Was I bought tickets for a Black History Month trolley tour of the murals of Philadelphia and I brought our five- and eight-year-old sons into the lobby and they were in the lobby while I checked in at the front desk and the security guard came out, chest puffed, eyeballing my Black children, utterly unsmiling—she was Black too but the fact of the eyeballing remains—
and as we were all settling into our trolley seats waiting for the tour to start, the white lady tour guide, she asked the only Black couple on board, in their seventies, she said, “Excuse me, I have a question, I wonder if you could tell me what would you say is the thing to say, there’s African American and there’s people of color is what they are telling us to say and of course there’s, well, Black. What would you say is the thing to say? I mean, people of color could be Asian people or something and I mean, Martin Luther King we know was not Asian, so…”
and the woman-half of the Black couple said, “Well, Black is Black,” and I thought in my seat with my sons, yes but she doesn’t know what, “Well, Black is Black” means is what she’s saying to you
and then the woman-half of the Black couple took to correcting the white lady tour guide for the rest of the tour, often incorrectly, and she said loudly to her husband, “I should be giving this tour,” and then the tour guide didn’t know something and another woman, a white one, called out, “Maybe you could call the library, they would know,” and the tour guide said, “That’s a good suggestion, thank you” trying to hold onto control
and we stopped to look at another mural we couldn’t see from our cramped vantage point inside this rolling hot box and a young Black man sitting on a stoop gave us the finger and an old white man on our trolley misunderstood and waved back and called out, “Hi there,” and the young Black man kept his finger held still, to the side, pointed with feeling, and the old white man kept waving at him and I thought in my seat with my sons, oh my G-d oh my G-d
and into the second hour my five-year-old was writhing in his long stuffy confinement, there was not a view, really, of the murals, and everywhere we stopped, cars honked long mad really laying on the horn honks, and a woman in the back of the trolley was taking photos on her phone and passing the phone around asking if anyone would like to see because that photo would be the only way to see the whole thing we otherwise could not
and the tour guide said what a shame how awful the heroin in Kensington but we would not be focusing on that today because this was an African American Iconic Hero tour and she smiled beatifically at the Black couple and the Black couple only and she didn’t notice me staring into the side of her face
and then later she asked my 5-year-old if he knew which World War Jackie Robinson fought in and he said, “Civil, the one about slavery,” and she smiled big like, oh, how sweet, and oh my G-d I thought and
we filed off the trolley my eight-year-old said thank you and my five-year-old said thank you and I said thank you and then my children flew full-speed down the walkway along the side of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts toward the long bench that curves like a spine alongside the giant crashed plane sculpture where earlier a group of teenage boys had been skateboarding doing all kinds of things I don’t know the names for and the woman-half of the Black couple saw my sons running and she said, “Where is their mother?” and then someone pointed to me, walking behind her, and everyone laughed.
Hahaha. Right there. She’s right there. And what was funny? What was so funny?
is what I was thinking in that moment