This morning as I exited one train a woman tapped me on my shoulder. I removed my earbuds. “I wanted to tell you you have amazing style” she said. I blushed (yes, we have already coved this… black people DO blush!) and said, “Thank you.” She continued, “You remind me of Grace Jones. Do you remember her?” “Wow!” I said. “Yes, I do. That is quite the compliment. Thank you.” We parted ways. But, as I continued on, I kept going over the encounter. Something in it deserved my mulling. So, let’s address this.
I was/am absolutely touched by both her compliment and her taking the time to express it. That was sweet. I was/am floored to be likened to such an icon and a personal idol (if I were prone to them) of mine. But the more I think about it, I realize this is the part that keeps tumbling around my head. I am wondering whether I truly do remind her of Ms. Jones; or whether to a white woman (yes, she was), that was the closest to a likeness she could have mustered. Do you see what I mean? No? Okay, here it is… “Was I just racially fashionably profiled?”
Listen, there was nothing in the encounter that was off; this woman was lovely and I do not for any minute question her well-intent. What I am addressing is whether consciously or not, we all at times default to places that can be perceived as stereotypical. One can argue that there are not that many options in trying to liken me to someone. I mean, no argument can be made that I remind anyone of, let’s say, Charlize Theron. But, there are those in my life that may say on any given day that my style can be reminiscent of, let’s say, Gaga’s. Right? You see what I’m getting at? Look. As a black woman, it is possible for me to resemble or remind. Yes. So, do I resemble Grace Jones? Or does my style remind her of Grace Jones? And, is it Grace Jones because I, like she, is dark black? Tall? And partially bald? Can I never remind someone of, Angela Bassett? Or will I, to white people always only evoke thoughts of the Graces and Lupitas of the world?
See it now?
Now, pay attention to the fact I said, “to white people” because what I am questioning and addressing is whether that exact compliment from someone black would have resonated with me differently. Do you think it would carry more punch if it came from someone of color? Would I have not even questioned its validity (hence this post would not have happened), because well, they would know what they are talking about? Does this fall under the same category of, a woman complimenting another woman versus a man complimenting that same woman? Do we, or is it just me, place more stock in the words of someone we have sized up to owning the authority of what they speak?
And, do we need to analyze her choice of wording, “Do you remember her?” Is there something in her assumption that I should know her because we are both black? Or is her assumption simply, sweetly based on the fact that she assumes I must have known who she is, given we are both black and I must have been told that before? To her, if my style clearly indicates I appreciate fashion, is there any possible way I could have missed Ms. Jones?
Listen. I love me some Grace Jones. I am honored to have been likened to her. I am touched that that stranger paused her steps to have our worlds intersect for a few brief moments. I could say I will leave the analytics alone; but I won’t. You see, I have found that the amount of attention I pay and the importance I place in the people and encounters around me lend themselves to a ‘me’ that is better able to access those places inside that matter most. They allow me to feel and articulate. They insulate me from a life of limitation and fear. Experiences like these touch my soul, make my skin tingle, take a seat on my shoulder, lean over to my ear and whisper, “Let’s address this…”