Raise Your Hand If You’ve Ever Been Mistaken For Nalo (or Chip, or Octavia…)

Raise Your Hand If You've Ever Been Mistaken For Nalo (or Chip, or Octavia...)

I was just reading this excellent entry by Pam Noles. There’s a rather long sidetrack in there about being mistaken for Whoopi Goldberg often and in public and also being mistaken for Nalo Hopkinson at SF cons/events. There’s some verbiage in there about why the latter ends up being more annoying than the former.

Whenever I go to a con, I can usually count on at least one person mistaking me for some other black person, be they Nalo or just some black woman who is also at the con. Apparently at last year’s World Fantasy people kept confusing N K Jemisin with Alaya Dawn Johnson and Doselle Young with David Anthony Durham.

Yes, I am being serious.

I find this equal parts funny and annoying. Some days I just laugh, some days I’m like, “Really, people? REALLY?”

Anyway, I fall on the side of being slightly amused by this today, so I wrote a silly poll (ETA: poll taken down because the plugin is ass). Just how widespread is this phenomenon? How many people experience it, and where? Who do they think you are if they don’t think you’re you?

And also, when Nalo is around, who do they think she is?

15 thoughts on “Raise Your Hand If You’ve Ever Been Mistaken For Nalo (or Chip, or Octavia…)

  1. It happens to me as a white, tall, overweight, balding, male fan with a goatee. There are enough of us around that people mistake us for one another.

    People really need to read name tags, its one of the great things about cons.

    I have good facial recognition but in my line of work I encounter many people who cannot tell me apart from my only other male coworker who is clean shaven with a pony tail while I am bald with a goatee. So I am not surprised that people who don’t read your name tag think you are someone else.

  2. Oh, and your poll needs to be the checkbox kind, because I need to select multiple answers. =P

    (And don’t forget how you and I met — I walked up to you and bet you and I would be mistaken for each other at Readercon one year.)

  3. No, no, Alaya got mistaken for me at WFC. I got mistaken for Nalo Hopkinson. Which should make me proud; at least I got mistaken for an award-winning published writer. She just got mistaken for… me. HA HA HA!!

  4. I have non-verbal learning disorder, a kissing cousin to the autistic spectrum. It gives me poor facial recognition, a bad memory, and difficulty recognising things out of context. If I see a photograph of a stranger, I probably won’t be able to identify the person in the flesh. I once stared blankly at a boyfriend of many years for about five minutes before he came over to ask me what the hell was up. But he was somewhere I’d never seen him before, so I simply hadn’t recognized him. I’d been thinking, gee, that guy looks like my boyfriend… On the plus side, I’m really good at language skills. :)

    People used to come up to me at cons and ask whether I was Octavia Butler. Which isn’t quite the same as mistaking me for her. I figure that most of them had never seen Octavia, but knew that she was black. But it does say something about diversity at cons that they figured (quite correctly) that the odds were high that the first black female they ran into might be Octavia. So yes, it is irritating. Nowadays I try to bear in mind that a *lot* of people in SF/F community have similar brain maps to mine. There are days we wouldn’t recognize our own mothers. So I try to take a deep breath and be gentle about correcting them.

    A few years ago at Wiscon, most of the con attendees were gathered in the big hall, waiting for the Tiptree auction to start. I was looking for my friend Carol, who was somewhere in the audience. After a few moments of not being able to see her, I realised I was doing what I usually do at a con when I’m looking for a brown-skinned person; doing a broad scan over the sea of whiteness until the first patch of brown popped up. Only this time it wasn’t working, because there may have been, oh, ten black women among the hundreds of people in the audience. That’s like, five times more than I usually expect to see! A luta continua.

  5. Tempest,

    Just for the record, I was mistaken for Doselle AND for Minister Faust. Actually, I was mistaken for Minister Faust in the same room he was in AFTER he had just spoken for about an hour and was still essentially on stage – while I was in the back of the room. It was surreal enough that all I really had to do was stop the guy talking to me and point.

    “The black man you think you’re talking to is over there. Thanks.”

  6. Oh, I like Foxessa’s entry! No one EVER thinks I am anyone famous, but people OFTEN think I am Hispanic. It’s kind of funny when elderly Puerto Rican men chew me out for my crappy Spanish. Not so funny when people want to go down some racist diatribe “on” me.

    And yet, in spite of this, in spite of the “What are you?”s and the like, I have also had NUMEROUS white people ANGRILY tell me I’m white (yep, part white, but why would other white folks be so angry at me for it?)

    Related to the post, but not my comments above, I have also committed some HEINOUS name interchanges. I work with exactly TWO Black women, they are nothing alike, and I have switched their names a twice. I was HORRIFIED and embarassed both times, because there is no GOOD reason to do this. If I had mixed names with someone I work with a LOT, someone with a similar job or personality, then OK, just human, But nope, these two women have only two things in common that I know of – they work with me and are Black (I think they’re around the same age too, but so is nearly everyone else). So clearly, I still have work to do, besides just not just perpetuating my family’s 3 generations of lying about part of our heritage.

    *sigh* Sorry, that was kind of random. I just wonder how brain *and mouth* can make a racist default thing like that happen, when I KNOW better on so many levels? Trust me, I would never pretend it was okay or even understandable…

    1. That white sf writer instructing me about what it meant to be ‘black’ was just like earlier in my day all these male men instructing me, a woman, about what it means, and how to be, a feminist. It was equally infuriating and depressing. O, and just because a woman speaks Spanish doesn’t automatically make Afro-Latin. But hey, that’s just too refined a distinction for your know-it-all guy to be bothered with.

      1. It’s fascinating how men know all about what it means to be female…of course, that’s probably the whole issue: “I am soooo priviledged, let me tell you how “enlightened” I am about who YOU should be!”

        I am about a quarter Cherokee (both grandpa’s were half). Seriously. And I have dealt with much annoying “exoticsim.” It’s weird. I can’t imagine how annoying this gets for people with browner skin.

  7. People who never met me in person have thought I was African American or Afro-Latin. One writer had a hissy fit when he was informed him otherwise. He’d wasted all that precious energy of his, you see, informing me about all things ‘black.’

  8. I’ve been mistaken for you more than once, as well as other black women at the event. I used to be confused with Darkrosetiger (when she lived in my area). I’m regularly confused with the other couple of black female fans in my town/con circuit. I was recently confused with a friend of mine who is about a foot taller than me, has a gender presentation opposite of mine, and a short afro (as opposed to my mop top). When I was in the SCA I was regularly confused with a black woman who was about a foot taller than me and who did a different period (Elizabethan not Tudor).

  9. I admit I have I horrible habit mixing up people names, moreso then their faces. I remember faces really well, I suck remembering names. Someday I think I’m lucky to remember my own name.

    1. I was thinking there is a difference between “i’ve forgotten your name and I know your face” and “I have confused you with the other brown person at the event.” I mean, we all have moments where our brain freezes, we flub names, etc. But then, oh then are the times when it’s clear someone just isn’t paying attention.

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