So, one night I'm hanging out in L.A., Whiskey Bar at the Sunset Marquis. It's late, like 1 AM or so and I'm standing outside checking the messages on my phone. That's when I hear this abrupt high pitch screech. Not like sneakers on a hardwood floor, think more like a groupie on vodka tonics. And there she was, a 20 something, green to LA, aspiring actress/model/reality star. She was all dolled up, thirsty for a celebrity encounter and apparently her drunken eyes had found one – me. Before I could even react, she sprinted, stumbled up the short flight of steps out front and slid face first across the asphalt like a baseball player stealing home. With her hands, arms and knees now all skinned from her fall, she looked up at me slowly with zero shame and muttered two extremely desperate words, "Damon Wayans?" What else could I do in that moment but play the umpire ready to call her out? So my response was equally as dramatic as her question. I looked down at her and in a very deep over cranked slow motion voice, I responded. "Nooooooooooooo."
I'm convinced we live in a society that teaches us to make assumptions about people. It's really important for us to be able to rank people socially and economically, instantly! God forbid we treat everyone the same. Our society treats people based on the boxes we think they fit into. So this is where it gets interesting. Enter me. I'm not flashy, I don't drive a Lambo, have a posse or make it rain in strip clubs. I don't have an assistant, I'm never surrounded by admiring fans and TMZ is not snapping my picture at the airport. I'm just a 6 foot 2, 40 year old dude in advertising, who also happens to be black. Yet, based on how I look and maybe how I carry myself, combined with the environments I often find myself in, people automatically tend to think, I'm "somebody."
My entire adult life has been one long series of mistaken identity. There was the strip club in Atlanta in the late 90s where this stripper actually left her pole to come give me a big hug. "Baby, I heard you were in town." Sorry Peaches. Apparently, I was mistaken for Malik Yoba of "New York Undercover" fame. (Nope, don't look like him. ) There was the Mexican restaurant in LA, same year Karl Malone played for the Lakers, where the servers actually asked me most of the night if they could take a picture with "Karl." (Nope, don't look like him and I'm nowhere near 6'8, 270.) While preparing for a shoot at Universal Studios, a guy on a nearby tour screamed out "there goes Will Smith" and pointed at me. So I waved back to all 100 adoring fans whose vision was equally as bad as the guy who screamed out in the first place. (I look nothing like Will either.) Upon checking into a hotel in New York once, I over heard a young white woman whisper to her boyfriend, "babe, I think that guy's a rapper." (Really? Me? Must of thought I was an old skool hip hop legend or something.) Japanese tourists FOLLOWED me around snapping my picture in Maui. (Still not sure who they thought I was. T.C. from Magnum P.I.?) And upon my last flight out of the airport here in Austin, an older woman walks up to me and says, "just wanted to say, love your show!" She winked and walked away.
What does all this mistaken identity say about me? Absolutely nothing. What does it say about society? It says that in 2013, the social expectations for black people are still pretty low, especially if when a black guy checks into a nice hotel, the immediate assumption is, he must be famous. Same goes for a nice restaurant, vacation, first class on a plane, VIP in a club, etc. But hey, no harm no foul right? I mean, when you're assumed to be "somebody", other than a few hilarious awkward encounters, it's all pretty harmless stuff right? Well, sometimes assumptions lead people to think you're a "nobody."
Not long ago, a guy mistook an average black dude for being nobody. You know, the kind of nobody that deals drugs and breaks into your house and steals stuff, a criminal. So he followed that nobody. He called the authorities on that nobody. He even got out of his car, confronted with a gun and killed that nobody, based soley on split second assumptions, that the guy was indeed, nobody. But in reality, that guy was just an average black dude like me. His name was Trayvon Martin. Isn't it a shame George Zimmerman didn't confuse him for his favorite rapper? "Yo J-Cole, I love your work man!" Next time before you assume who someone is, take a second to consider, not what your assumptions say about them, but instead, what they say about you. One luv.