Friday, November 10, 2006

Chocolate Lady

I’ve been lurking in the blogs of my fellow Woodlawnites recently.

I’m always amused by the inevitable fish out of water stories I read about being a minority in a minority neighborhood. For most white people, this is a strange concept and I’m sure it takes some getting used to.

In my experience, negotiating two different cultures is almost like speaking a second language. It requires you to be well versed in both vernaculars as well as having the fluidity to seamlessly move between the different worlds.

All this blogging along with my recent entry about Young Mr. WhiteFolks reminded me of a funny college story.

You see my friends, I had the privilege, nay the honor to earn my undergraduate degree at a little piece of paradise called Lake Forest College.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Chicagoland area, Lake Forest a city situated near the northern end of the very tony and exclusive north shore.

The north shore roughly starts right outside the northern Chicago city limits in Evanston and continues up the Lake Michigan coastline to Lake Bluff.

Some very well off people make their homes along the north shore. And when I say well off, I mean the people who have so much money that they don’t like to talk about matters concerning the green stuff.

That my friends, is considered poor taste.

So it was with a super awesome carefree curl and wide curious eyes I entered into this world in the fall of 1986.

I had just turned 18 and had no idea that people actually lived that way.

This was during the era of Dynasty and 80’s excess. All of that was as accessible to the daughter of the elementary school teacher as a flight to the moon.

I honestly thought all of that was entertainment---no more, no less. A well off family to me resembled Dr. & Mrs. Heathcliff Huxtable, not Blake and Crystal Carrington.

Boy did I get a very well heeled reality check.

It took me the better part of the school year to honestly understand that a family could own more than one house.

“But why would you have a summer home?” I asked.

I will say that some of my new classmates were just as fascinated with me and I was with them. Then of course I guess that what’s college is about. Leaving your comfort zone and pushing your boundaries---meeting people who aren’t like you.

For as many questions as I asked about vacation homes, the social register and owning an island; they asked me if I tanned, about my hair and why all of the black students sat together in the cafeteria.

All in all it was a four year cross cultural learning session.

Now please don’t think that not everyone who went to Lake Forest was rolling in the big cash.

There were enough middle class kids of all stripes to keep an interesting balance.

Plus the school needed work study labor for the cafeteria and phys plant.

Being an industrious soul I not only had a campus job and typed papers as a side hustle, I also had a job off campus in a Haagen Dazs ice cream shop.

Side Note: To this day I consider it a blessing that the prep schools at the time either didn’t offer typing courses or the young men & women I typed for never thought they would need such a skill.

One day I was working when a small boy---about three years old---came in to the ice cream shop with his parents.

His eyes grew wide; he pointed and excitedly yelled, “Look, it’s a chocolate lady!”

The room stopped and his parents looked as if they wanted the ground to open up and swallow them whole.

The little boy didn’t stop. He kept on saying “Chocolate lady!” “Chocolate lady!”

It took his parents a few minutes to quiet him down. He seemed very happy to see me.

I’m sure you’d be shocked to know that chocolate was near and dear to his blessed little three year old heart.

As I was serving the family, I explained to him that I wasn’t made of chocolate but I just happened to be the same color.

I explained that there were many other people who looked like me and we were commonly referred to as black or African American. I also told him that we also came in various shades of brown.

I’d never had such a rapt audience in my life. The kid hung on my every word.

I really freaked him out when I showed him the palms of my hands.

I would have given a million dollars to know what was going on in that three year old head of his.
As I handed the father the ice cream and took payment, the young man tried to lick my hand.

Now if he were twenty years older adjusted his aim and tried such a move, I might not have minded.

But three years old is beyond Mary Kay Letourneau.

I reminded him that I wasn’t made out of chocolate I just happened to be born brown.

Seeing that incident was almost twenty years ago, I’m sure he’s keeping his waspy Lake Forest parents hopping with a succession of girlfriends that happen to be women of color.

So when my while my white Woodlawn neighbors blog about being the only person who looks like them in their neighborhood(s) I completely understand.

I am so waiting for Chikat’s husband to get spinners for the Golf.


Mr Clean said...

We prefer North Shore, rather than north shore.


Biff and Muffy

Nat said...

I've had some funny run-ins since i've moved to Woodlawn, but at least no one has tried to lick my hand.

The Woodlawn Wonder said...


You're totally right---my bad. Give my best to the kids at the Onwentsia Club.


What are ya' gonna do? Live and learn. Who knows someone may try to lick you just yet.