It happened to me again today.
There I was, at the store, in the checkout line, buying frozen broccoli, frozen chicken breasts, frozen premade pasta, and one pint of partially frozen ice cream. It was hot outside, and even though they aren’t served that way, besides said ice cream, my mind had just been working that way. Plus I was broke AF, as they say.
Then I saw her.
I was making my way through the line, one inch at a time, like a stopped car creeping towards an already red light. Her hands were moving gracefully past the red-lined scanner, swiping each item through with elegance and ease. She glanced at me, first quizzically, and then a second time in recognition. She knew me, but I, not her. At least I couldn’t remember where from if I did. I could guess, but dare I, with my memory?
I began to shake.
The sweat from my pits dripped down my arm causing a tickle of confused emotion. She laughed with the lady in front of me as they both glanced back with smiles of commendation. As they finished, it felt as if the red light would forever stay that way unless I pulled an illegal maneuver.
I knew what was coming.
My steps felt like lightning strikes, as if a force of nature were pulling them downward to the floor. I inched to my final destination of certain awkward conversation; I had been here so many times before yet it always felt so unfamiliar. Who am I supposed to be? What act do I portray? What label do I presume? WHO AM I TO THIS PERSON?!
Then it happened.
“Hey, did you find everything okay?” she said, but her eyes said so much more.
“I did, thank you,” I muttered out as I cleared my throat of my anxieties.
“Hot out there, isn’t it?” she said. My frozen goods were apparently fooling no one as she quickly whipped them by.
I let out a puff of a laugh, as I tend to when nervous, and said, “Well it’s not like I plan to use these to cool off or nothing.” Two more puffs snuck out. Such an idiotic response, I thought.
She stopped mid swipe, glanced up, and a smile crept out from her lips. I knew exactly what was coming. “You know who you look like?” she said.
And there it was: the pivotal question. It was the landmark that had cemented my adult life into history. It was the giant, Moses-sized part in the oceanic world of small talk of who I was and so forth, which only allowed a person to dive deeper into the kiddie pool of who I wasn’t. But suddenly, I was someone to this person—just someone who was not me.
I smiled back and gave my rehearsed response: “I think I can guess.”
“Yeah!” she said. “That one guy, from that one show!”
“That’s the one! God, I was racking my brain with the other lady trying to think of it. What’s his name again?” She finished bagging my half-melted belongings and gawked at me in anticipation of validation.
“Shemar Moore,” I said.
“Yeah, him,” she finished up. “He’s very handsome. You should definitely take that as a compliment.”
Apparently I hadn’t sounded as enthused as I’d rehearsed in my head, but gave the proper response despite it: “Thank you, I do.”
“Have you heard it before?” she went on. I could actually feel the guy behind me cross his arms over his chest.
“I have, yes,” I sighed. “Quite a few times, actually.” The truth was once a month, at least. “I’ve thought of actually applying to the show as like, his long-lost brother or something.” The truth was I thought about kidnapping the man and stealing his identity and money.
“Oh, that’d be funny!” she went on, but the transaction was finished, and so was I. I inched forward to the end of the checkout and waited for the light to turn green. “That’ll be $15.93,” she said, all business now.
“Jesus,” I muttered, and pulled out my EBT card.
The man has haunted me for years now, stalking my taller, fuller-head of hair shadows as I strut through life in poverty and strife. Not only him though, but many other names and questions have followed close behind that have also parted the high seas of conversation. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson comes in close second place with his on and off again goatee and chiseled smile. “What are you mixed with?” is typically in a lagging third followed by a plethora of wrong guesses. Referencing my height, I get the “Did you play ball in high school?” Seeing my size, there’s the “Man, what are you on? You do steroids?” The list goes on and on.
I speak here, of course, of labels. And I know I am not the only one in the world who falls victim to familiarity, but I can only speak to my truth. It is a far too often occurrence in a media-driven society that one sees another and speaks out resemblance through insensitivity. This may be a blanket statement for that of an incident which sometimes can be just innocent fun and jest, but the repetitiveness is what really gets to me. Am I going to have to hear this for the rest of my life? If labels stand as labels, then the simple answer is yes.
On the lighter side of things, she was right about one thing, and my answer was no lie, I do take it as a compliment. The man has a pretty face, and if I can look like that at nearly 50 years old then God bless God (or mom and dad). One would just be surprised how many random people bring it up as if it really is just the right thing to bring up. They are in shock! They have never seen a celebrity lookalike before! And here I stand, Mr. Moore’s twin in full form! The awkward doppelganger who tries to play fully unaware that I’ve ever heard of the guy! But alas, they realize after they spill their revelation that it is still just me, Mr. Scott, and business continues as usual. It is a disappointing moment that holds true form, yet if one would just hold firm and see what’s deeper between the label and the man, then they may understand a more profound meaning to the connection between the two.
There are physical labels that will surround me my whole life, and I’ve accepted this, because it is just how the world works. I am black and tall, but I hate basketball. I am a man who likes sports, but do not know facts about them nor am I very good at them. Also, I know nothing about cars. I am muscular, but I have never seen or touched a steroid in my entire life. I do have a familiar face with a goatee, but I am not The Rock or Shemar Moore, or any other famous black guy with a goatee.
Then there are the hidden signs—the labels that some people see yet choose not to talk about. There is typically no need or want for others to point them out due to the extra pain behind the internal scars. With these, I feel the burdens of them on my shoulders without carrying that floating exclamation point over my head, like some character in that game The Sims in need of attention. Some can see it in my eyes, or others with the same label can spot it in an instant, but they are there, hidden amongst the rest. I am an ex-convict, who has paid my debt in full. I am an alcoholic and an addict, who is working a program of recovery. I am a man who is diagnosed with mental health issues, who also practices mental health cognizance. I am all of these things, but these things do not and will not ever fully define who I am. They are a part of what makes me whole and what has made my whole life happen how it has, but not wholly what makes me or has driven me to what I have become. There is an importance in seeing the power of these inner struggles and using that as a means of liberation. It is only by the act of acceptance of the existence of the demons that I have learned to control them for my own progressive gains.
So I leave you with a portion of what one of my labels—an actual idol of mine—recently said in his speech as he received the Generation Award from MTV. In it, he spoke about the power of self-acceptance and how instead of conforming to the world and its standard of practice, he conformed the world to him, never changing who he was, in order to reach his full potential in life:
“So, yes it’s important that you are your most authentic self. But that’s not enough. Because there’s another side to being your authentic self, your true self, and that’s the side that the magic is on. That’s the side that’s gold. And yes it’s important to be yourself but you gotta recognize the joy and the responsibility of bringing everybody with you. We bring everybody with us, and you do that by being kind, by being compassionate, by being inclusive, and straight-up just being good to people, because that matters. And if you can hit that place, that’s when you become powerful, that’s when you become influential, that’s when you can have real global influence in a positive way. So that’s it and I leave you with this — when I was 15 years old I heard a quote and I will never forget it, I bring it with me everywhere I go and it’s ingrained in my DNA. The quote is this: It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”Dwayne Johnson
The most powerful thing I can be is myself. It is the ultimate label. I would never change it for the world.
This means I’ll keep this face too.