Whistling Vivaldi

An African-American man, Staples recounted how his physical presence terrified whites as he moved about Chicago as a free citizen and graduate student. To counter the negative effects of white fear, he took to whistling Vivaldi. It was a signal to the unvictimized victims of his blackness that he was safe. Dangerous black men do not listen to classical music, or so the hope goes. The incongruence between Staples’ musical choices and the stereotype of him as a predator were meant to disrupt the implicit, unexamined racist assumptions about him. It seems an annoying daily accommodation, perhaps, an attempt to make whites feel at ease to grease the wheels of social interactions—unless we fully recognize the potential consequences of white dis-ease for black lives.

–          Whistling Vivaldi by Claude Steele, Provost at Columbia University

I understand this sentiment all too well, as though I’m an African-American female, there are ways that I feel that I am a recipient of White Privilege. In the same way that this gentleman whistled Vivaldi in order to lessen others’ fears, sometimes I wonder if people’s awareness of my transracial adoptee status and primarily Caucasian upbringing make me seem more approachable?

I can’t help but think of the now deceased Jonathan Ferrell, and the tragedy in his death. Had he whistled Vivaldi, or been a known female trans-racial adoptee raised by Caucasian parents, would that have helped him to be alive today?

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