Because I grew up as the only black kid in a small beach town a lot of the stereotypes that were pinned to my backpack didn't mean bupkis to me. I mean, I knew I was supposed to be good at certain stuff but never really why. People expected me to be good and so I was.
I sang a solo "Wind Beneath My Wings" in the annual talent show and won third place only because my song went on too long. I also starred in every ballet recital, acted in all our church plays (including the one where I played a hilarious "Christmas wolf") and played every sport despite hating running.
It wasn't until my mom and I moved to the big city did I realize that my performance expectations were based on superfluous physical markers of excellence. Basically I was getting gold stars for my skin.
Of course the little black girl should know how to sing, dance and run for her life! That's just what they do. The same way Asian kids are good a math and Latino kids get picked first for baseball and white kids can't dance.
I learned that last tidbit of bullshit where most teenaged non-facts come from, in the girls bathroom.
"It's cause they dance to the words," some sage 13-year-old told me as a gang of us got ready for the Homecoming dance about to happen in the gym.
"Yep," seconded another. "It's like they don't know how to match their legs to the beat. So they're always off. It's a fact."
A fact, huh? Like the one about not getting pregnant on your first go around or getting toxic shock syndrome from fingering? These were my cultural tour guides. The same women who told me if I didn't get my period soon I'd be considered a "hermaphrodite."
Years later we can laugh about our idiocy, safe as it was in innocence and not flat-out ignorance (well, maybe). But the white folks can't dance thing? That, my friends, is still a thing.
A meme that even Justin Timberlake couldn't kill. Or did he ever want to? Didn't it help make him famous? The idea that he was excelling at something despite the unfortunate set back of being born in the wrong skin. Like a fish riding a bicycle or, I don't know, a woman who can read things.
All this garanimal-ing -- matching up ability and race (or gender) -- gets me in the gut. So when a friend sent me this video of Prince Harry dancing with about a gazillion exclamation marks I cringed.
Yes, Harry is a royal, and I'm sure getting your grind on isn't mentioned anywhere in Roberts Rules of Order. But there's more to the newsworthiness of his rhythmic pelvic thrusts than just "Princes Their Just Like Us."
It's more like, "White People Can Do Stuff Black People Can Do." Or is that just me projecting? And this isn't a dig on Harry, who'd I'd like to "freak" up against a wall someday (remember "freak lines"?), but at those of us watching. Those of us who are surprised.
I was at a politico dinner in DC once and Karl Rove (yes that Karl Rove) started "rapping" as part of this weird comic relief between courses. Everyone thought it was hilarious when he put on a pair of shades, got into a robotic b-boy stance and shouted into the mic, "I'm MC Rove!" I thought it was icky.
I couldn't shake the feeling that something other than just hip-hop was being lampooned. It was the idea that white men, who are stereotypically reserved whether you're in DC or not, could put on a performance and then occupy the space usually reserved for black people. Like a man in drag or a grandma in roller skates.
I don't walk around calling things or people "racist" or "sexist" just because I feel icky about them. It dilutes the outrage when everything is outrageous. But every now and then when I see something (even the littlest thing, like a video of a cute white boy dancing with a group of black women), the "facts" I learned about in the girls bathroom come back to haunt me.
I can't always match my legs to the beat and something's off.