Black music in white spaces.
Away from home, I walk into unfamiliar spaces with my shoulders hunched and tight. Instinctively, I scan my surroundings, stretching every sense around the corners of the room until it feels safe. What the eye see? What the ears hear? What the nose smell?
It’s Sunday afternoon and Toups South, a restaurant serving “regional southern cuisine” in the Lower Garden District of New Orleans, is mostly empty. A handful of patrons sit at the bar and at a smattering of tables. Everyone’s white: the patrons, the hostess, the bartenders. In the open kitchen I see the only other Black person there, a brother working over the stove. But I’m hot and hungry and the restaurant smells like what I’ve selfishly been looking for; I’m down South and I want to eat Southern food.
My shoulders relax as I skim the menu; then I hear Q-Tip’s familiar voice over the speakers, rapping “but you stuck here nigga.” And just like that my shoulders rise right back up again, bound by a familiar string of tension. I order a drink and try to relax again, try those familiar incantations that get you to release that energy, but it’s too late—I’m taken out.