The Heavyset Black Girl and the Big Black Guy

by bisonmessink

There’s been a silly hubbub over a silly article assigned by a silly editor at XOJane this week. The crux of the controversy is that a privileged skinny white etc girl was made so uncomfortable by the alien presence of a black woman at her yoga studio that she went home after her distracted asanas that night and wept. And then wrote a tortured essay about it.

Much of the reaction has rightfully centered on the author’s pity, revulsion, and terror at the black woman’s “heavyset” physique — which reminds me of another phenomenon perpetrated, often innocently enough, against black males.

I remember one rainy evening ten years ago, a friend and I — two white college students — were waiting in our school’s student union for a buddy to come pick us up in his big boat of a Buick. So when we saw a big boat of a Buick pull up and then stop in front of the building, we ran outside, fast as we could through the rain, and hopped in the car before we got too wet. Neither of us noticed until we had pulled the doors shut behind us that we had jumped into the wrong car. Behind the wheel of this particular Buick was a black guy our age who was not the white friend we were waiting on. This fellow sat perfectly still in the driver’s seat and greeted us with cool deadpan: “What’s up.”

My friend and I started cracking up immediately at our error, apologized, and ran back into the building.

It was a funny little moment, and in the coming days I heard my friend retell the story what seemed like a million times. And I noticed — each time the story would build up to the same punchline: “And then we look over, and behind the wheel it’s this big black guy!”

Of course, the black guy whose car we jumped into wasn’t big. He was normal-sized, the same size as us. But emphasizing the big-ness of the black guy adds danger, excitement, and a comic emphasis on the “boy did we ever end up in the wrong place” part of the story. And in my friend’s memory, I’m sure the black guy was big, even if it was just a coded sense of danger or intimation he felt at finding himself unexpectedly in the car with a black man.

A small and innocent and even humorous exaggeration? Sure. But ever since, it’s made me notice every time I hear a white person characterize an average-sized black male a “big.” I hear it all the time. It has nothing to do with the size of the black man, and everything to do with the base fear of him.

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