of air. It was almost as if whiteness was the secret password. I thanked her but was left with residual feelings.
Is this hand dryer racist? Why didn’t it work for me?
I’m to the point now in my pandemic experience where I feel heavy. I feel heavy with the weight of all of these perceived microaggressions. I feel heavy with the things that are mine to carry and aren’t mine to carry. And at this point, all I want to do is be hygienic, handle my anxiety and do my best to be well.
Sometimes when I feel a little rejected by a bathroom appliance and a bit sweaty from a temperature gun, I do find myself in search of comfort. When I found Common Ground’s Rinse Free Hand Wash I knew I’d encountered hospitality in a bottle. In a world where there are these systems built against you and there’s this inherent sense of discomfort...it can be nice to have something small that you can individually and autonomously have and call your own.
It may not sound like much, but this hand sanitizer has been in my purse as a little beacon of cleanliness and certainty. It’s been a refuge from the fickle and volatile word that may or may not have racist hand dryers. Unlike a lot of hand sanitizers I’ve had, it’s not drying and it doesn’t smell like those alcohol prep pads you find in a first aid kit. There’s a little spritz of grapefruit in there to keep things interesting.
My circumstances haven’t changed in the slightest, all of the Black pandemic staples are still there. But so am I, armed with unbreakable fortitude and a little bottle of hospitality.