Playing “Family Reunion”

It happened again. While waiting outside the therapist’s office this black guy assumed we knew each other. Or maybe he didn’t. I can’t tell the difference anymore. What I do know is that he walked in and said…

“How you doing, Bro?”

Which we all know isn’t really a question but rather an introduction to nod at him and say…

“What’s up, Bro?”

Which is also not a question but is instead an implied understanding between two people who don’t know each other from Adam but happen to share some common ancestry way back. But instead of that reply I said…

“I’m okay.”

Which threw him for a bit of a loop. I could tell, not because I know him well (which I don’t) but because his eyebrows arched. I had thrown off the balance of the exchange and he didn’t know what to make of it. I guess I wasn’t in the mood for playing “family reunion” this morning.

You know how to play “family reunion.” It’s when people you just meet treat you like you’re familiar enough to be family. It happens in stores where the associates wear nametags, or in restaurants when servers leave their names on napkins at the table. When you check out you call the person by name like you’re sisters or something. “Thanks for the great meal, Rachel,” you tell the server, like she made it special for you. You know, because you’re close like that.

And playing “family reunion” happens quite a bit when you’re black and you happen to run into other black folk. I can’t speak for other ethnicities because I’m not a part not them, but I feel like it’s unique to black folk, the quick assumed familiarity. Maybe we feel it’s solidarity considering some type of shared history, even if it was so long ago and even if it wasn’t even our personal shared history. It’s as if our ancestors both being slaves means we’re all related or something. I’m not really sure.

Sometimes I play the game and other times I do what I did above, depending on my mood. I mean what good is it having people you’re close to like family if you also treat any old shmoe off the street the same way? To me it’s a form of disrespect to the people who are truly there for you, who have forged those friendships, if you act like a guy you don’t even know is your best friend.

Don’t get me wrong. I was nice to that guy this morning. He was actually confused as to where he was supposed to be and I helped him out. Once he realized I wasn’t going to play the game he was really quite civil. Sometimes people get all twisted up if I won’t play, but life is too short to play pretend for someone’s sake who I don’t even know. I quick prefer not to look to the distant past to tell me who my friends and family should be.

And I’m looking forward to a real family reunion very soon. You know, with my actual family.


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