When I was 19-years-old, I had a meeting with my college track coach wherein we were supposed to discuss the improvements he wanted to see in my performance on the track the following year. Honestly, I can’t remember if he gave me his plan before or after I shared my plan with him. What I do remember saying to him is, “I will no longer be running for the team. I have chosen to give-up my scholarship.” He was shocked. “What are you going to do about school?” he asked. “Continue my studies,” I responded to my stunned, very soon to be ex-coach. From there, my (ex)coach went on to tell me that he liked having me on the team, knew my talents, understood that athletes who come from rigorous high school programs are often burnt out, and that he was hard on me because he believed that to be motivation for me to “prove [him] wrong.” I was gracious and thanked him for sharing his thoughts as well as for telling me that I would always be welcome to return to the team if I ever “got that itch back.” He wished me well and I left his office feeling fully emancipated.
From the day of my final meeting with my track coach until this very day, I am very aware of the assumptions that ostensibly correspond to how others regard your intentions, motives, beliefs, and values. When my (ex) coach told me that being tough on me was meant as an incentive, I thought but did not say, “but what if I don’t respect you?” He just assumed that he was someone whose opinions, thoughts, and beliefs were important to me. He assumed far too much. I never liked him; I never wanted to be in his company; I never respected him; and I never cared what he thought. It’s one thing to recognize that holding a position of authority necessarily means having a measure of influence over those in your charge, but assuming that you know the entirety of someone’s thoughts, impressions, and motivations is something altogether different. My (ex)coach didn’t know me. I never had an “itch” to run. In fact, I never liked it–I never liked the burn and the breathlessness. I had the skill to perform at a high level and I liked that my performance and my athletic achievements were obvious signs of my ability to compete and to win. While I find having the stomach for competition valuable, I much prefer cooperation. Competition, then, was never an “itch” or a great need of mine; it was something I could do well and so I did it…but I never liked it.
Since that moment in my (ex)coaches office, I have continually encountered the faulty assumptions of those who presume their significance in my life. Every encounter teaches me more about arrogance, racism, sexism and also the ambition to subdue, dominate, control, or exploit others. I worked under the management of a white woman when I was processing an archival collection. Every morning, she would come into the processing area and have a conversation with the group. She was certain to exclude me from this conversation. When I tried to join in the chatting she never acknowledged that I had spoken; in fact, no one did. After she did this on one particular occassion, we were all in the coffee room taking a break and she comes over and whispers to me, “I see you’re in a better mood now.” Being a student of the dynamics of race/racism in America and the evil it seeks through an ambition to cause black and brown folk to feel uncertain about our reading of the world, in that moment with my manager I knew exactly what she was doing and this knowledge greatly informed my response: I smiled. What that woman didn’t understand was that I didn’t respect her. I thought she was crazy and I was certain that her goal was to manipulate my perception of our interactions.
I have countless stories like the one’s I’ve shared. Thankfully, having an oppositional consciousness has kept me from being drawn into conversation and dialogue with those who have these gross assumptions about me and their role in my life. I didn’t give a f*#k about what my (ex)coach thought and I didn’t give a f*#k about what my manager thought. The ugliness of witnessing their presumptions has helped me cultivate a very strong awareness of my own voiced presumptions. In many ways, this blog pays tribute to this perspective. My embrace of “other models by which to live” challenges the assumptions that go unchallenged in popular culture. Rather than feeling obligated to do what Dr. Oz says, what Oprah says, what Fox News says, what The Real Housewives says, or what Scandal says I consider the possibility of what other models of living and of being exist. Addressing your assumptions to someone about what you think they value, what you think they should do, or what they need to know is at least arrogant and at most bloodlessly violent. In trying to respect the values, ideas, and aims of others I try to check any perception on my part that people give a f*#k about what I think. Unless I recognize an immediate threat to someone’s life or person, I wait until I’m asked before I start going off like I’m the personal authority on who they are and what they value.