Like most people, I only really know what it’s like to be me. Let’s start there.
In my case that means a multiple-ethnicity American who most take for Anglo or white.
The first time this happened my internal reaction was: what is it about me that makes you think I feel that way? I was amazed at how much certainty they had about who I was and what my opinions were, despite knowing absolutely nothing but my appearance.
Unable to be quiet about it, I looked for ways to counter these mistaken assumptions about my point of view without getting confrontational about it. To a woman who complained about “all these foreigners” who had altered the no-longer predominantly white culture of L.A., I smiled and said “But that’s the best part about being in L.A, all the people who have come here from across the globe.”
The point is we categorize others and assume we know who they are based on how they look—to us. It’s our shorthand way of moving through the world and quickly identifying who and what is in our environment.
We are walking taxonomies of other people’s natures, except here’s what I think: I think the information most of us have filed away under these headings is not based on careful observation of other people but on careful documentation of our reactions to them. The problem is there is a world of difference between the two.