Note: Today is Day 5 of my 30 day blog challenge. If you want to get my random thoughts about random stuff in your inbox, you can subscribe at the bottom of any post or mash the RSS button if that’s how you roll.
I was at New Seasons, unlocking my bike and getting ready to leave. The guy talking to me was someone who’s been shouting ‘Hi Carla’ at me as I rode around my neighborhood, for months.
Carla is a friend of mine, and we live about a half mile away from each other. We’re both black, have shaved heads and ride our bikes around town. That is enough for lots of people to confuse us. And with only six black people in the whole city1, you’ve got a 50/50 chance of being right if you see a bald black woman go by on a bike and shout one of our names. Since I grew up here, I had a head start so for the first few years, everyone just assumed she was me. The first I heard of this phenomenon was when Carla posted a frustrated message to Facebook:
“Where do I get the ‘I’M NOT KRONDA’ t-shirt?”
I jokingly agreed to have one made. Maybe I should have.
Now that she’s been in Portland a few years, the scales have evened up, and I find myself in need of the ‘I’M NOT CARLA’ t-shirt.
Usually, when people yell ‘Hi Carla’ at me, I’m on the move. But now I was standing ten feet away from this guy, facing him.
“Hi Carla,” he said again.
“I’m not Carla.”
He didn’t seem to know what to do with this information.
Two women, arriving at the store on their bikes, heard the exchange and asked, “Do you two look alike?”
“No,” I said. “But we’re both black, and have shaved heads and ride bikes. It’s been going on for years.”
I figured maybe if I introduced myself, he would learn to tell us apart. I walked up to him.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“You two really do look alike though.”
“No, we don’t. So how do you know Carla?”
“Through the disability community. We worked on the new playground together.”
“Oh the one in Arbor Lodge park? That’s a great playground.”
“Yeah, I met her once a couple of years ago, but we’ve stayed in touch electronically.”
At this point, I had to end the conversation. He already pissed me off by insisting that we look alike, which to him, I’m sure we do, thanks to a well documented phenomenon known as cross-race effect. But contradicting me about it and then admitting that he’s only met Carla one time two years ago? Ignorant, clueless, racist bullshit.
I left before I said something rude.
This is but one of the many annoyances of living in a place with little racial diversity. If Cody saw more than one black person a week (I’m being generous here), he would learn to tell us apart. Since I grew up looking at sea of white faces, I generally don’t have any problem telling white people apart. Remembering names is another matter.
Not that I don’t love being special, but the ability to blend in is something I wouldn’t mind experiencing on a more regular basis. I’ve had white guys come up to me at conferences and say, “Hey, we met for ten minutes at that one thing eighteen months ago.”
OK, if you say so, white guy in a sea of white guys.
I won’t tell you that you look just like all others, but I’m probably not going to remember you.
I told my wife that, for my own sanity, I might need to start taking sabbaticals from Portland. Rent an Airbnb or stay with friends a few weeks a year someplace where I can count on seeing more than 10 brown faces in a day, and you don’t automatically nod at every Black person because who knows how long it will be before you see another one.
Until then, if any videographers are reading this and want to help Carla and I make a PSA in our new t-shirts, you know where to find me.
1. Slight exaggeration but some days if feels that way. (Back)