So why is the book entitled Whistling Vivaldi? The somewhat mysterious reference is inspired by a story once told by Steele’s friend Brent Staples, a writer for The New York Times. Staples described how, as a young African American graduate student living in Chicago, he found that whites sometimes seemed fearful as he approached them while walking down the street. Over time, he found himself whistling Vivaldi as he walked past, as a way to prevent others from seeing him through the lens of a negative stereotype about young African American men and proneness to violence. His whistling of classical music suggested that the stereotype did not apply to him, and that he was a man of education, “culture,” and “class.” The story is a moving one. It captures the burden of being in situations where we are subject to stereotypes, and also the remarkable capability we have to function in the face of them, albeit at a cost for our mental and psychic resources. Vivaldi probably couldn’t have composed the “Four Seasons” (or solved any difficult math problems) if he’d had to whistle Corelli at the same time.
From The Situationist about Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi and Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us. (Hat tip for the link to @ruxandarale)