Because of a change of address and a mix-up due to a two-year-old insurance issue, there was a period of time a couple years ago when I was driving around with an expired registration sticker. It was only for a week or so, but considering how often I’d randomly get followed by the cops, I spent that entire week on pins and needles, feverishly checking my rear view to make sure none were behind me. (My plan if I did happen to get followed? Park very quickly. Reason #3673 why I wouldn’t have been a very good career criminal.)
I didn’t get stopped (or even followed). But you know what did happen? I started noticing all the other cars on the road with expired inspection or registration stickers. My own self-consciousness made me hyper-vigilant to everyone else’s “flaws.”
This thought process isn’t particularly unique. Self-consciousness has a way of making you more aware of others who might share your trait. If you left the house in a rush and didn’t have time to iron, you’re more likely to notice other’s wrinkles. When I was young and self-conscious about the size and shape of my head, I picked up on things other people did to try to conceal their own heads. (“You’re not fooling anyone. I know you don’t like hats that much.“) And tell me I’m not the only one who bought a pair of sneakers, and immediately started seeing more and more of them on everyone’s feet.
What you realize eventually — well, what you hopefully realize eventually — is that no one really cares that much. Your self-consciousness about your slightly wrinkled blouse is entirely in your own head. Other people — even people who might notice the wrinkles — don’t care about it as much as you do. But you know what does make people care? When you’re so self-conscious, so obsessed with how you’re perceived that it affects how you think and act. The deeper you get in your own head, the more likely people will follow you there.
Ernest Baker, a Black man whose 565,000 word long tome on why he dates White women was published on Gawker yesterday, isn’t the first and won’t be the last person who feels obligated to explain his attraction to a person of another race. And I get it. I’m sure his dating habits have made him the target of some stares and some comments, and I understand the want to make clear that it’s possible to be attracted to White women and Black women at the same time. Dating a “Susan” doesn’t automatically make you unattracted to and uninterested in a “Shanae.”
What Baker and others like him don’t seem to realize, though, is that the interracial self-consciousness creates a self-fulfilling prophesy. They project their obsession with how their relationships are perceived onto others, making them believe everyone is as conscious of their coupling as they are. But, people only really start to care when they start believing and acting like everyone already cares.