Saturday, February 21, 2009

Very like a black man

Some weeks ago, before the fires, rains and shark attacks that dominated our news for days on end – while in a car pulling up at the lights on Enmore Road – I saw a black man getting out of a van. He was obviously a black man, I remember thinking, and yet there was something not black about him as well. I was stuck at the lights part of the way down the hill and so, without anything else to think about then, I tried to work out what it was that was not black about the man whose skin was not brown or olive but obviously black.

I remember thinking that his calves weren’t quite black – he was wearing shorts – by which I meant that his calves were the calves of a white man whose skin just happened to be black. The man was wearing a cap, I remember, so I couldn’t see his hair. His face was black, as were his neck and his arms and his hands. Then I remember thinking that there was something not right about the black on his hands – that the black I could see at the edges of his palms was not so much black as a very dark blue or green. It was if the backs of his hands were not black in the way that you might expect a black man’s hands to be black but were only a bluish green approximation of that black.

And then, as the man ran across the road with his not black companion, in front of one of the cars ahead of me (which was only just starting to move) – running to the doorway of the pub on the corner in what looked, inexplicably, to be a white man’s run – it occurred to me that the whole of this black man was only a bluish green approximation of a black man; that what I had just seen running across the road was in fact a white man who had somehow become black in a bluish green way; that here was a man who, very likely, had spent hours and hours in a tattoo parlour getting his probably pale, pinkish, even freckly skin inked as black as the tattooist could do it.

I want to be black, I could imagine him saying at the parlour – so black that anyone looking at me thinks that I am a black man, or very like a black man.

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