On the other side of the wall

The woman at the door of the BLACK IMAGINATION: The States of Matter show at CORE Gallery asked me point blank: "are you a white man?" It was literally the first time in my entire life that anyone had ever asked me that question, and I had to pause for a minute.

"Uh, yes," I eventually replied. I'd been invited to the opening night "celebration of Black joy" from four Black Seattle storytellers — Natasha Marin, Imani Sims, Amber Flame, and Rachael Ferguson — and I hadn't been told about this part of the entry process. The doorperson explained that white people weren't allowed in the back half of the gallery tonight. That part was just for people of color. I could wander all I wanted around the front room, she said. And so I did.

A woman in an ornate dress sat on the floor, DJing the music. ("Don't Explain," by Billie Holliday, first, then "Whizzin' Away Along De Track.") In the other corner of the room, a woman listening to an iPod through headhphones drew on a piece of paper taped to the wall. "I WAS A STAR," one drawing of a cosmic firmament read. She'd occasionally stop to comb through her hair with an afro pick.

Behind a curtain, I could hear voices raised up in song. Laughter. Stories being told. Nothing came through too clearly, though; I couldn't hear the specifics. A tall white man stood by the curtain, and a Black woman gently explained to him, "white folks aren't allowed back there tonight." The man replied, seemingly instinctually, "okay, but..." and then he stopped talking. The point came through loud and clear, and he chuckled at himself, and then he walked away.

On the other side of the wall, people laughed raucously about something I couldn't hear.

"WE ALL TOOK CARE OF EACH OTHER," the woman wrote on another drawing while listening to a song I couldn't — that I wasn't meant to — hear.