The market where I shop always plays the greatest music. I like to go early in the morning because they play Motown, and I find myself dancing in the produce section singing along to the Temptations as I pick out the best looking zucchini. The other night, I was standing in the check-out line and this song came on.
Instantly I was a teenager again, singing along with the radio, thinking about some imaginary boyfriend I was trying to console for my wicked mood. Without even trying, I sang along with the music, as I loaded a bunch of celery, handful of carrots, container of kalamata olives onto the conveyer belt.
"This place always plays the best music," I remarked to the cashier and bagger.
"I can't even hear it," the bagger responded. "Stephanie was singing along too, but I can't hear it."
The music swelled and a woman, a sista who was also bagging groceries in the next aisle, and I intoned together: "Baby, baby, baby, baby, baby."
"Oooh," said the blond bagger. "I'm getting it in stereo."
"That's right," said the sista. "That's the jam."
This warm feeling bloomed in my chest. I felt bonded with this woman in the next aisle, a perfect stranger, because we both knew some R&B hit from the '90s.
I took a lot of crap growing up for not being "black enough": from the kids in high school, from women in college I thought I was friends with, from my own family at times, all because the person I was didn't fit into their narrow perception of what someone with my skin color should be. It was painful. It was damaging; but it also helped me to realize that a) race is a social construct and b) I can and should be who I want, with no thought at all for the narrow perceptions of others. Still, I can't deny that I somehow felt legitimized as black, when this other black woman and I shared a mutual love of and intimacy with this song.
I don't know how it makes me feel now. Is it possible to feel kinship with another member of your community and still know that your identity transcends your race?