And now a pegless post on feelings:
A lot of being a token is about faking it. Pretending you don’t notice people’s carelessly insensitive comments, ignoring people as they ignore your needs and generally smiling and devoting yourself to being the happiest clam lest you frown at the wrong time and be tagged Another Angry Black Chick…or something.
I realized as I recently sat around a table with a bunch of people I knew many years ago — people who knew a very different, Carla-style version of myself, certainly not the One Unique Tokenized incarnation I’m currently inhabiting — that if you fake a persona long enough and well enough, it’ll start to become who you are.
(You know who was really good at faking it? Meg Ryan.)
I always considered my high school years something of an exercise in performance art: I didn’t know who I was but that was OK as long as I made it look like I did to everyone else. I had bits and pieces in mind of women I hoped to emulate, but no real persona beyond that. At times, glimmers of the girl I am now would creep out because I was in the process of gestating my true identity. If anything, I walked around my high school like a Midwestern Andy Kaufman, not really letting anyone in on the joke yet not brash enough to keep people guessing. I faked it in high school to the point where I begged my mom to let me submit Tyra Banks’ photo as my senior yearbook picture. No such luck.
I went to college, emerged from the birth canal and became the One Unique Token. I met a bunch of great people to whom I felt comfortable revealing myself to. I showed them who I was: A passionate, complicated and at times irrational and over-analytical semi-sunshiny and quietly militant Black chick. I’m pretty sure that’s actually who I am.
It’s increasingly difficult to reconcile fitting back into my high school persona’s box should the situation arise where I’m sitting face-to-face with a bunch of my former peers; ones who think it’s totally funny to call stuff “ghetto” and “gay,” the people who feel entitled to drop racial slurs at their leisure and the ones who’ve only ever heard my patented fake laugh (which sadly sounds a lot like my real laugh).
So now I wonder: Was I undercover the entire time I was in high school? Did I have my peers outsmarted as I passively accepted their prejudices? Or was I the victim of my own commitment? Did I fake it so much that I became complicit in the small-minded reindeer games I quietly detested in my head? Did I become that which I loathed? Am I faking it now?
I might just have to accept that I changed. But I can’t stop thinking about how seamless it was then: I just cringed through the awkwardness, the offensiveness, and eventually grew to accept it. I didn’t throw a fit, even as I squirmed with discomfort and a fake smile shellacked on my face, when I had to watch a really subversive and genius “Chappelle’s Show” sketch in a room full of people too imbued with white privilege and too numbed by their own apathy to truly understand it. I joined in the chorus of the laughter of the haves as they delighted in the follies of the have nots — they would be people who looked like me — because I was paralyzed by my own role in it all. And I never said a word as they quoted the sketch around me. It was all in fun, right?
Despite my supposed newfound enlightenment, I went back to that environment and being around the people who knew me as “one of the good ones,” and I was amazed at how familiar the setting was and how easily the old token’s clothes still fit. I was a little too comfortable reverting back to the smile and nodding days, the pretend you didn’t hear or don’t understand that blatant narrowmindedness.
So, yeah, eventually if you fake something enough it does become who you are. Unless you’re Sally Albright.