Just the right size, skin stretched tight and smooth, ruddy with a wash of deepest blue—like a glimpse of cool midnight in a doomsday sunset. She reached for the appetizing tomatoes with a hand the color of cinnamon, beads of sweat condensed upon it from the exertion of the brief bicycle ride in the humid, greenhouse, August morning.
A large extremity, slightly tanned by calculated sun, swooped down upon the basket of fruit and snatched it up.
She moved away from the gangling presence behind the hand, seeking her tomatoes among the more familiar ones she had just ventured away from.
“Are you ready to check out?” asked the salesman.
“No, I was interested in those purple heirlooms,” she said. “But I guess they’re taken already. I’ll need to find something else.”
“Yup, they’re called ‘indigo.’ We’ll have more next week.”
The gangling usurper laughed, speaking only to the salesperson. “I guess she’ll have to get back out in the field and pick them for you.”
“Not I!” she spoke in stunned wonder at his blatant, overt racism.
But the salesman joined the joke, speaking, of course, not to its object but to the smug perpetrator: “Yeah, she’s sweating already. Not much good in the field.”
The white face lifted, broke into a grin, and paid for the purloined tomatoes and the purloined dignity of the woman.
The woman paid for the tomatoes she had found: warm, sweet orange ones and some green zebras. Frozen, she felt on the warm day. Invisible, except in that moment of verbal rape when her selfhood had been reduced to the slave commodity she represented to both the vendor and the customer. Out of place, in this farmers’ market of the affluent college town in mainline Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and needing to be punished for her appearance in locks, awash with sweat from exercise, nay, for her very existence.
The bike ride home went some distance to cleansing her from this violation. She wondered what had bred such fear and assumed arrogance in the man who chose to doubly insult her. And the even greater wonder of the public nature of his remarks and the collusion of the vendor.
Unsafe to be Black.
Indigo tomatoes rudely stolen can, nevertheless, be flavorful and nourishing—for a time. But opportunities to nourish unearned white, upper-class privilege with the violence of acceptance could someday disappear. May it be soon.