Something fishy this way comes

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Once upon a time — 2004, if I had to guess — J and I went to Mutual Fish, a fishmonger in Seattle. While she shopped, I zoned out, idly considering the options on display.

My eyes lit on some catfish. A black woman standing next to me said, “Doesn’t that look good? I wonder what it tastes like.”

I said, absent-mindedly, glancing at the glass counter, “Oh, it probably tastes like chicken.”

I could sense her staring at me. “Well, you’re an Uncle Tom, aren’t you?” she growled.

I jerked my head to the side. “Wait, what?” I was confused. J rushed up to me.

“I’m ready to go,” she said, and she pulled me out of the store. I quickly forgot about it.

*

One year later, J and I rested on a beach in Maui. How we got on the topic, I don’t know, but I expressed my bewilderment. “What was that about?”

J stared at me. (I seem to get that a lot.) “You’re not serious.”

I frowned. “What?” I had a vaguely feeling I was missing something.

“She thought you were making fun of her. It’s a stereotype, that African Americans just love fried chicken.”

“But… fried chicken is tasty.”

“She probably thought you were mocking her for her ignorance.”

“No. Way.”

“Way.”

We sat in silence, listening to the waves crash, as they often do.

“But why’d she call me an Uncle Tom? I’m not black.”

“Well, she was ignorant.”