It’s alive and well, whispered through the trees, growing like ivy up the walls of every institution built by and known to man. It lies hidden in the words of those who tell you that I “sound so white” for being a person of color. It’s the same slap you feel when they’ve decided to accept your friendship because “you’re not ghetto like the other black girls”. It decorates the mask of color-blindness that I wore for years, the same mask covering the many faces of today. It’s the latch of the door of the closet you’re trying to free yourself from. It’s curled up on the tongue of the “brother” that tells you to “eat off your own plate” because “sisters” should never be running them white boys. It’s the word that threatens to slip into your stereotyping mind when you can’t see her hair because she wears a hijab. It’s spelled out in the semen you’re wiping off of your stomach even though you had told him “no”. It’s your spit in the face of the migrant that you complain is taking all of our American jobs— the very same jobs that you would never even consider applying for yourself.
Denied by both the master and the slave that supposedly had been set free way back before Lincoln earned his spot on the penny. Blindness. Or is it just willful ignorance? It’s taking a single sip of the lead-infested water that they are forced to drink and bathe in everyday and using that drip as a testament to the water’s purity. It’s sticking your fingers in your ears in a futile effort to drown out the deafening sound of those scraping the bottom of the barrel— the same barrel on top of which you are standing. It’s the odor of the hot, black tar you’re pouring over us so that you may drive on the smoother, paved road. Wake up.
I had been in Spain for three days, and had not ventured out of the house except to go to class, and when my host family showed me around the city. I’ve had a horrible sense of direction all my life, and by this time I’d been lost so many times it didn’t really scare me anymore – in America. But there was something about the narrow, twisty streets, the lack of street signs, and the lack of people who spoke my language, that made getting lost in Spain different. I was less inclined to wander out on my own.
But on this third evening, I had to meet the other American students in the center of the city for a cultural excursion. My host mom drew the route on the map, and walked me there, pointing out landmarks as we went. It was about a half hour walk from their apartment. When we found my group, she left me with this advice, “If you get lost, just keep walking downhill. You’ll find us eventually.” Right, so no worries.
Of course, I did get lost walking home. It took me a while to even realize I was completely off track. At first all the cobbled streets tight with tiny shops and scattered with beautiful churches and cathedrals all looked the same to me. By the time I realized I was lost, I could hardly even find my way back to the beginning, and just as if I was in the movies, the sky turned dark and it began to pour. It took me almost two hours to get home, by which time I was soaking wet. But after that, I had a much better understanding of the layout of the city, and I knew they were right – I would find my way home eventually. I wasn’t afraid of getting lost in Spain anymore.
Getting lost has always been part of my life, and always will be. Getting lost can even be fun sometimes. I met one of my best friends when we got lost together at fifth grade camp. I got lost many more times in Spain, and sometimes it was horrible. Once I got lost with a good friend when we were visiting a city far away, and she was dehydrated and vomiting and we needed to get back to the hotel – it was not a good time to be lost. Once I led another friend an hours walk out of the way because she trusted me to know where I was going, and I didn’t.