* * * * *
My friend, who is pale and positive, said to me yesterday, as the tired sun was nodding:
“You are too sensitive.”
I admit, I am—sensitive. I am artificial. I cringe or am bumptious or immobile. I am intellectually dishonest, art-blind, and I lack humor.
“Why don’t you stop all this?” she retorts triumphantly.
You will not let us.
“There you go, again. You know that I—”
Wait! I answer. Wait!
I arise at seven. The milkman has neglected me. He pays little attention to colored districts. My white neighbor glares elaborately. I walk softly, lest I disturb him. The children jeer as I pass to work. The women in the street car withdraw their skirts or prefer to stand. The policeman is truculent. The elevator man hates to serve Negroes. My job is insecure because the white union wants it and does not want me. I try to lunch, but no place near will serve me. I go forty blocks to Marshall’s, but the Committee of Fourteen closes Marshall’s; they say white women frequent it.
“Do all eating places discriminate?”
No, but how shall I know which do not—except—
I hurry home through crowds. They mutter or get angry. I go to a mass-meeting. They stare. I go to a church. “We don’t admit niggers!”
Or perhaps I leave the beaten track. I seek new work. “Our employees would not work with you; our customers would object.”
I ask to help in social uplift.
“Why—er—we will write you.”
I enter the free field of science. Every laboratory door is closed and no endowments are available.
I seek the universal mistress, Art; the studio door is locked.
I write literature. “We cannot publish stories of colored folks of that type.” It’s the only type I know.
This is my life. It makes me idiotic. It gives me artificial problems. I hesitate, I rush, I waver. In fine,—I am sensitive!
My pale friend looks at me with disbelief and curling tongue.
“Do you mean to sit there and tell me that this is what happens to you each day?”
Certainly not, I answer low.
“Then you only fear it will happen?”
“Well, haven’t you the courage to rise above a—almost a craven fear?”
Quite—quite craven is my fear, I admit; but the terrible thing is—these things do happen!
“But you just said—”
They do happen. Not all each day,—surely not. But now and then—now seldom, now, sudden; now after a week, now in a chain of awful minutes; not everywhere, but anywhere—in Boston, in Atlanta. That’s the hell of it. Imagine spending your life looking for insults or for hiding places from them—shrinking (instinctively and despite desperate bolsterings of courage) from blows that are not always but ever; not each day, but each week, each month, each year. Just, perhaps, as you have choked back the craven fear and cried, “I am and will be the master of my—”