Home Posts Please Don't Confuse Me With Other Black Women.
Please Don't Confuse Me With Other Black Women.
Women

Please Don't Confuse Me With Other Black Women.


I was chatting with a cashier at a food truck two years ago when the cook turned around and walked over to me with a smile, saying, "Hey, I know you! How's it going? Anika, right?" I guess he recognized me from high school and wanted to say hello.

Except I'm not Anika, a girl we both went to school with; we both have brown skin and dark hair, but that's about it. When I told him my name, he shrugged casually, as if he had accidentally handed me mustard instead of ketchup. I walked away knowing this wasn't an isolated incident.

In Grade 10, an 11th grader asked if she could borrow my mascara and foundation. I had never worn makeup in high school and told her I only had lip gloss. She glared at me and walked away. A friend later told me that the girl had previously borrowed Anika's makeup and now thought I was lying about who I was or that I was being rude by refusing her request.

Aside from my peers, teachers also called me and other brown students by our first names. One teacher would use Anika's name to refer to us both as if we were interchangeable, and when I pointed out that he had once mixed up our quiz scores, he ridiculed me in front of the class and claimed that I was just "upset about my grade."

In addition to being mistaken for my doppelgänger, Anika, I have an older sister who is several inches shorter and thinner than me. Despite this, some of our friends and classmates couldn't tell us apart, calling us "twins" or referring to me as "Oprah" or the "fat twin." I remember one guy grabbing my butt when I went to a school dance, calling me my sister's name and squeezing my hip.

I've often wondered what's going on in these cases: are some people truly incapable of distinguishing between people of different races than their own? Psychologists use the other-race effect to explain the tendency to recognize and recall faces of people of our own race more easily than those of a different race.

In one study, Caucasian babies as young as six months developed a tendency to recognize only Caucasian and Chinese faces, and by nine months, they recognized only Caucasian faces.

In one study, Caucasian babies as young as six months developed a tendency to recognize only Caucasian and Chinese faces, and by nine months, they recognized only Caucasian faces..Such facial recognition preferences were discovered to be absent at birth or even three months.

In one study, Caucasian babies as young as six months developed a tendency to recognize only Caucasian and Chinese faces, and by nine months, they recognized only Caucasian faces..Such facial recognition preferences were discovered to be absent at birth or even three months..According to the study, "very young infants have a broad face-processing system capable of processing faces from various ethnic groups."

In one study, Caucasian babies as young as six months developed a tendency to recognize only Caucasian and Chinese faces, and by nine months, they recognized only Caucasian faces..Such facial recognition preferences were discovered to be absent at birth or even three months..According to the study, "very young infants have a broad face-processing system capable of processing faces from various ethnic groups.".

In one study, Caucasian babies as young as six months developed a tendency to recognize only Caucasian and Chinese faces, and by nine months, they recognized only Caucasian faces..Such facial recognition preferences were discovered to be absent at birth or even three months..According to the study, "very young infants have a broad face-processing system capable of processing faces from various ethnic groups."..

In one study, Caucasian babies as young as six months developed a tendency to recognize only Caucasian and Chinese faces, and by nine months, they recognized only Caucasian faces..Such facial recognition preferences were discovered to be absent at birth or even three months..According to the study, "very young infants have a broad face-processing system capable of processing faces from various ethnic groups."...This system gradually becomes more sensitive to faces from an infant's own ethnic group between the ages of three and nine months, as a result of greater exposure to such faces than to faces from other racial groups.

In one study, Caucasian babies as young as six months developed a tendency to recognize only Caucasian and Chinese faces, and by nine months, they recognized only Caucasian faces..Such facial recognition preferences were discovered to be absent at birth or even three months..According to the study, "very young infants have a broad face-processing system capable of processing faces from various ethnic groups."...This system gradually becomes more sensitive to faces from an infant's own ethnic group between the ages of three and nine months, as a result of greater exposure to such faces than to faces from other racial groups..“It appears likely that face recognition reflects an experience-expectant process, whereby exposure to faces during a sensitive period of development likely leads to perceptual and cortical specialization,” according to another study.

In one study, Caucasian babies as young as six months developed a tendency to recognize only Caucasian and Chinese faces, and by nine months, they recognized only Caucasian faces..Such facial recognition preferences were discovered to be absent at birth or even three months..According to the study, "very young infants have a broad face-processing system capable of processing faces from various ethnic groups."...This system gradually becomes more sensitive to faces from an infant's own ethnic group between the ages of three and nine months, as a result of greater exposure to such faces than to faces from other racial groups..“It appears likely that face recognition reflects an experience-expectant process, whereby exposure to faces during a sensitive period of development likely leads to perceptual and cortical specialization,” according to another study.."

But just because our experiences or, in this case, lack of experiences with races other than our own shape our tendencies, it doesn't mean we can't overcome our learned biases. Up until my eighth birthday, I was surrounded primarily by Black and brown people, with the exception of my school principal.

As the only brown kid in my grade, I didn't want to risk being ostracized if I mixed up Melanie and Melissa. It may sound like I'm being facetious, but I'm not.

In university, I had a re-enactment of the Anika makeup incident, but this time it was about econ notes, and I was called a "bitch" for not lending them to a classmate, despite the fact that I never took an econ class in college.

Later, when I first started working, I was mistaken for another coworker, and that incident gave the resident bully ammunition to isolate me by leaving me off important emails or crediting someone else for my work.

Reporter Michelle Ye Hee Lee wrote about the impact of being mistaken for other Asian American journalists. “Whether the person acted maliciously or not, the effect is the same: It erases my body of work for someone else, simply because their ancestors were born on the same continent as mine,” Lee wrote.

Mistaking a person's identity, even when unintentional, is at best lazy, but these seemingly innocuous errors can have serious consequences, ranging from incorrectly identifying the perpetrator in eyewitness lineups to police racial profiling of Black people.

When I wrote about name mispronunciation, students and professors contacted me with stories of being mistaken for their peers. Students would receive emails or texts clearly intended for someone else. Furthermore, being in positions of high visibility didn't protect professors from coworkers who insisted they said something they hadn't.

For years, a colleague in another office would insist to my boss that he knew me from undergrad despite the fact that we had never met; my boss assumed I was just forgetful. I am guilty of forgetting or mixing up names, but not when it comes to people I know and have interacted with repeatedly.

Such incidents make me feel as if I'm walking through a haze of amnesia, but the joke is on me. It's the ultimate in gaslighting when people try to convince us we're someone other than ourselves, remembering us from the nail salon where we never worked, complimenting us on the coconut curry dish we never made, or confusing us with our light-skinned classmate with short hair and glasses.

Is it possible that the person is from our past and we simply do not remember them? Or is it possible that some people are focusing solely on the most convenient shorthand available — our race and skin color? Their slow and steady erasure of our identity renders us invisible.

When people try to persuade us that we're not ourselves, it's the ultimate form of gaslighting: they remember us from the nail salon where we never worked, compliment us on the coconut curry dish we never made, or confuse us with our light-skinned classmate with short hair and glasses.

So much of what is happening in the world right now in terms of race has to do with the fact that Black, brown, and Asian people do not feel truly seen by white people. If we are seen, we are lumped together, confused for one another, ignored, written off as being "all the same," or otherwise othered.

Publicity

Still, while some people see me as "the other" or "an outsider," I don't believe the other-race effect is always motivated by racism or bigotry. Phrases like "I don't see race" or "we are all one race" don't alleviate the emotional toll of being treated differently because we look different.

If you make a mistake, don't dismiss it by saying, "I'm terrible with names or faces." If you're uncomfortable, we are as well. If you're embarrassed, tell us. Resist the urge to laugh or shrug it off. If you pay attention and get to know us, you'll discover that I'm more like Rose than Blanche.

Nandini Maharaj, Ph.D., is a freelance writer who focuses on mental health, career, identity, and relationships. Her work has appeared in Stardia Canada, Animal Wellness, POPSUGAR, and Introvert, Dear, and she has three dogs, Dally, Rusty, and Frankie.

Do you have a compelling personal story that you'd like to see published on Stardia? Find out what we're looking for here, and then send us a pitch!

0 Comments
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published, Required fields are marked with *.