If nothing else the Trayvon Martin trial has served as both a mirror and a canvas, a place on which to project one’s own personal experience. The Roots drummer and “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” bandleader Questlove recently did just that, in a heartfelt post I stumbled upon at the “New York” magazine website. In it the musician detailed what it’s like for him to be a big – six-foot-two, 300 pound – black man in America, and how he perceives society to perceive him. He brought up an incident that happened one night in the elevator of his high-security building, in which a beautiful woman (I assume to not be of color, though her race is never mentioned) gave him the cold shoulder, rudely refusing to acknowledge his presence as he tried helpfully to get her to her floor. To Questlove the rebuff seemed just one more example of an African-American male being judged as a threatening presence regardless of his actual harmless behavior.
But is this what it really was? As a petite white female I might have treated Questlove the same way, even if the musician was a five-foot-two, 100 pound white guy. Probably would have (and not because the only time I can recall racially profiling anyone was in Arkansas, where I found myself crossing one too many a street to avoid the numerous, sketchy-looking, hoodie-wearing white dudes in downtown Little Rock). Especially if it’d been one of those long stressful days that put me in no mood to make small talk with yet another random guy I wasn’t interested in who thought I was hot. In his piece Questlove referred to the elevator stranger as “bangin’,” followed by “so inside I was like, "Dayuuuuuuuuuuum, she lives on my floor? *bow chicka wowow*!" Instantly I was on some "What dessert am I welcome-committee-ing her with?” The fact that he didn’t make any moves on the woman, or explicitly let her know that he viewed her as a sex object, makes little difference. Like African-American men, pretty women of every race are highly attuned to how they’re perceived. And, like Questlove, oftentimes overreact defensively.
Yet when all is said and done, the sole absolute truth is that the bigger one’s world the less fearful one is. And so, ultimately, I’m grateful to Questlove for sharing his point of view, for refracting light from his honest mirror in order to expand our understanding of one another. I can only humbly hope that I’m able to do the same.