Like many of you reading this paper, I went to a party last weekend (and likely for the same reasons). After entering the party-thrower’s apartment, I scoped the scene and saw the requisite revelry: drinking games, loud music, etc. I also noticed something that I notice at many events I attend, something that is not usually bothersome and not usually a problem. I was one of few black people in attendance, but hey, no big deal.
When this is the case I don’t feel uncomfortable or threatened, as it’s a situation I’ve grown accustomed to. I have friends of many colors, ethnicities, nationalities and sexual preferences and attend parties thrown by all; hence, I rarely feel alienated.
Upon further review, however, I was a bit naÃ¯ve.
As I walked over to the beverage dispenser, a young lady pulled me aside.
“My friend over there said you look just like Ben Harper,” she said.I gave a vacant laugh and nodded, but my heart sank. Thus my entrance into the next stage of my life.
Like Harper, I do have an afro, an unkempt mass of severely curly hair that has been growing on my head for quite some time. Except for the occasional crop or set of cornrows, I’ve been rocking the ‘fro strong since ’97. Seven years of knots, gnats and naps.
Since my indoctrination into afrodom, I’ve been harangued by family members, snagged by Velcro and accosted by branches.
My dear grandmother, whom I visited Tuesday, told me if I want to get a real job, I need to get haircut. She generally says I look like I just walked out of the jungle.
And for seven years, anywhere I go, I get compared to whatever popular afroed star is out there.
“Whaddaya want today, Maxwell,” an employee of the old Crossroads CafÃ¨ said daily when I was a freshman.
“Has anyone ever told you, you look like Lenny Kravitz?” a now-dear friend of mine said when we first met.
“Yeah, you and about everyone else,” I told her. She blushed, and now we’re friends.
Now it’s Ben Harper. Tomorrow it’ll be someone else, until I get old and get compared to Frederick Douglas or Don King.
Well, aside from having afros, Ben Harper and I do not look much alike. He’s got lighter skin, squinty eyes and a chiseled face that could be measured by a T-square. I’m medium-dark, with glasses and rounder face (at least that’s what my girlfriend said when I asked her).
It would be like saying Andre Agassi and Patrick Stewart look alike because they are both bald, or saying Fabio and Kid Rock look alike because they have long blond hair.
In most cases, the person making the comparison is white. This phenomenon doesn’t just pertain to me. In a class this week we viewed the documentary The Color of Fear, in which a group of men of varying ethnicities spend a weekend together confronting issues of race in this country.
A Japanese gentleman brought up the subject of white people thinking all Asians look the same. When he confronted a white member of the group, the white man said he couldn’t understand it because it doesn’t pertain to him.
“Exactly,” said the girl to my left.
What many white people do not understand is that just because a problem doesn’t pertain to them does not mean the problem doesn’t exist.
To be fair, the film is 10 years old, and white people have come far since then. Today, many white people may no longer think all black people look alike. Just black people with afros, but I guess that’s an improvement.
Andrew Pina is a post graduatemajoring in humanities anda contributing editor at The Oracle. firstname.lastname@example.org