I have been taught to add sweetness. To my voice, to my tone, to the way I move my body in white spaces. I have been taught to shrink. Cross your legs, keep them shut, never spill out of your clothes. I have been taught to take out my tongue and let it hang down. Open wide for others to spit on my open face. Let saliva spill out of my mouth, put my hands around my tongue and pull. Pull until you’re numb. Pull until your palms are pruned into small soft canyons.
The sweetness manifests itself as fake laughter, biting my tongue to taste blood, the immediate shield of stroking an ego that doesn’t deserve it. Emotional labor. Like a white man who tells me he writes love letters to women in prison. Women who look like me. Women as pretty as me. He tells me my English is impeccable. I am at work. I bite my tongue. He looks at me like a delicacy. Something he could eat. I can feel his attempt to look through me, as though he could break me, as though he could make me find him charming.
The confidence of a mediocre white man is a spineless animal I could tear apart. If only I could open my mouth. If only I could get past fear and shapeshift like Kamala Khan. Make myself a giant, filling the entire building with my flesh. With the skin he fetishizes. He could suffocate before he called my skin caramel or mocha or anything edible. Socialization and survival fill my veins and I say nothing to him. I finish his transaction as fast as I can so he can leave.
Customer service indicates you teach yourself how to control your emotional capacity for bullshit. Numb any trace of anger or frustration. Learn how to grow tough skin. If a customer curses at you, you react in a calm manner. You apologize for the behavior they display. You apologize even if you don’t mean it. If a customer screams at your co-worker that he’s voting for Trump so we could go back to where we came from, you imprint his face into your memory bank under the category of xenophobic man-child. You whisper to your ancestors: show him in nightmares where he really comes from. If a customer asks you “Are you from Mexico?” and then proceeds to tell you “All Mexicans are crooks” you turn away with your body shaking hard because you would have no qualms shoving this white man into a volcano. You call for your white manager and you run to hide in the bathroom. A panic attack takes over and you breathe in and out into the tile.
Adding sweetness in customer service means men invalidating my existence while I put on a smile and a higher pitched voice because I need my job. I sugar coat my words because pendejos like this have only been taught patterns of perpetuating violence and objectifying entire groups of people. Nothing is more fragile and dangerous than this kind of masculinity.
There is a genuine sweetness in me, in my arteries and settled softly into my belly. In moments where I am alone with my head under warm water. My body spinning under soft rain like it’s a baptism. Sitting inside a dust devil as the earth sprinkles itself onto my skin. The skin I admit I want to swarm out of when fear ruins my guts. The skin I sweat onto as I run and run to make my legs stronger because I am never clumsy when I run. The skin I have learned to cherish in spite of a social structure telling me I shouldn’t. In spite of men with toxic tongues. I have control of my soft tongue. My sharp tongue. The tongue I bite into. I have my brave moments. I have control of the honey dripping from the sides of my mouth when I rebel and love myself. No one can take the real softness built into me.