Blackface in Hicksville
By Tathiana Piquion
The greatest philosophers have always said that your greatest thoughts and ideas come when you simply stare out a window and try looking for what is beyond as life passes you by. In all honesty, when I do this, I just think about the assignments I have due coming up or the family drama that’s remains a consistent circle of my life. These are the thoughts that plague my mind when I am left to my wits and imagination, figuring out what comes next or what my next step should be.
Those were my exact thoughts, as I sat in my seat on the LIRR on my way home to Brooklyn, on what I thought would be another ordinary cold and dreary night in February. I think I will always remember this day not simply because it happened on Valentine’s Day but because even after slavery had ended nearly 200 years ago, it was the day that I was reminded of what it means to be a woman of color in America.
I had just transferred onto the train heading to Jamaica from Huntington Station, as I sat in my seat attempting to keep warm from the brutal weather that availed several on goers as I watched them carry their secret smiles and bouquets of roses, rushing to get home to their significant others. I jokingly thought to myself, while it was day of happiness for couples for single people like myself it was our personal form of Independence Day. I was already exhausted from the assignments that had kept me up all night for the week and made an effort of not falling asleep by blasting reggaetón in my ears until my head started pounding from the force of base.
The train had just pulled into the Hicksville Station when I had removed my headphones out of ears to massage my temples, when the conductor announced on the speaker that the train would remain at the station for a few minutes. I became further agitated as I scrolled through my phone looking at nothing in particular, waiting for the time to pass. Till this day, I do not know what propelled me to look up out the window and I will always wish I hadn’t because the sight of two men of dressed as blackface will forever be seared into my brain and distress my thoughts for the rest of my life.
Initially, I believed they were two black men catcalling me and making kissy faces, so I simply rolled my eyes and paid them no mind until one of them had gotten closer to my window and started furiously waving at me and I had noticed his hands were white. It took me a moment before I realized what was going on and when I finally did, fear had taken over my body and paralyzed me in my seat. I knew they saw it too, because at that exact moment they had begun to cackle and laugh from the fear they so clearly recognized in my eyes and relished in it. They say in moments of fear, adrenaline begins to pump through your body as your body prepares for flight or fight. For me, it was both, as I began to panic contemplating what my next move would be. Should I stay in my seat or should I run into another cart? Or should I stay in my seat and hope like hell they don’t enter my cart? All of these questions furiously racked my brain as I sat in silent waiting to see what their next move would be. Given that the doors to the station remained open, I became profusely alarmed by the thought of them entering the cart as they continued to taunt me. Seconds later, the doors had closed, and I was finally able to breathe again. I knew I was safe even when the train pulled away and even when one of them continued to make those disgusting kissy faces as the other one continued to laugh, but I continued to shake even after the train had arrived at the next two stops.
When I was finally able to compose myself, I had texted my best friends and mother so that they were aware of the situation and notified them when I had gotten home. They were all concerned but as the dust began to settle, I welcomed the numbness had taken over my body until I finally laid awake in my bed at 1:00 am trying to fall asleep. If you ask anyone who knows me, they’ll tell you that I’m not one to talk about my feelings, that’ll put on a great façade because I’m afraid to let my emotions in. My mother believes that I am afraid of being human and maybe that’s true. As cliché as it may sound, I believe it’s just easier for everyone and myself to pretend that things are ok. That was my understanding, even as I as I watch the minutes on my clock tick closer into the early hours of Friday morning, until I pulled back the covers and went into the kitchen and began to raid my father’s liquor cabinet hoping that the alcohol would help me fall asleep. I drank until I passed out in my bed, praying that my dreams would not be plagued by the fears I had just experienced.
When I woke up, I carefully slipped my mask on so no one would detect my inner turmoil and smiled brightly at my mother who had just come home from working a night shift, even as she looked at me with so much concern I was afraid it would cause a cinch in the mask I had worn especially for her. When she attempted to talk to me about it, I simply brushed it off and changed the topic. Even now, weeks later, I refuse to talk about it unless someone asks me about it and when they do, I let that numbness take over my body and hope they can’t see through me.
You may ask if I choose not to talk about such matters, why am I writing this? To answer that question, I believe that the reason I am writing this is because I want people to know my story and inspire others, so that they understand that in times of despair you must never falter at the hands of your enemies even when there are a few in this world waiting for you to fall and remain defeated.
I truly believe the irony in all of this is that on a day where we are all supposed to be celebrating the love we share for each other and cultivated for others, will always be a reminder to me of the hate that hinders the progress of this country and continues to be manifested within the agendas of people who hope to keep it this way. For me, people of color will always encounter setbacks emplaced by the bounds of the patriarchal society we live in, but it is when we make strides for success that we become the true embodiment of grace and strength despite the wayward of secrets that forever lay awake in the shadows.