Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On Viewing Myself Through Others’ Eyes - Or Am I Really That Intimidating?

I rarely post pictures of myself here, but this one is germane to the post I’m writing today. Because this post relates not just to how I look, but I how I look to other people.

True story. Back when I was living in New York City, I went with my best friend and then-roommate, E to a birthday party for one of our good friends, C. At the time, we lived in the East 90s and C lived in the West 100s (this makes sense if you’ve ever lived or worked in NYC for even a short period of time). In any event, we made our way across the east-west chasm to C’s apartment building. I remember two things about that night. 1) I was wearing incredibly uncomfortable heeled sandals; and 2) the reaction of the person who opened the door when we got to the apartment.

As E fumbled in her purse, I rang the bell. A young Asian woman, who I later learned was C’s roommate opened the door and greeted me with a look of fear. It lasted mere seconds, but I remember it as clearly as if it had happened yesterday. Her look seemed to ask: “Who invited the scary black girl?”

My initial impulse was to laugh. Me? Intimidating? My mother and sister would bust a gut laughing at the very thought. They’ve spent most of my life telling me that I need to be more assertive. So, the idea that someone would look at me and find me remotely intimidating is, as I noted earlier, pretty laughable.

But the fact that I am the least intimidating person you could ever meet is beside the point. Perfect strangers see me and my skin color, my hair and goodness knows what else screams “SCARY!” to them. It would be laughable if it weren’t so disturbing and sad.

The experience of seeing the look on that woman's face drove home to me - once again - that the meme of African-Americans as scary and inherently threatening is one we've all internalized to one degree or another.

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