Mistaken identity, part 387

A Chinese American journalist on an interview is assumed to be making a food delivery.  Thomas Lee reported that he was wearing a dress shirt, black slacks and black dress shoes.  When he later related this story to others, he was given advice about how to avoid being mistaken for the delivery guy:

Worse yet, people offered me tips on how I could avoid this problem in the future, as if I was somehow to blame. Wear a jacket. Carry a briefcase. Walk differently.

If people can make excuses for why you were mistaken for somebody else, they can refuse to see racism.  I’ve worn the jacket.  I’ve worn the suit.  I’ve carried the briefcase.  And I’ve still had white people try to hand me their dirty dishes in a restaurant.  I waited over an hour for a job interview because nobody thought I could possibly be the candidate.  And if you read this thread, you’ll see that this is a common experience for people of color.

It doesn’t matter how you’re dressed, because your race is sometimes the only thing white people can see.  Formal wear doesn’t even help the situation.  A friend was at a big-deal dinner function (which I won’t name for the sake of his privacy) when he was asked when he was going to bring the beer in.  Apparently a scheduled delivery of cases of bottled beer had not yet arrived.

It’s funny, you might have the experience of being mistaken for the Chinese food delivery guy.  And it might just seem to be an incident in isolation.  You have all those other experiences, and if you talk about them white people might try to tell you that it’s just you.  Heck, even sometimes people of color will try to tell you this.

Because of course, most people don’t see race.

If you believe these are isolated incidents and the reaction you get to them is of disbelief, you might be less inclined to share.

But we have to share.  We have to talk about race.

I think the most amazing thing about the internet is being able to connect with other people of color.  People often blog more openly than they converse.  They tell stories that maybe never have been told in public before.

And although hearing others’ accounts of racism is upsetting, it does make me feel better to realize on a deeper level that it isn’t just me.  It allows me to throw off the belief that these things that happen are just isolated incidents.  It allows me to reject the internalized racism that insidiously whispered that it’s all my fault.

Make no mistake.  Mistaken identity is about systemic racism.  It’s about assumed white supremacy.  And the reactions to it from the white majority are about denial.

Time to yank the blinders away.  Because we see race.

Thanks to Angry Asian Man for the original story link.

4 thoughts on “Mistaken identity, part 387

  1. A hypothetical of what you’re describing is actually one of the examples I use when I’m trying to explain white privilege to white people (I’m also white). I’ve found that white people who aren’t educated about privilege often bring up the whole “but I was oppressed too because I was poor” aspect, so I’ll say, “Okay, here’s the thing. If you were obviously poor and at a country club, people would probably assume you’re a server. But if you were obviously rich and at a country club, nobody’s going to assume you’re a server. But if you’re a person of color and you’re at a country club, even if you’re obviously rich and dressed just as well as all the white people there, there’s still going to be people assuming you’re a server and asking where their drinks are. Even if a PoC has ‘class privilege’ – which means they’re rich or at least upper-middle-class – that still never erases their lack of race privilege. They will always be seen first and foremost as a PoC. You, on the other hand, get to bypass that; someone may judge you on your clothes or other visible markers of wealth, but they’re not going to judge you on the color of your skin. That’s part of white privilege.”

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