They All Look Alike to Us….

Here’s why Asians all look alike to me.

* cough *

Well then.  That certainly wasn’t the way to start.  Let’s try again.

I believe there is some truth to the old stereotype that the typical white American finds it hard to differentiate the distinguishing characteristics of non-European nationalities.  (Ok, well at least that sentence covers what seems overtly racist with pseudo-intellectualized babble.)

It basically boils down to this: America, as the melting pot, has quite a wide variety of people. Black hair, blond hair, brown hair, blue eyes, green eyes, brown eyes, tall, short, black, white, etc.  I think as Americans, we tend to focus on what the obvious differences are – hair color, eye color, height, skin color, accessories such as glasses – as opposed to more subtle differences in actual physiognomy and facial characteristics.  Quite simply, we don’t need to “go that far” to quickly ascribe and make a mental notes to identify someone’s appearance.  This quick categorization doesn’t work as well in somewhere like China, where characteristics like hair color and eye color are widely shared.

Why in the world am I bringing this up?  Well, I was looking back over some pictures and came across my “costume” for last Halloween.  In fact, it’s kind of my staple costume, because I already had every single piece of it, and I’m a cheap, cheap person who doesn’t like to spend money on things like Halloween costumes.  This costume, though, is particularly annoying, because it plays right into my above-stated theory of Americans not really paying attention to what people’s faces look like.  It’s like when someone tells you, “Oh…you look exactly like [insert random actor here]!” when, in fact, you really look nothing like that person.  (And even if the person really does look like the actor, this is a dangerous road to go down.  No one wants to be reminded that they look exactly like Ernest Borgnine, regardless of how cool he was in Airwolf.)

My “costume” is simply what I usually wear: Grey pants, white shirt, blue jacket.  Except I put a Verizon tag on my jacket and hold my phone.

Yes, I can hear you now. And no...I've never heard that one before.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Laugh it up, chuckles.  But I think this illustrates my point.  If you take away the glasses and black hair, I look nothing like the Verizon guy.  Yet every time I go somewhere after I wear that get-up, I have to endure scores of people holding up their hands to their ears and giving me that wink-wink nudge-nudge look.

When you look at a country like Japan or the throng of lobotomized guitar players in a Robert Palmer video we Americans feel they all look similar.  It’s because we’re stripped of the factors we normal use to formulate out mental distinctions between people.

So I can hardly be held responsible when I make hideously inappropriate and wild, “Ugly American” statements like “they all look alike to me.”  It’s not my fault.  I blame society.

Author’s note: Please realize that I only make the above statements as a tongue-in-cheek way of making a broader point.  I do not think that the beautiful, distinct, and lovely individuals who make up a larger group of people all look or act the same.  I’m sorry I have to make this overly literal disclaimer, but I do know I have some international readers.  And as we all know, other countries are inferior and none of them are equipped with a sense of humor. TW

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2 Responses to They All Look Alike to Us….

  1. Leisha says:

    I have to point out that in Africa, most white people look alike. When I got to Shirati, there was this med student here from CA. She was about 22, short, petite, blond, perky, named Jeannie, and people kept telling me I looked like her. Other people couldn’t tell the difference between me and the 50-something year old, pudgy, mom-jeans chaperone with short dark curly hair.

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