While in Washington, D.C., this morning waiting for a connecting flight to Birmingham, Ala. (I’m speaking at the University of Alabama this evening), I stopped at a newsstand to get some orange juice and to consider buying one of those neck-pillow things for the flight. (I declined. These things are $17.99 in Pittsburgh, but here it was 37 whole American dollars. Fuck that. I ended up just making a pillow out of an unopened pack of boxer briefs I brought with me. Yup, I’m a grown-ass man, and I just slept on some drawers.)
While I was in line, a 20-something white woman in front of me kept glancing back and smirking. I thought perhaps she was a real-life Rose Armitage, so I turned my phone flash on just in case she tried any funny business. She finally spoke.
“Excuse me, has anyone ever told you you look just like Khalid?”
I lied: “No.” And then I lied again: “Who’s that?”
“He sings that song ‘Location.’ You know. ‘Sendddddd me your location.’”
As tickled as I was that I was able to get this woman to sing and sway for me, my flight was boarding soon and I had to bounce.
“Yeah, I’m sorry. I’ve never heard it. Have a good day.”
As I walked out of the store, I could hear her still singing the chorus of “Location” softly to herself. And I was just glad I turned my flash on.
In the last two weeks, I’ve been in Miami, Baltimore, D.C. (twice) and now Birmingham. Along with the airports in those cities, I’ve had layovers in Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta. And in that 14-day span, I’ve had five separate nonblack people (three white women, a white man and an Asian man) mention that I look like Khalid—an artist I had to Google a few months ago after another white woman in Pittsburgh said I looked like him. Yet when I’ve shared this information with black people—that white people keep telling me I look like him—their responses range from “WTF?” to “Of course. Because we all look alike to them.”
My wife thinks (most) white people are just unable or unwilling to find any distinctions with black people’s faces. That they just see the similarities with our hair, our beards and our complexions, but what we actually look like just doesn’t register. This would explain the other person white people frequently tell me I remind them of: Donald Glover. Which is even more perplexing for what I assume are very, very, very, very, very obvious reasons. (Also, it’s interesting that both Khalid and Donald Glover are considerably smaller men than I am, which makes me wonder if white people just automatically assign an exaggerated physical size to black men. Which, again, makes me glad my phone has a flash function.)
Anyway, most of the black people I’ve shared this story with also have stories about white people stopping them to tell them they look like people. Apparently this is the world’s most annoying silent epidemic. But after an informal poll I conducted on Google Hangouts just now, none of these black people are walking up to random white people to tell them they look exactly like Steve Nash.
So basically, the moral of the story is that if you’re a white person and you think some random black person looks like some other random black person, keep those thoughts to yourself. Because you’re probably wrong. They’ll probably be annoyed. And they’ll probably be scanning for a teacup to smack out of your hands.