So I am one of those who listened with attention and admiration to Chimamanda Adichie’s address on the danger of a single story. Good stuff. Really. So I decided to do some self-examination and see where my stereotypes have turned up when I least expected it.
One of the exciting things about New York City is that you can literally leave your house looking like you’re headed for a costume party and somebody, somewhere, will gush about how totally cool you look and how they admire your ‘creative expression’. (I’m like, ‘in my country, this kind of ‘creative expression’ = madness’, but- bygones…) Tourists have the most fun with such ‘artists’- they take pictures and some of the bolder ones even conduct mini-interviews. Some of these starry eyed innocents get robbed or cussed out in the process but that’s another story.
So anyways, on this regular, not-so-sunshiny day, post work, I got on the train and after a marvelous display of speed and agility, finally got a seat (being a lady is generally of little consequence as the subway does not discriminate based on gender). Anyways, I was basking in my victory when 2… uh- gentlemen walked on the train. First off, they were HUGE, mean looking and also of African American persuasion ;). They were decked head to toe in black and ‘bling’ and wore sunglasses. Yes- the subway is underground. One was wearing a very heavy-looking hoodie with deep pockets and looked to be wearing at least 3 layers of clothing. It was not cold that day. The other was wearing a humungous, elaborate, fur coat. Fur!!!!! I repeat- it was not cold that day.
My people, the once crowded train suddenly got really spacious as commuters subtly pressed themselves as far away from the ‘guests’ as they could. Another great thing about New York is that it’s a city of the performing arts. Suddenly, previously disgruntled faces transformed into the bored, yet polite expressions of people who had just seen nothing out of the ordinary. So what if the 2 newcomers looked like they could be carrying weapons of mass destruction under their suspiciously bulky, inappropriate attires? So what if the rings on their hands were ideal for knocking teeth out with one blow? Big deal. We’re bored. Yawn. Note however, nobody made eye contact with these nice men, and everybody’s eyes were trained on one object- the doors. ‘Cos come the next stop, whether it’s my destination or not, I want out. How was I able to see all this? Chalk it down to investigative journalism! (And my gift of being able to see stuff from the corner of my eye. Hehe)
Anyways, we piled out of the train at the next stop (which fortunately was my stop) and I actually saw some people make a quick dash for the next car. As I walked home I wondered if I would have done the same thing if I still had a few more stops to go. If I got off the train would I be guilty of racial profiling? Was I negatively judging the ‘artistic expressions’ of some innocent commuters? After all, they could have been part of a rap video…Possibly. Still, there’s something in everyone, especially Africans, which triggers our self preservation buttons. ‘A toad does not run in the daylight for nothing’. We believe abnormalities are often the results of foul play. So if we hear a lion escaped from the zoo, we stay home. When we hear there’s a demonstration in Oshodi, we change our home-bound routes. And when you see suspect-looking, fur-wearing, male characters in the heart of Harlem when it’s barely 65 degrees, pick up the pace and don’t look back. ‘Cos though there are many stories in every race, there are some stories in which I’d rather not play a starring role.