Today, my learning community went on an outing in Forest Park. It was just the usual shenannigans of the bunch until about halfway through, a few minutes after everyone got their free Chipotle. A woman came off the bike/walk path and started walking towards our group. At first I thought she was just passing through, trying to take a shortcut, and smiled and nodded at her as I would when I saw any other older black woman, as I feel I can relate to them. I was going back to my burrito when I noticed she was hanging around a bit longer than expected. She was looking, (although others in my group used the word staring), at us, hovering around us, (others used creeping), and the majority, okay the lot of us felt uncomfortable. (Others because they felt she was being really creepy and suspicious, and me because I just wished she would’ve said something or explained why she was hanging around us.)
After a few more seconds, my RA spoke up to her, saying hello. The woman asked what our group was doing, and my RA said something along the lines of “Our learning community is just enjoying a nice day in the park/taking a break together/etc.” The woman says that it’s nice and shows her approval by nodding, especially when my RA brings up that we’re going to college at SLU. Without any further questioning, the woman continues, saying that she’s actually trying to “get back into [it/that],” (she probably meant college/education), and that she’s writing a thesis on bonding, that she’s observing our group bonding. She sticks around for another minute at the most, casually talking about bonding while mostly trying to “observe.”
As soon as she leaves, about half of the group voices how they felt suspicious of her. They said she couldn’t have been writing a thesis because she didn’t have a notebook on her, that she was just legitimately creeping on everyone. I said nothing, didn’t laugh, and tried to focus on my burrito Upon the second or third time the lady was brought up, my room addressed that she maybe didn’t have a notebook because she was out exercising, (which she was obviously doing both before and after she stopped by to “observe” our group), and wasn’t out to observe or collect information. The others acknowledged this suggestion, but quickly brushed it off, continuing with their opinions she was in fact creeping on us.
It might have been the black female in me that made me sympathize–okay, it most likely was–with this woman. I couldn’t help but wonder if she wasn’t a black woman, but instead was a white woman that wasn’t “thick,” didn’t have the smaller afro she had, didn’t speak the way she did, (not ghetto, but not “white” either), etc., would she have been accepted and not been accused of “creeping?” She might have, but not to the extent that my floormates made it.
I’m not saying this to accuse my floormates of racism, but to point out subtle judgments based on stereotypes that we subconsciously apply to the world around us. Also, I understand that I may seem like I’m taking it to an extreme, but I am very sensitive to other black women. I can’t help it as this is one of the topics I am most passionate about.