I’ve always been the odd man out. And surprisingly, not because I was one of few black faces amongst the homogenous crowd through much of my life. It’s because I’ve always towered over everyone I’ve come into contact with including my own parents. By the time I was 12 years old, I was already 6 feet tall. At 31, I’ve topped out at 6’3”. So we’re not talking about Yao Ming here. I’m not banging my head on the door frame every time I enter a room. Nor do I wear some absurd shoe size like a 17 that I have to special order or buy from the ugly sale rack of ginormous kicks at some shoe warehouse emporium. But I’m still tall enough to be considered above average. And because of this, it’s opened me up to a whole new category of social annoyances and generalizations.
Like the weather, complete strangers never seem to tire of talking to me about my height. According to numerous random Internet sources, the average height of men worldwide is 5’9”. So yes, I’m taller than the dude next door. Yes, I stick out in a crowd of average joes. But I’m not a giant or an NBA player.
Speaking of NBA players, I spent most of college making mean-spirited jokes about what people thought of my height. I often joked that I was the only black person at my college that wasn’t there on a basketball scholarship. I attended a small private college in Florida with a predominantly white population. And of the handful of black kids on campus, I was the only one I knew of that was there on academic scholarships. I felt that joking about the stereotype, that tall, black guys all play basketball, was a way to laugh off the ignorance instead of getting angry. I’m sure I would’ve made a great basketball player, but I refused to apply myself. I was exhausted with the stereotype long before I even got through middle school. So sucking at basketball was one way to give the middle finger to everyone that repeatedly asked me why such a tall person didn’t play basketball. I can proudly say that now, as an adult, there isn’t a coordinated bone in my body that could even make it through a pickup game.
"I felt that joking about the stereotype, that tall, black guys all play basketball, was a way to laugh off the ignorance instead of getting angry."
Sure, there are some inconveniences that come about because of my height. I have to duck under the exit sign at the gym locker room. When a person reclines the seat in front of me on an airplane, they’re practically resting their head in my lap. I have to stand up completely every time someone needs to walk down the aisle at the movies. But for the most part, these issues are minor, and the daily life I lead is no different than anyone else’s.
Where my life differs is the constant assumptions people make. Not only do I have to simply exist as a tall, black person. But I have to talk about it all the time too. It makes sense in a place like Tokyo where I am clearly an outsider. But at home in the states, where kids grow up worshipping basketball players that are 6’6” and taller, I seem to face the most ignorance.
Of course, there’s the conversation about why I didn’t play basketball. This was asked more often by other black people than anyone else. Then, there’s the group of people who never seem to grow tired of pointing out how tall I am even though we’ve known each other for ages. And there’s always the assumption that because I’m tall and black, I have a big penis. While it’s not a bad thing for people to assume about me, and I’m not going to confirm either way, it’s evidence of racial stereotypes. It’s a stereotype that I encountered as early as high school.
"Was there some secret middle school course that taught kids about racial stereotypes? "
Like much of my life, I went to high school in a predominantly white area. So how did the hell did everyone possess this inside knowledge about black guys’ dick sizes? Was there some secret middle school course that taught kids about racial stereotypes? My dick size was discussed so often in high school that I had nicknames based on it (the lovely acronym BCJ or Big Cock Jeff). At the time, I actually thought it was funny. And I even chuckled a little bit as I was writing it. But what I later realized was I was being stereotyped. Hard. And like a young asshole, I laughed right along with everyone else. There, in the high school cafeteria during countless comedy-filled lunch periods, was the perpetuation of racial stereotypes that I would grow to hate.
Of course, I didn’t go to high school in the #blacklivesmatter era. And I was never the victim of outright racism or discrimination. You could even say that I’m being too sensitive and that kids don’t know any better at that age. But they had to learn these ideas somewhere. And they had to grow up in an environment where they felt comfortable sharing and repeating them. And though I didn’t recognize it at the time, I was being hit with stereotype after stereotype from all sides. The disbelief from my own family and community that I never picked up basketball and was wasting my height. The high school stereotypes about my genitals. The seemingly constant conversation about my height with every stranger I encountered. People like to bring it up as though it’s some kind of defect.
"I was being hit with stereotype after stereotype from all sides."
I love my height. And the people it’s connected me with. And the clothes it allows me to wear. And the role it’s played in my life and identity. I just want people to know that, like anyone else of any height or race or background, I don’t fit into any one mold. Just because you can see that I’m tall doesn’t mean you know anymore about me than I know about you. Don’t stereotype. Don’t generalize. We all deserve a shot at defining our own characters for strangers without them constructing their own narratives. The only thing you know about me is that I can see the top of your head. I’ll fill you in on the rest.