Crystal champagne glass in hand, long shapely legs visible, surrounded by blondes in reserved seating in this dimly lit private London nightclub, the Black English girl’s aura said certifiable diva; this is the noire Tinder pic that caught my eyes as I swiped right; we matched. I played it kool and sent English a “hello there” message, anything more would demonstrate over eagerness. She replied. Her first name was unusual and so I googled it and scanned through the images until I found her Linkedin profile. English had professional credentials, the ones favored by the establishment, and was not just a pretty face. I’ve dated the model types before; lots of excitement in having a new beauty; conversation limited; a courtship to bed her is the mission until things fizzle and end as quickly as it started.
Took a few failed attempts before we finally met at Cipriani in Grand Central Station…she looked different, her hair was a dual color of black at the top and blonde at the bottom instead of the jet black look in her picture; the glowing brown tone skin was hidden behind foundation applied too thickly; and in her mouth was a shiny metal, a tongue ring; and in my mind, her diva status stumbled downward. Not allowing my vanity to get the better of me, not looking for Ms. Goodbar, I overlook the appearance and allow the evening to take its full course. We only had one drink at the Italian eatery and left to dine at Buddakan’s main dining room, a dated but celebrated space that has some snob appeal.
As we make our way to the meatpacking district, engaging in small talk, glancing her way, and listening to her distinctive accent, I am reminded of both our shared physical appearance and differing social experience. She was born in the UK by a Nigerian father, who, she implied, is connected to the petroleum profiteers back home, and to a French Caribbean mother that she did not reveal much. English seemed very close to her dad and has given much thought to his encouragement to join him in Lagos but instead came to New York. Her silence regarding her mother suggested a marriage of convenience. (I won’t elaborate any further as we fellow immigrants have a sacred pact not to question each other on such matters). English attended Kensington prep school and lived in predominantly white neighborhoods…Chelsea, Notting Hill…and so all her friends were white. I, on the other hand, arrived to the states as an infant and was raised solely by my Non-American Black mother who toiled in the 7th Ave garment factories until she rose to a position of pattern maker to a fashion designer downtown; we lived in the black areas of Crown Heights and East Flatbush Brooklyn until my late teens and all my friends were black.
English and I are both black but continents apart in our experiences; and this prompted some very random thoughts on race; flashbacks on how the social media depict us as linguistically-challenged, academically-deficient, criminally-inclined and having separatist-tendencies. I tried to snap out of it and think positive thoughts, instead, but became fixated on the few bit parts the social media carves out for the safe blacks, the Our Kind of People and Jack and Jill types (look it up readers). As strange as it might sound, I rarely discuss race matters (except in this blog, of course) and the times that I do is to react to a news event; you know the stories, the ones about Trayvon being the norm; Obama the long exception; and the battle that we all face with Sterling. The last one ended well as Lebron and others spoke up, the SnapChat generation reacted and now Sterling is gone, a positive Hollywood ending.
“Nu Yak is still nooo tu me,” (Translate: New York is still new to me,) she said in her pronouncedly English accent as our hostess walked us down the stairs to our table. Only three weeks removed from London life, she seemed a bit shy or even nervous as if she was from a small southern town instead of a major cosmopolitan city. So it took some cajoling to get her to open up. I told her of stories of work life, love life, black life while peppering her with soft questions to keep her engaged. Finally, she says “I had a luver for six years. He was much older and I outgrew him.” I wondered why she said outgrew. Her body language suggested that it was boredom. “After him”, she continued “I met Manny, a blue collar guy. He had edge. He couldn’t do much on his own, tho. I took him places and paid for everything. Love the man. I asked him to move here with me. He would not.” I told English that she demasculinized him. She nodded in agreement. It was clear that English had a rebellious streak and was trying to find herself; she escaped her safety net in London; she left a self-reliant man for a vagabond; she’s adrift right now and that’s ok as her future has many possibilities, but it will not include me.