What a title, am I right? If this was written in print, your eyeroll would have turned the page. I get it. Nobody wants to read about the feeling of racism. It is uncomfortable at best. So why write about it? Because I want you to know a feeling that people face and I swear at best I will try to make it as comfortable as possible. I will be like a grizzled medical technician who has to draw blood from you but has done it so many times that you will be wondering if you even felt the pinch. Clearly I had blood drawn this week. So let me get my rubber gloves and let us begin…
In September of 2017, my girlfriend and I went to Iceland. Full disclosure, it was her idea not mine. It’s not that I hate traveling, I don’t care for it. I travel enough to do standup so my idea of vacation are shades drawn, tv on and meeting a random dude at my door to relieve them of various take out orders like well planned drug deals.
The plan was to drive around the whole country, stop by various waterfalls and small towns to experience all that it had to offer. Even though I do not like to vacate, I make up the difference by being a solid travel companion. My mood is always chipper and I am down for anything.
We saw many waterfalls (they call them foss(es)) and we even drove through a wild storm. In fact, we drove through a category four storm. The foss we were planning to see was closed because the tourism board deemed it too unsafe to hike. We spent our time waiting till the storm passed and made our way to the next town.
We were three fourths of the way into our trip when we reached the second largest city in Iceland, Akureyri. The town has a population of almost 19,000. The plan was to go whale watching. A routine that my girlfriend and I developed was to visit the local gym/hot pool and relax in their hot tubs. The perk of living in Iceland is that the volcanic rocks provide easy access to heat. You can be in sub zero temperature while sitting in a 40 degree Celsius (104 degree Fahrenheit) hot tub. After driving for a few hours, it was a great way to unwind.
Outside of Reykjavik, Akureyri felt comfortable to me. I like cities. I was born and raised in New York City so any place that this hustling and bustling is great to me. Even though nineteen thousand is a small hustle, the bustle was enough. We got to the local gym/pool/hot tub and checked in. One of the requirements is that you shower extensively before entering the pool/hot tub area. Some places are very strict about it. One small town even went as far as to come out of the office to tell a woman that she did not wash her hair and that she would have to go back to the locker room to make sure she rinsed her hair out. It was impressive.
Akureyri went a step further by having someone watch you shower. Of course it was weird but there were a lot of people showering so I could at least have the comfort of knowing I was not the only one he was watching. I resisted the urge to yell “enjoying the view!”
We got to the pool/hot tub area and decided to head right to the hot tubs. The drive that day was storm free but long. We found a hot tub that did not have many people in it. My girlfriend got in first. It is at this point that I should mention that she is white. She is Latvian by birth but could easily be in an Icelandic tourism brochure. I am Indian by birth till you hear me speak. After that you’re wondering if I was born in a hospital or in an auto shop.
The hot tub had we approached four people in it so with us two, it was six. It was equipped to seat ten comfortably. Two of the four people were happily talking as we entered. The woman who was speaking suddenly stopped. It was because she was looking at me. Even though we were in a hot tub, there was no warmth in her face. No brief smile flashed across her face as several had done before in various hot tubs across the country. It was blank. She was not happy. She stared at me for what seemed like a long period of time. It wasn’t long at all. I tried not to make eye contact with her but it was impossible. It was as if I had blinders on and all I could feel was her dissatisfaction with me. She got up and left.
That moment is always so brief. It is like your whole worth is determined in an instant and everything you have ever done means nothing. She reduced me to a creature whose skin she did not like. She did not know I was a good person who cared about my family or friends. She did not know I was a comedian who wanted to bring humor to the world. She did not know I was an awesome travel companion. Shit, she didn’t even know I drove through a category four storm. I was an animal she waived off. When she got up and left, I kept staring at the space she occupied.
Racism is a feeling in which you relive that moment for a little bit relooping it over and over again in your mind like a tape recorder. You don’t stop at the same points but analyze it from different points that you stop at and you feel like that person took something from you. You feel robbed of humanity and since it isn’t tangible, there isn’t anything to get back. You let that part go missing until the rest of you makes up for it.
It’s not something that is my go to. I don’t assume everyone that gives me a dirty look and leaves my presence is a racist but this feeling is something different that people of color know all too well. In fact, I always try to think it might be something else so when I exhaust my mind figuring it out, it’s with a saddened due diligence that I came up to this conclusion.
My girlfriend and I got out of the hot tub and went into the steam room. We then went into the pool. I wasn’t talking much. When your scope of the world narrows, you spend less time talking and more time focusing on how you manage with such limited sight. She noticed something was wrong. I told her. She was upset. She wanted to find the woman and confront her. It was a sweet gesture but unnecessary. It’s not that having a white woman champion my experience wasn’t nice but rather the moment had come and gone. It was best to move on.
We went whale watching the next day. The rest of the trip was lovely. My memory is really bad so recalling moments from previous years can be difficult but this feeling is something I can paint vividly years later. There are moments that are unforgettable like the northern lights and seeing whales for the first time. Also, driving through that goddamn storm. It all comes with the price of that feeling. Sometimes the cost of admission is unpleasant and if I had to do the whole trip over again knowing that it would go down that way, I would still go.
The good memories outweigh the bad because I let them. I think you have to let them or else it becomes too difficult to manage. Some people can’t let the bad memories go and it is so heartbreaking to think that it is how others live their lives because they do not have a choice or it happens too often. Some people’s lives are a consistent category four storm. I hope it was not as painful as you thought it would be but even if it was, you will live. After all, the rest of us have to.