I should be glad that I am able to do business in the United States without being subject to Jim Crow rules and regulations.
During Jim Crow, black Americans were required to step off the sidewalk in order to let whites pass, and if acknowledging whites, were mandated to always maintain a subservient position.
In August of 1955, a young man from Chicago, Emmett Till, was brutally murdered for speaking to a white woman in a Mississippi grocery store because he violated the written and unwritten rules of Jim Crow.
In buses, blacks were required to sit in the back or not sit if there were not enough seats for both black and white riders. If blacks shopped in department stores, they were often unable to try on the apparel. Blacks could only attend a fair on a designated “colored” day or see a movie by entering by the back door and sitting in the balcony. At restaurants, blacks were not served or if they were they had to wait by a side door, bring their own container, and eat in the kitchen or outside. If blacks needed to go to the hospital, they would have to hire a black-owned vehicle to get there and would not be tended to by white nurses.
“Jim Crow etiquette boiled down to one simple rule: blacks must demonstrate their inferiority … by actions, words, and manners.” These strictures were upheld by law and by violence.
I have thought a lot about black bodies in public spaces during the course of the current administration. To me, it feels like Jim Crow rules are re-emergent. The frequency of my being pushed and shoved — which incidentally has never fallen to zero — has increased. I have been full body checked on New York subway stairs when I was the only person in the stairwell besides the man who pushed me. I have been energetically urged to move out of the way of people who refused to move to the right — the custom when driving or walking in the U.S. — in my car, at my yoga studio, in department stores and public places. I was shoved multiple times at my last college reunion, twice by men on sidewalks and five times at a party by a line of women half my age. Ironically, this year on Aug. 28, I was the only person asked to give up my table at a restaurant and later, to end service at my salon to make room for someone else. In both cases, it was clear that I was the logical person to ask to end my paid service prematurely. I was outdone.
I am not alone in noticing this phenomenon. Writer Hannah Drake issued a 24-48 hour “Hold Your Space” challenge to black folks, and she asked white folks to spend the same amount of time thinking about how they regard bodies unlike their own. It’s an important challenge.
Jim Crow behavior is creeping back into the U.S. People are dying in internment camps on our soil. The president urges members of Congress to “go back to where they came from.” A recent study showed that doctors believe people of color are less capable of feeling pain and are treated accordingly. Another study has shown that black women and children risk death because of the poor quality of maternal care for black women in the U.S. In 2019!
Till’s mother demanded an open casket for Emmett, so the world could see what Jim Crow did. I share my opinion today in hope that Mr. Crow is not invited back to stay.