Guest Blogger Mean Asian Girl: Oh? No! Or, Why I didn’t participate in the Facebook doppelganger meme

You may remember friend of SP Mean Asian Girl from her previous guest post, The Fantasy of Being White. We loved that post so much that we asked her to weigh in on that most vexing of seemingly innocuous little internet games: the Facebook celebrity twin meme. Thanks, MAG! — Sweet Machine

Oh? No!

Or, Why I didn’t participate in the Facebook doppelganger meme

By Mean Asian Girl

(with a little help from the SP crew)

When I first heard about the Facebook celebrity doppelganger meme, my first thought was, “Where do I find a picture of [Asian woman most recently and/or frequently seen by whomever I’m speaking to]?”

See, because I’ve been told I look like several different people, the most recent being Sandra Oh. Most of you don’t know what I look like, but suffice it to say, not like Sandra Oh. My friend Charles, who is black*, and happens to think Sandra Oh is hot, doesn’t see any resemblance at all. Then again, Charles’ opinion of Oh may be in the minority.

OK, let me digress for a moment. I googled Sandra Oh, expecting the first thing to pop up would be her IMDB profile. Before I finished typing, the first suggestion that popped up was “Sandra Oh ugly.” Which was where I found that Asian Bite website. So maybe the whole idea of anyone trying to pay me a compliment is not the case. I am tempted to start a discussion of whether people think Oh’s very Korean-ness is what makes her ugly. Maybe some other time. I’m a bit too stunned at the moment.

But anyway, years and years ago, someone told me I looked just like the girl in “Karate Kid II,” who, if you notice, does not look very much like Sandra Oh. In fairness, I probably look more like Sandra Oh than like Tamlyn Tomita.

As it turned out, the very cool women here at Shapely Prose were having their own discussion of the racial/ethnic-fail aspects of the doppelganger meme and were kind enough to invite me to join in.

Eventually, we touched on how Janet Jackson and Kristy McNichol have the same face, Elvin from the Cosby Show, the appropriate celebrity doppelganger for Kate’s husband Al, and a staged reading of The Big Lebowski, but prior to that, we made some more serious observations about white privilege and doppelgangers.

And first, we agreed that I look nothing like Sandra Oh.

“This seems like one of those Facebook exercises that’s mostly about a certain kind of girl getting to wank about how hot she is without looking conceited,” Kate said. But fair enough, I guess. If someone told you you looked like Anne Hathaway, or Blake Lively, or, for that matter, Penelope Cruz or Halle Berry, wouldn’t you want to tell people?

Problem is, if we’re talking about Hollywood stars, or even prominent women known by most U.S. residents in general, the pool gets awfully shallow if you’re not white. Kate told me, “I can think of like four Asian-American actresses off the top of my head, and none of them, except possibly Keiko Agena**, have characteristics I could see as part of a recipe for you.”

Part of a recipe. Sure. But we can’t do collage profile pictures. Or at least I can’t. So I have to settle for what other people think. Because, really, what most people see when they look at me is that I’m Asian, I have epicanthic folds over my eyelids, flattish face, black hair, etc. And what do you know? Sandra Oh also has epicanthic eyelids, a flattish face and black hair! So does Tamlyn Tomita! Though, actually, based on the Tamlyn Tomita comparison, they’re not even paying particularly close attention to my hair.

At some level, it’s a version of the “All you [insert racial/ethnic group here] look alike.” I once worked at a news service with two African-American women, Robin and Debbie. Robin was probably 5-2, close-cropped hair, round face and very loud and outgoing. Debbie was 5-6, longer hair, thin face and quiet. They did not start working there anywhere near the same time, nor did they cover the same beat. Yet, they constantly got called each other’s names. I guess they did have similar skin tones. Any of you who do not have similar stories have either never worked with more than one minority or have worked in remarkably enlightened workplaces.

Of course, it’s not just about skin color and ethnicity. Kate knows a couple of dark-haired fat women who wanted to go as Pat Benatar for Halloween, but didn’t because everyone would assume they were Beth Ditto. I mean, you’re fat, you’re a rock chick … duh. Fillyjonk mentioned how people told her she looked like Kate Winslet when Winslet was in her relatively fat*** state

I am in no way saying there was malicious intent behind the doppelganger meme, and clearly, as oppression goes, it ain’t exactly Jim Crow. I’m just saying, well, maybe I should point you all to Sepia Mutiny for a little more perspective. If I may digress a bit, the line “If only you weren’t so dark, you’d be so pretty,” is horrifying. But maybe I’m still hung up on the “Ugly Sandra Oh” issue.

If you don’t feel like reading through that whole post, try Fillyjonk, who puts the matter pretty succinctly for a privileged white girl:

“Getting told you look like someone who has nothing in common with you besides skin color and body type is bad enough,” she said. “But getting told you look like someone who has nothing in common with you besides skin color, period, elides your actual features even more.”

To take that a step further, when someone – inevitably white — says, “I don’t see race,” if much of society sees you only as race, then they don’t see you.

*I mention this for no reason other than to wonder if perhaps this is a white thing. I’m not sure any person of color has told me I look like Sandra Oh, including, obviously, anyone Asian.

**Though I had seen “Gilmore Girls” once or twice, I had no idea who Keiko Agena was until Kate mentioned her. I am old compared to the SP crew, esp. when you consider that I saw “Karate Kid II” when it came out in theaters.

***i.e., Hollywood fat

357 thoughts on “Guest Blogger Mean Asian Girl: Oh? No! Or, Why I didn’t participate in the Facebook doppelganger meme

  1. To take that a step further, when someone – inevitably white — says, “I don’t see race,” if much of society sees you only as race, then they don’t see you.

    God this is brilliant.

  2. Hmm, I have the dubious honor of being only Half-Filipino and constantly mistaken as Hispanic (by the Hispanic community no less) or Native American or anything other than Asian/Filipino. I had refused to participate in the specific celebrity doppelganger meme until someone told me I looked like Janeane Garofalo. I could get behind that, I suppose. Dark hair, dark(ish) coloring, round face. Hell we even have similar tempraments/senses of humor, so in my mind I could at least justify the comparison beyond looks. Anyway, I found a stunning photo of her and pulled it down after a few days because I couldn’t handle looking at it anymore. I’m not anywhere near as beautiful as she was in that picture and I felt guilty for passing myself off as that.

    I should have stuck to my guns and avoided the whole thing. I am also, painfully, aware of the fact that most non-Asians can’t seem to tell the difference between Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc. etc. etc. I don’t fault anyone for not knowing I’m Filipino (most Filipinos can’t tell), but saying “You remind me of so-and-so” just because you’re both Asian is stupid.

    On the other hand I got reprimanded at an old job several years ago because I got the names of two hispanic men in my location mixed up and mentioned off-hand that I always get names mixed up. First off, they were the only two men in our location period. Secondly, I always get MEN’S names mixed up. I lived with two male friends for two years and constantly mixed them up in my mind. Race wasn’t an issue, but my off-hand comment made it SOUND like a race issue. I know it’s not always that way, but sometimes there are other factors.

  3. I’m with Fillyjonk – that line is pretty spectacular.

    As a privileged white girl who didn’t know about the doppelganger game until it was over (or is it over?), I don’t really have anything to add other than this post was awesome and I wish I could print it out and distribute it to my very privilege-blind classmates (the kind who think “white guilt” counts as systemic racial discrimination, and who aren’t kidding when they say that).

    Also, why do people think Sandra Oh is ugly? I don’t see it.

  4. As an Asian in college, during the celebrity doppelganger meme I got told most often by white friends that I look like Mulan or Lucy Liu. Neither Mulan nor Lucy Liu look ANYTHING like me at all. For heaven’s sake. Mulan is a cartoon character.

    Also, in precepts where I am one of two or three Asians, the preceptor invariably confuses us right until the end of the semester.

  5. I’ve been told that I look like Halle Berry. I don’t. At all. We’re both black though. I usually look people in the eye and tell them that they’re wrong.

    I don’t use facebook, but when I heard about this meme, I just thought “hm, I could pick any random black woman and no one would know the difference.”

    I have had two friends tell me though that they think that white people look different from one another, but people of other races don’t look different from others of their race. (Yes, one of my close friends of three years runs up to other black women on our campus shouting my name.)

    I also think this is interesting, because I often see more clear resemblances between people who are different races and everyone tells me I’m crazy.

  6. I didn’t participate because, frankly, the only person I look like is my mother. And I’m not a huge fan of FB despite being on it every day. Well written and thought provoking. Thank you, Mean Asian Girl.

  7. At some level, it’s a version of the “All you [insert racial/ethnic group here] look alike.” …Yet, they constantly got called each other’s names. I guess they did have similar skin tones.

    Oh my God- last semester in one of my very large classes, among the people who regularly spoke in class were three Latina girls who looked and sounded nothing alike. And yet, every single time she called on any one of them, the professor would call Yvonne Stephanie, Stephanie Diana, and Diana Yvonne. One day she actually said out loud, “I always get you three confused, I guess I just have a block!” Um. What?

  8. I had a tough time with that meme because it just didn’t seem like there were many options for POC, namely because there are not that many famous POC to choose from relative to white famous people. Black folks had it easier than some – and many of my black friends participated (my mom does look like Erykah Badu). But I noted that only one of my Asian friends took part – he posted a picture of the devil. My husband (often mistaken for Chinese or Filipino, but is neither) commented that maybe the reason no one has ever told me I look like a black celebrity is because so many black female celebrities have white features. He suggested I look at photos of famous latina women because, in his view, “they’re allowed to have rounder faces and thicker features.” I’m still mulling over whether that is true.

    Re telling the difference between Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc: I struggle to know if this is racism or cultural. I can usually tell Chinese people apart from Koreans and Japanese folks, but honestly cannot tell if someone is Japanese vs Korean. Hubby and I took the test at alllooksame.com and I scored 33%. He was at 50%. And his mother is Japanese! But neither of us grew up in Asian communities. I’m more familiar with Pakistanis, Indians, Iranians, Bangladeshis, etc. because of my upbringing. And of course, I have no problem telling black people apart. It’s a real source of embarrassment for me that I often confuse middle aged white men and women with each other. I think there’s a part of me that doesn’t always really *see* them, but instead is either listening to them or seeing their “role” or status in the community. I get mistaken for other black women frequently and it’s annoying because I think there is incredible diversity among black women.

    I once was at an event where a black female singer – at least 10 years old than me, at least 100 pounds heavier, with tremendous hair, and dressed in an elaborate performance outfit – was singing opera. About ten minutes after her piece ended, I was exiting at the back of the hall with hundreds of other audience members, when a white woman ran right up to me, grabbed my arm, and gushed over my breathtaking performance.

  9. I didn’t participate in that meme for a number of reasons, but this gave me some more to add to the list.

    Reading this reminded me of something which happened when I was 14. It’s not a story I’m proud of but it was maybe the first time I realised that as a skinny white girl I really was seeing things from a position of privilege. I arrived at school one morning and one of my best friends was really upset because she had over heard a classmate saying he honestly couldn’t tell the difference between most of the women of colour in our school. I proudly jumped in at this point to reassure her that women of colour obviously don’t all look the same and that I could clearly tell all our friends apart. Her response baffled and upset me, because I really didn’t understand it at first. She simply turned to me and said ‘What do you want, a cookie? I can tell you apart from all the other white girls too, but that’s not a big deal is it?’ It took many hours of conversation over several weeks for me to start to understand why this had bothered her so much. That she wasn’t upset because oddly, some guy in our school apparently had trouble telling people apart. She was upset because that wasn’t deemed odd, whereas I was proud of the fact that I could clearly see the difference because, actually, even in our fairly multi racial and cultural school this was actually deemed a skill.

  10. I also think this is interesting, because I often see more clear resemblances between people who are different races and everyone tells me I’m crazy.

    I wouldn’t say you are crazy. Anyway the facebook thing made me wonder who I look like. My friend said once that I look like David Bowie on his Ziggy era, which, as much as I love Bowie and would like to believe in, is just not true. And no one else has never told me that I would look like some celeb. So instead I decided to try one internet site where they analyze your face and then say that well you look like this person. I am white woman and according this site I look like Kofi Annan. I came in conclusion that we have fairly similar nose. Nevertheless. Other day I was in local culture center and the man who works in reception (I think that could be okey term – english isn’t my mother tongue) looks like Morgan Freeman. Then I started thinking that do I think he looks like Morgan Freeman because they are both black, have similar style white hair and beard, or do they really have same features. Now it came in my mind that with those features I could say that the man in reception looks like Kofi Annan too.

    I wouldn’t want to see people like this. I don’t want to mix people who clearly look different but happen to be same skin colour. But most likely I do that often even without noticing myself.

  11. I’m the whitest girl in all of Whiteville, so I can’t speak to the race aspect, but this Facebook meme annoyed me for a similar reason. The pool of fat celebrities is as similarly small as that of prominent POC.

    My father has, on separate occasions, told me that I look like Rosie O’Donnell and Camryn Manheim. I don’t think I need to point out that they look *nothing* alike, and you’ll have to take my word for it that I look nothing like either of them beyond the fact that I’m also fat. I’ve also had this experience when meeting people for the first time in the company of a childhood friend of mine. We look absolutely nothing alike, except that’re both fat and wear glasses, yet I’ve been told multiple times “OMG, you must be sisters!”

    Uh…no. So frustrating.

  12. I totally get this. I didn’t do the meme because of the shortage of fat, and also the shortage of Jewish-looking. Oh sure, Jewish, yeah, you can find that. But not with the nose and hair and the ethnic. I could do Bette Midler. So that’s one. And yet there’s no doubt in my mind that this is an impossible meme for blacks and East Asians and Indians. (Have you noticed that all Indians on TV are Kal Penn? ALL of them!)

  13. Regarding white people thinking all black/asian/etc people look the same. I think this is common behavior with people of all races. My boyfriend is Mexican and grew up in a very Mexican community in southern Texas, and he has a lot of difficulty telling white people apart, especially the generic-looking young white starlets. He’s always confused when we watch movies, because he thinks all the white girls are the same person. Also when we’re in public, he’ll see a random person and be like “that person looks like [some person we know].” And I’ll be like, wtf not at all.

    I just thought it was interesting.

  14. “I am in no way saying there was malicious intent behind the doppelganger meme, and clearly, as oppression goes, it ain’t exactly Jim Crow.”

    Hee. True. But … it’s kinda like death by a thousand cuts, this particular form of unthinking bigotry is, I think. There’s the big institutionalized stuff that acts like a machete, and then there’s all this social fabric stuff that’s more like lots of little needles–but, either way, you’re still bleeding, y’know?

    “If I may digress a bit, the line ‘If only you weren’t so dark, you’d be so pretty,’ is horrifying.”

    That is completely horrifying.

  15. I was just thinking this morning about this girl I knew in college who people would often confuse me with. This is noteworthy because this is the only time in my entire life people have confused me with someone else. She is the only other woman I have met with the same body type as me (tall, big assed, but she had bigger boobages.) I was in a show and a bunch of people complimented her on my performance, very amusing.

    This is made extra bad because my facial recognition software is broken. Some people are easier than others because they are more unique looking, but for the most part, I suck. (Two bald white guys in a movie, and I am confused the entire time. Ask my boyfriend.) But if people have the same hair color and look even a little a like I am fucked. Also, if I meet two people at the same time. And you should call and ask my twin cousins who I have known there entire lives if I can tell them apart from a photo and then will tell you that no, I cannot.

    So anyway, my point is there are varying degrees of ability when it comes to recognizing people and observing facial features. Not that that excuses it, but it is good to keep in mind that sometimes it isn’t personal, some people are just bad at it. (It is genetic.) And if you aren’t good at it and you are using other cues to help you keep people straight it is easy to fall back on race.

    That doesn’t change that a lot of people are assholes. I have some degree of face blindness but I still know that all asian people do not look alike.

  16. Rebekah: “Also, why do people think Sandra Oh is ugly? I don’t see it.”

    I am guessing that in this case, it’s because you see race. In the sense of “are aware of the complexities of race as a category and system of oppression in America.”

    There’s a whole suitcase load of unpacked attitudes in the Sandra Oh is Ugly discourse. How Asian women “should” look. The fact that she stands out in part for being a rare famous Asian woman in the USA in first place (if there were lots, the fact that she doesn’t float everyone’s boat wouldn’t be so remarkable). And there’s probably something similar to the issues brought up in the OKC-messaging discussion a while back.

    Em: People are so married to the idea that race is a meaningful bioloigcal category (if race wasn’t an objective genetic reality, people wouldn’t be discussing it as an on objective genetic reality, amirite?). I am not surprised that seeing people’s features in some other, not-approved-by-the-domonant-classification-system way prompts this reaction in others.

    Fillyjonk: Here here. The last sentence is brilliant. The whole post is brilliant.

  17. I was having a bad day the first time I saw that meme and considered using Jabba the Hutt. Fortunately my FA brain rose up and smacked me with a frozen trout and I didn’t do it.

    But I did sit there thinking “Well this is a nice thing for people who might be conventional enough* to look like a celebrity, so I guess EVERYONE ELSE ON EARTH doesn’t get to play.” Then I harumphed, possibly aloud.

    * – conventional meaning of course, attractive by Western media standards and for the most part white, able-bodied, etc.

    DRST

  18. A black friend of mine once commented on how much he hated the idea of “color-blindness.” He felt that if you were blind to his color, you were blind to a big part of who he is. He also said that he got really annoyed when people asked him questions like, “What do black people think about the war in Iraq?” He would answer, “I don’t know; what do white people think about styrofoam?”

  19. hsofia: “About ten minutes after her piece ended, I was exiting at the back of the hall with hundreds of other audience members, when a white woman ran right up to me, grabbed my arm, and gushed over my breathtaking performance.”

    I would have wanted to offer to sign her program, if I’d managed to recover in time. Or said “how nice of you- no one has ever said that to me before.” Or something.

    I think there’s a lot of productive thinking to do with “I see the person’s role and status, not their features.” I have to go teach about heritage tourism now, though, so I’ll have to do my thinking off the internet for now.

  20. @shinobi42 – It’s called prosopagnosia (or “face-blindness”). I have a bit of it too, and when it comes to white, blond Hollywood actresses – Sharon Stone etc. – I am extremely bad at telling them apart. My theory is that it’s because they seem to have deliberately rid themselves of as many unique identifiers as possible, in order to be successful leading-lady types.

    Or maybe it’s just that I am *expected* to be able to recognize famous white people, so my inability is more noticed/seen as weird?

  21. Regarding white people thinking all black/asian/etc people look the same. I think this is common behavior with people of all races.

    It is. But A) “I sometimes have trouble telling white people apart” has very different cultural baggage from “They all look alike.” And B) For some odd reason, I have never had the experience of being mistaken for another white person over a long period of time, especially in a situation where we were the only two white people around. And I have very few white friends who have described such an experience to me. And yet, every POC I know has at least a few stories like that. Huh! Weird!

    So yes, as a rule, people of all races have a harder time distinguishing between people of other races, and as Shinobi points out, there can be other reasons why people struggle with facial recognition. But let’s not use those points to dilute or discount the fact that what Mean Asian Girl and Sepia Mutiny and countless other POC have described is indeed a form of racism. (You didn’t necessarily mean to imply that, but it’s almost inevitable that someone will, so I wanted to get that out there.)

  22. @shinobi42 I think my facial recognition software is also broken. I have a hard time remembering what people look like and I always get people confused in movies. I can easily distinguish voices, though. I have gone back and forth over the years wondering if there is really something wrong with me or if I just don’t pay attention well enough. I even confuse several of my own 1st and 2nd cousins.

    Once in college, in front of a class full of people, I mixed up two people of a race other than my own. It was the most mortifying moment of my life. I didn’t go back to that class until the final exam.

  23. I was in a graduate class, and for an activity, we had to get in groups and help each other decide who would play each of us in a movie. It was kind of amusing to see my classmates completely stumped when they got to me. Finally someone said “Catherine Zeta Jones because she’s curvy like you.” Um, wow. I think I might look more like Gabourey Sidibe (who wasn’t famous at that time), and I’m white.

  24. I think the “they all look alike” idea is racist because the implication is that they all ARE the same, and they should all be treated/thought of as the same because who they are doesn’t matter.

    The other racist, dismissive comment – that I hear on a weekly basis (was daily when I was in the working/schooling world) is about names. “What’s your name?” “Oh, I can’t say that.” (OR) “Oh I’ll never be able to say that.” (OR) “Do you have a nickname?” (OR) *Laughter* I’ll never forget this one 85 year old white lady who asked me my name, and when I told her, she said, “What the hell kind of a name is that?” I told her it was Arabic and she literally said, “Whatever.”

    I also cringe when people say, “Oh, I’m going to butcher that.” Please, I’m okay with you not saying right on the first (or second or third) try, but don’t tell me you are going to *butcher* it in advance.

  25. Oh yes, the movie casting thing. I got Ricki Lake (when at the time Ricki was famous for being fat). NB: I look nothing like Rickie Lake.

    In re racism: my mother fostered a black baby girl for two years. She points to this as proof she’s not racist, but every time she sees a black baby, “Ohhhh, she looks just like X.” (The baby did get adopted by a black family, and we’ve stayed close through the years. She’s in college now! I can’t believe it’s been so long.) /endsqueederail

  26. @hsofia:

    I know a teacher is about to call on me in class when I hear the letter b and then a pause. That’s when I raise my hand and inevitably have to pronounce it for them at least three times before they get it right. *sigh*

  27. The other racist, dismissive comment – that I hear on a weekly basis (was daily when I was in the working/schooling world) is about names.

    For years, I went to a Korean hairstylist named Tracey. I remember how stunned I was when she told me Tracey wasn’t her name– it was just the English name she used for work. That all the women she knew used fake English names so their clients would be able to pronounce them.

    As a person from the dominant culture in this country, it had never occurred to me that anyone would feel they had to do that. Go go gadget privilege, I guess. Wow.

  28. A Chinese-American friend of mine tried running a photo of herself through one of those facial recognition sites while this meme was the thing, just to see what it might say. We determined that the algorithm went something like:

    - Yvonne is Asian
    - Yvonne looks like three random Asian celebrities
    - We have run out of Asians
    - Yvonne is still not white
    - Yvonne looks like Beyonce

  29. Cereselle,

    Actually, my given name is an English name, and what annoys me the MOST is that almost every American I have met at college refuses to believe this is my “real” name. “No, seriously, what’s your real name?” “So you have an English name, but what’s your Chinese name?” “You were brought up in Asia, how come you have an English name?”

    I’m certainly not implying that this is a problem you have! It’s just that it annoys me, for some reason, when people refuse to believe that my real name is my real name. Also, some friends of mine think it’s really funny to mispronounce my last name, or to tell me that I’m their “favorite Asian”, which, despite the nice sentiment, is really annoying–I wouldn’t tell someone they were my favorite white person. My favorite American. etc.

    (Despite being an international student, and having grown up in what most people call a “third world country”, I’ve been lucky enough to be pretty insulated from a lot of unpleasant experiences… I love being in America, despite the small things that annoy me from time to time. :) )

  30. I did the doppelganger meme, but I felt like a cheater because I picked a skinny person (Ellen from Pete and Pete, if anyone’s wondering). My marshmallow-white fiance used a website and came up with Jesse L. Martin. The racial problems of the whole meme hadn’t occurred to me at all, but yeah!

    As a white teacher, I make an effort to learn the names of minority students first. It sounds kind of awful when I put it that way, but I figure the white students won’t read anything into it if I mix up their names, so I can leave them for last.

  31. I think the “they all look alike” idea is racist because the implication is that they all ARE the same, and they should all be treated/thought of as the same because who they are doesn’t matter.

    I agree, and even further than that, people have the right to an individual identity. By definition, refusing a person their unique identity is dehumanizing and othering. I totally agree that the “they all look alike” think is racist for a variety of reasons, particularly the ones your mentioned, but even more fundamentally, it is inherently racist because it denies POC an individual identity.

    As a total aside, I’m one of those people with frighteningly good facial-recognition…if I see an actor on TV/in a movie that I’ve seen before (even as a character with two lines), I can always remember where I’ve seen them before. If I ever was in a beauty pageant, this would be my talent. Also, Sandra Oh is fucking hot.

  32. @Kate: “For some odd reason, I have never had the experience of being mistaken for another white person over a long period of time, especially in a situation where we were the only two white people around. And I have very few white friends who have described such an experience to me. And yet, every POC I know has at least a few stories like that. Huh! Weird!”

    I think this may have something to do with the fact that everyone in most westerns societies are surrounded with images of white people in almost every media. Most of the prominent people on TV etc. will be white.

    In studies, young infants are able to tell the faces of for example different spider monkeys apart without fail.

    Grownups can’t. They’ve lost the ability because they never HAD to tell spider monkeys apart. The neurons simply aren’t firing that way anymore, and the ability is lost. Limitless potential for face recognition has been narrowed to the flawless recognition of the faces they are surrounded with.

    White people aren’t automatically exposed to large numbers of Asian or African faces growing up, while most people in western societies are exposed to the faces of white strangers every day through the media.

    This, of course, is no excuse at all for the “they all look alike”-crap or for not realizing that it may just bother people to be seen only as their race.

    But it might explain why white people don’t get confused with each other based on race?

  33. I live in Ireland and have done all my life. For most of my life, Ireland has been a country of emigration. It has recently become a country of immigration, mainly from Eastern Europe (Poland, especially, also Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania, and some others), and Africa (mainly Nigeria). There are some Asians coming in too (and they’re having an effect: I’ve seen primary school kids carrying cricket bats!).

    Cross-racial face-blindness is real, and the only reason it doesn’t affect me far more than it should is that I still know very few people of other “races”. And that’s because I have no social life. Seriously: none.

    Not to self: Must get out more.

    TRiG.

  34. This is really only loosely related, but when i first saw Sandra Oh in the indie film Last Night, she made my heart ache. Where I work there’s an adorable Asian-American woman who brings in her two adorable little Asian-American daughters, who I swear are gonna save the world for women somday, they’re so awesome. After they left once, I commented on how cute they were and a coworker made some comment to the effect that they wouldn’t be when they grew up. it broke my heart, and I’m so glad those little grils were gone when she said it.

    That’s really all I got. Everytime the topic of race comes up, I feel like I’m sidetracking and misdirecting and ‘splaining or just putting my foot in my mouth, and if I’m doing that now, I apologize in advance.

  35. Also, some of the comments I’ve heard from people on race in this excellent university are… disappointing. Recently I tried, in a lecture discussion, to talk about how Western media has influenced beauty ideals in Asia, based on my experience. A group of white girls told me that ACTUALLY, people are obsessed with Asia now, so the desire for HYPER-SKINNINESS PROBABLY ACTUALLY COMES FROM ASIA! (I hadn’t initially mentioned weight at all.) Later, one of them said that the issues with racism that African-Americans face in America were basically reduced to nothing, since Obama is now president.

  36. The “they all look alike” idea has especially dire consequences in the area of eyewitness identification. People–and especially white people–are notoriously bad at identifying people of a different race than their own, yet people are convicted of crimes based solely on eyewitness ID every day. Scary.

    @hsofia. Hmm…I’m not sure it’s true that Latina women are “allowed to have rounder faces and thicker features.” I can think of a couple, but it seems most of the most famous Latina celebrities have pretty white features, too. I inherited my facial features and body type from the Latina side of my family, while my coloring is very stereotypically white–nobody ever had ANY clue what to do with me in celebrity look alike discussions.

  37. @cereselle – Wow. I’ve known people to do that since I was a little kid. And I’ve lost count of the number of (white) people who have expected me to have a nickname to make their lives easier.

  38. Okay, I just had a flash of insight on how brain development may apply here. 15 years ago I took a linguistics course called “sounds of human language,” and one of the things we studied was how different sounds may or may not be phonemic markers that differentiate meaning, depending on the language involved. For instance, /r/ and /l/, gliding consonants that occur with the tongue slightly raised, are phonemic markers for native English speakers, in that “rice” and “lice” have two different meanings. However, they aren’t phonemically significant for Chinese languages (Chinese either doesn’t use a mid-glide or only uses one, I forget which), so native Chinese speakers learning English have a hell of a time hearing the difference between /r/ and /l/, because from early childhood the distinction had never mattered in creating meaning.

    Conversely, native Spanish speakers could easily hear some vowel differentiations that I can’t even remember now that were very significant to them in differentiating between certain words. And those of us who didn’t grow up hearing Spanish could not hear it to save our souls, while the Spanish speakers looked bemusedly at us as if we were deaf. The difference in sounds did not occur in English as an information marker phonemically, so our brains slid right over it.

    One final example, the instructor pointed out that one area of the Spanish-speaking world includes a glottal stop at the end of words ending in vowels, while another major area doesn’t. The glottal stop was not phonemically significant (didn’t change word meaning), just a regional variation. And the native Spanish-speakers in the class couldn’t hear it. COULD NOT, until the instructor played recordings of it backward, making in easier to hear the aspiration.

    So, if the brain is hardwired in language to hear things that help you distinguish one word from another, and to pass over things that are unfamiliar and therefore not imbued with meaning in your cultural context, there must be something similar going on with faces and visual markers. I assume that in non-white countries that don’t have a lot of western media exposure, white people do tend to all look alike. Perhaps what is shameful is not that people have a hard time differentiating looks in people not of their race (I don’t think hsofia needs to be embarrassed about confusing middle-aged white men), but that we haven’t imbued other races with enough meaning to trigger our brains to download and install a new data set.

    Am I making any sense?

  39. @Lucy Too – I’m inclined to agree with you. I esp. think of some of the most famous latinas whose hair and facial features have gotten cosmetically “whiter” over the years, either through surgery or makeup.

  40. I work in a big corporate company, and I wanted to touch on the names thing:
    I have particular trouble pronouncing even English names partially because I reverse letters when reading them, and partially because I have some trouble with pronouncing certain vowel combinations. However, when I started working here, I was shocked – just completely shocked – to see how many people use English names instead of their real names because people can’t pronounce them. It has made me feel ridiculously guilty for a long time, because I try so hard to say names correctly, but it’s people like me who have made them feel like it is a necessity to hide a part of their identity.

    I didn’t participate in this meme either, but that’s partially because I have issue with people using other people’s images as their own (I don’t even really like it when people use their pets or children as their avatar – just use your own photo!). I hadn’t thought about this – I do know I couldn’t think of or find a celebrity that I looked like, but I didn’t consider how much more difficult it could be for a POC.
    Thank you for the insight!

  41. I think the “they all look alike” idea is racist because the implication is that they all ARE the same, and they should all be treated/thought of as the same because who they are doesn’t matter.

    Exactly — it’s supporting the idea that there is a monolithic block of “they” that can be separated from “us” but not separated from each other. As it happens I have a really really hard time telling young pretty white women apart — I can never do the “oh, that’s x, I loved her in y!” thing because basically all starlets look alike to me except hair color. But I am practically THE ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD implying that young pretty white women aren’t all special and precious snowflakes — or at very least, I am not being backed up here by centuries or decades or even minutes of oppression. I have been mistaken for other white people — for a dude, even! He had long hair and we both owned green flannels, shut up, it was the 90s — but the import isn’t even remotely the same.

    By the way, folks arguing that it really is hard to tell people of other races apart: really not the point.

    Sandra Oh does not look exactly like all the young pretty white women, so I think that in addition to the racism, or rather encompassing the racism behind the “Sandra Oh is ugly” sentiment is the fact that “pretty”/”non-ugly” is becoming more and more narrowly defined. (“White” is, of course, still very much part of that definition.) I witnessed an argument on Facebook last night about whether Maggie Gyllenhaal was ugly. Maggie Gyllenhaal! I kept wanting to shout “if you knew her in real life, she would be your most beautiful friend.”

  42. I saw that meme, but didn’t participate. The only “famous person” I’ve ever been told I resemble is John Denver. And, for the record, I am not a man.

  43. I didn’t do the FB thing, either, because of the wanking point that Kate made, and am now ashamed that I didn’t see how problematic it was from the perspective of race/fame/etc. (This despite my current fascination with which aspects of my facial appearance make me look more like one side of my family than the other – which are Eastern European and Native American.)

    threnody: Styrofoam! *snerk* The way I phrased it to myself earlier this week was that I’d prefer to live in a post-racism society rather than a post-racial one; I like a lot of the bits of who I am that were shaped by how my ancestors did things differently from each other.

    AnthroK8: so as not to derail, would you be interested in chatting about biological vs. cultural explanations for why we humans seem to make race a big deal? My email, if you are.

  44. @cereselle, my Korean stepmother and her sisters, who grew up Catholic, were all required to take Western names at confirmation and used them among Westerners for a long time. When they began to insist on their actual names being used, it was – instructive, how upset some of their co-workers became. My step-mum finally settled on using just the first syllable of her name at work, because no-one could say it was ‘too difficult.’

    On ‘they all look alike,’ I think it’s because some people, the people to whom this is true, see anyone other than themselves in collective terms: ‘them,’ rather than, ‘you and you and you.’ ED: Or, what everyone else has said better, in between when I started this and double-checked the thread.

    They’ve lost the ability because they never HAD to tell spider monkeys apart. The neurons simply aren’t firing that way anymore, and the ability is lost.

    I wonder if it is lost entirely. Thing is, something that comes up now and again in aquarist’s forums – or did, back when I was on a few of them – was whether or not fishkeepers could tell individual cory catfish in their shoals apart. A fair few of those of us who’d kept them for many years could, at least with older fishes we’d known a long time, while those new to it almost always could not.

  45. “‘To take that a step further, when someone – inevitably white — says, “I don’t see race,” if much of society sees you only as race, then they don’t see you.’

    God this is brilliant.”

    IMO this clause

    ” if much of society sees you only as race”

    doesn’t even have to be in there for it to be brilliant.

  46. @hsofia: It blew my mind, I tell you. Part of it is for the same reason as @BrieCS– I always try to pronounce people’s names the same way they do, so if my hairstylist had told me her real name, I would have seen nothing unusual, and would have felt the onus was on me to get it right, not on her to change her name for me.

    @fillyjonk: FLANNEL WILL ALWAYS BE COOL. GRUNGE WILL NEVER DIE!

  47. Re: being able to tell people apart:

    I think that there is also a big difference between not seeing any differences and not being able to place them.

    Someone upthread mentioned peoples problems telling whether someone was from China or Korea. (This is not in response to that post, simply using the same example). There is a whole other process involved when you look at facial characteristics and try to see differences between two people and when you look at them and try to use these differences as criteria to guess where somebody is from. And far to often, this gets mixed up, especially by us privileged white people.

    Because if you have to admit that, while you can see the differences, you do not know what they mean or how to interpret them, than this is something caused by your lack of knowlege. If you knew more, maybe you would be able to answer the question of who is Chinese and who is from Korea. But nobody likes to admit that they don’t know something.

    Saying “I don’t see a difference, they all look alike” is so much easier than saying “I can clearly see a lot of differences, but I do not know enough to know what they mean. I need to educate myself.” It has the added “benefit” of making it “their” fault that they can not be told apart- it’s because of how “they” look, not because “we” don’t know enough.

    And as white people, we have the privilege of getting away with the former.

    (I am not saying that this is what happens with everybody who uses the “they look alike” excuse, but it seems like one more like explanation of how privilege could be at work here.)

  48. @lauren,

    Thank you, this is what I was trying to get at with my linguistics metaphor, but I wasn’t expressing how it relates to privilege. You did it beautifully.

  49. From what I’d read in my neuropsych courses about prosopagnosia, I was under the impression that it was a neurological “disorder,” in the sense of “something has to physically happen to your brain for it to occur.” Not to mention that I’ve always had an uncanny memory for immediate face-name-situation recall, so it just seems weird to me when other people can’t remember names or faces- and when people claim to not be able to tell people of other races apart, that just sounds flat-out mean-spirited. But from what people are saying here and from other people I’ve asked, it sounds like prosopagnosia is probably a lot more common than that. I wonder, then, if maybe it has more to do with social and cultural conditioning than anything purely neurological- like if you’re taught to have certain negative attitudes towards one race of people, or women, or kids, or whoever, then maybe your brain actually reorganizes so that you can’t actually physically recognize or differentiate them, even if your attitude changes later on in life.

    I remember ages ago I read this article in Jane by a Chinese-American writer who went to Korea (I think, it was a long time ago) to investigate some of the cosmetic surgery procedures (particularly eye surgeries) that have become so popular. She wrote about how one night she was watching TV in her hotel room and she realized that as more and more of the TV personalities and actresses got these surgeries done, they all started to look more like this bastardized version of the white Western ideal, and ultimately more alike, and she admitted to not being able to tell any of them apart- and it made her think that in the US, looking at Jewel and J. Lo (again, this was a long time ago) and so forth, we have a certain ideal but we also don’t necessarily strive for complete sameness. I don’t know whether or not I completely agree with that, but I would be curious about a cross-cultural study of rates of prosopagnosia, and how this kind of adherence to one ideal affects total ability to recognize faces, both within your race and with other races. (Maybe I’ll do my neurobiology seminar project on that!)

  50. My step-mum finally settled on using just the first syllable of her name at work, because no-one could say it was ‘too difficult.’

    What, that second syllable was just too difficult? WTF?

    I really don’t learn actors and actresses unless they’re absolutely amazing on sort of a life-changing level (or I loathe them). I’ve built a very small list of people I can recognize, but the vast majority of A through D listers are people I’m aware of only as vaguely familiar faces.

    This was a great post, MAG! Thank you very much.

  51. OT re Grunge – living in the Pac NW, I can say that grunge hasn’t totally died, altho much of it’s sort of morphed into REI-chic.

    to whoever said I shouldn’t be embarrassed about confusing middle aged white guys – I think I should be conscientious of this. Because if I want to be in relationship with people, I can’t view them as generic. If it’s just some person on the street, there’s no motivation for their features to register with me (regardless of race), but after the second or third or fourth time, it’s time to pay attention.

    @annalynn – YIKES.

    @ceserelle – thanks.

    @Anna – I tried several facial recognition things and most of my matches were Chinese and Korean stars I’d never heard of. And a few round/heart faced white actresses. No black matches at all (not even Beyonce!).

    Re Sandra Oh being attractive – thing is, why does she need to be? Why do you need to be “hot” to be an effing actress? It makes me so annoyed. Sandra Oh has a strong nose which is apparently EVIL and WRONG in Hollywood. And a long face (also evil in Hollywood). And I hate this write up about her at askmen.com (http://www.askmen.com/celebs/women/actress_300/372_sandra_oh.html).

    “While not a conventional beauty by any stretch of the imagination, Sandra certainly possesses a sultriness that’s impossible to resist. Her exotic looks are complemented by the unmistakably confident aura that seems to surround her at all times; Sandra knows who she is and what she wants, and she’s not afraid to do whatever it takes to pursue her dreams. Her drive and ambition are undeniably sexy, and Sandra remains one of the few sex symbols on TV for the thinking man.”

    Even though they ultimately give her a “73″ for Sexiness, my first thought is, “WHY?!” (Someone needs to make a site called WHOASKEDMEN.com) and can the phrase “exotic looks” be banned from the English language, forever?

  52. Among the more memorable poetry readings I’ve heard was one during my MFA program with Ross Gay (he was on the faculty), who read his poem titled, “Within Two Weeks the African-American Poet Ross Gay Is Mistaken for Both the African-American Poet Terrance Hayes and the African-American Poet Kyle Dargan, None of Whom Looks Anything Like the Other.”

    It’s a great poem. You can hear him read it here if you care to.

  53. What, that second syllable was just too difficult? WTF?

    Yes, I gather. I was fairly well flabbergasted too, especially since these were people who’d be using it every day and would have lots of opportunity to get it right. Bottom line, they just didn’t want to bother, and my step-mum wasn’t up to fighting about it.

    @hsofia, I’m with you on ‘exotic looks.’ If I never hear it again it’ll be too damn soon.

  54. …god, that first link reminds me why I don’t normally read sites that discuss the attractiveness of female celebrities, most especially female celebrities who aren’t super-skinny young white women with large breasts. It’s so vicious.

    (Suddenly I understand why one of my friends turned into Anne Hathaway on Facebook. >.< Bah.)

  55. It’s fairly common for Koreans to take Western names, even in Korea. I’m not saying it’s a good or bad thing. I’ve known rather a lot of Koreans, though, and even those who recently came to the United States had been using their Western names for a very long time. In other words, it was not apparently something they picked up when they arrived in this country. It’s bigger than that.

    The fb meme…the only people I’ve been told I “look like” are characters in movies–inevitably the oddball, less attractive friend of the hot blonde. Awesome. Thanks. And I did have one Korean friend say she was once told she looked like Connie Chung. This was apparently the only Asian person they could think of…? That’s the only explanation.

    Do you all remember the memoirs of a geisha movie? I was completely jarred by the trailer when I saw it because the actress was so obviously Chinese. And to me Chinese and Japanese people don’t look anything alike.

    I understand the concept of face blindness and I get not being able to hear or say certain sounds. I think those things are real and they are often about lack of exposure. But a person can be taught to hear and pronounce different sounds. I think facial recognition is also a skill you can acquire. I was bffs with a Chinese guy in high school and he basically taught me to look at Asian faces and the see the differences. We worked on it. He’d point people out and make me guess and then tell me why I was wrong. After a while, I could see the differences. And the more I saw the differences between Vietnamese and Chinese and Japanese, the more I started to see individual faces.

    The racist bit seems to be resting on “they all look alike to me” out of a conviction that “they’re all basically the same anyway.”

  56. A friend of mine (fat and built like a brick outhouse like myself) put the xenomorph from Alien as her ‘doppelganger’. I liked how she turned the whole stupid thing on its head, but I wasn’t able to articulate why the meme bothered me until I read this post.

    For a long time I was baffled by the ‘all X look alike’ meme, until I realized that I have a fair amount of face recognition blindness and everybody comes across as broad strokes unless I make an effort to really look at any given person to get enough data to seperate them out from the sea of faces. Everyone that I wans’t deeply familiar with looked more or less alike until I realized it was something borked with my mental software.

    I think this is part of what happens wrt white people thinking PoC looking alike (and this ties into the discussion upthread about how white people aren’t thinking of PoC as individuals) – white pople don’t bother really looking at any individual PoC, they just see a few broad strokes, mentally fill in the rest with what they think should be there, and stick that person in the correctly labeled box. End result, ‘they all look alike’.

    Lucy, fwiw, I’m borderline/high functioning autistic, so there is something demonstrably different about my brain that affects my perceptions, but I have no clue if this is common. Take with appropriately sized grain of salt.

  57. I too am totally in favor of WHOASKEDMEN.com.

    In addition to “exotic looks,” I also want to throw out the phrase “the thinking man’s ____.” It always seems to be used in the sense of, “Most men think this woman/whiskey/car is disgusting, but it’s the thinking man’s woman/whiskey/car.” Insulting two birds with one stone- not only the woman/object in question, but any man that would actually like her/it.

  58. “exotic looks” – translation: someone who looks different than what I consider to be the norm. As my point-of view is the only one that matters, this is an objective descriptor

    “The thinking man’s…” – translation: do not think that this is about paying anybody a compliment. I am not complimenting the (women/…), I am complementing myself for being such a thoughtfull guy that I can like (her/…).

  59. I usually get whatever fat, black woman is currently super famous or super in the news.

    I’ve gotten:

    J-Hud
    Oprah
    Whoopi
    Gabby

    When in reality I am a dead ringer for Laliah Hathaway (EVEN SHE SAID SO) with varying degrees of Chaka Khan-ness and would probably be played by Kerry Washington in a fat suit, or by Jill Scott with lots of extremely tall actors to make her seem short (she’s 5’6, I’m 5’0)

    This post was banging!

  60. I avoided the meme for a different reason (not wanting to post something embarrassing, but accurate, like Monica Lewinsky). Your post reminded me of a Time article on the trend, though. The white male reporter was shocked that Cuba Gooding Jr. came up as his match in a celebrity facial database matcher.

    I turned to MyHeritage.com, which has developed a celebrity match tool that compares any photograph you upload to the ones in its celebrity database. My top look-alike? Cuba Gooding Jr. Given that I’m a pasty, undersized white kid, I’d say MyHeritage clearly has some work to do on its algorithm.

    The thing is, the two photos look like a strong match to me! If Cuba Gooding Jr. had the same features, but white skin, I wonder if the author would have been able to parse the resemblance?

  61. During this week of Facebook doppelganger-ness, I mused on how my weird blend of Irish, Italian, and Lebanese roots and the fact that I’ve rarely been told I look like any famous person (with the exception of Janeane Garaofolo in the mid 90s, which I think any sardonicly witty chain smoking dark haired girl probably got). I finally went and did that application that compared my picture to celebrities and gave me a list of people who I supposedly looked somewhat like. What made it awesome was that one of the top contenders was Telly Savalas, and despite being initially horrified, I came to see that I do resemble him and hey, that’s funny. Yeah sure, he’s Greek, but that’s how it is with my looks- people often mistake me for Hispanic, Greek, whatever dark haired ethnicity they are most familiar with. Only other Arabs can seem to pick up on my Lebanese background- anyway, I digress. I posted it to Facebook and it was funny. I even showed a picture of him to my fiance, who said “Yeah, I can sort of see it in the face. Slap a wig on him and I’m marrying him.”

    No great point to make, other than sharing the funny.

  62. @hsofia I had a former co-worker who, without even bothering to try to pronounce my name, said upon meeting me for the first time, “Yeah, that’s too hard. I’m just gonna call you (first initial) from now on.” I was absolutely speechless…it’s three syllables, not that hard, I swear! And yet, for the entire eight months we had the misfortune of working together, she never once tried to say my name. Didn’t even try. And then would get unbelievably pissed when I wouldn’t respond to her shouting down the hallway something that I didn’t realize was directed at me. Because she couldn’t be bothered to say my name.

  63. This requires me to veer a bit from the obvious racism of “you, Person of Color, must look like X, who is also a person of color”. But as someone who skipped the meme because, last time I checked, I did not in fact look like any beautiful celebrity, I was even more struck by the venom against Oh in the comments on the linked story…and the incredible entitlement that made thsoe comments possible. “I think Oh is ugly [probably because I'm a racist pigdog who's been acculturated to admire only whiteness, but okay, maybe not, whatever]” is so instantly, utterly translated into “therefore Oh IS ugly, empirically ugly, ugly to all people on the face of the earth, because I personally do not desire her (and I feel this is her fault).” Nor is this a fluke. In teaching The Bluest Eye, a novel about race and beauty, I asked students to put a list of their “most beautiful people” on the board. No one put up his or her parent, or his or her significant other, or his or her own name–absolutely no one. (One person did this, once, long ago, and I still remember his name because of it–so thank you, Cameron.) Halle Berry and Tyra Banks and even Michelle Obama made the cut, but not Whoopi Goldberg or Samuel Jackson. And before we could get around to the fairly obvious things this says about the popular conception of beauty, first we had to get through a few renditions of, ‘But Tyra Banks IS hot!” Is. Just is. Utterly, empirically IS. Because I say so. Because I, young white male college student, have the right to make this call.

    To the class’ credit, they pretty much got it, and it didn’t take long–but it’s noteworthy that the kneejerk response, maybe from a lot of us, is “But what I think is hot/beautiful/cool IS hot/beautiful/cool.” Our first response is virtually never, “I don’t find so-and-so attractive, but of course I’m just one person.” At the first-response level, we really think we have the right to say. Especially if we fit a certain demographic.

  64. Is it appropriate to mention I have crushed on Oh since like the 90s when I saw Double Happiness? and nearly DIED when she started doing mainstream stuffs and WATCHED anything and everything with her!

    Yes, that’s why I watch Grey’s.

  65. I tried to use face-recognition software in order to find my doppelganger for this game and came up with similar results as others have mentioned here. I am a thinnish white girl, but I happen to wear glasses…so the software just pulled up pictures of celebrities who also wear glasses, all of which looked nothing like me (obviously). I even got some male celebrities in the results, even though I checked the ‘female’ box.

    When I tried a picture of me without glasses, I got a completely different set of images… But none of these looked like me either. They were just celebrities who were positioned similarly to the way I was in my photograph. Or maybe it was just pumping out names that the creators thought I would be flattered by.

  66. When I was a teenager my Mum’s friends told me that I looked like every actress with long blond hair, which could be extrapolated to me simultaneously looking like Alicia Silverstone, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellwigger and Kate Winslet, with Gillian Anderson thrown in for variety when I cut my hair shorter and dyed it red. None of those women resemble each other beyond being caucasian and sometimes having similar hairstyles (long, blond, wavy). I finally figured out it was an odd sideways compliment: “this pretty young girl reminded me of you, therefore I think you are pretty”, but it always made me feel a bit like my itentity was being blurred, or that they thought I should make an effort to look more like the person I was being compared to.

    I participated in the meme, somewhat hesitantly, I saw the wankiness aspect of it, but it was a bit of a laugh with my local friends. I was pleased that a fat friend of mine put Grace Kelly as her doppelganger, because it made me notice a similarity I hadn’t seen before, and challenges the body-shape resemblance aspect. I put Kate Winslet, she’s the most consistent “you look like…” I’ve had, though I suspect it’s because I’m a – British, and b – not skinny. Now I wish I’d changed my usual “Riveter” pose photo for the original poster.

    @hSOFIA, my Granny had the same “whatever” response to my cousin’s wife’s native american name, I was sickened by the hostile dismissiveness coming from a woman who is normally so inclusive and sweet.

    Re: names, I grew up in Scotland, the schools I went to considered anything European to be “ethnic” and obscure. A classmate of mine was named Karine, a French name pronounced “kah-REEN”, I was stunned by how many times teachers would look at her name on the roster, register only the K and the length, and call her “Katrina” (a common Scottish name). Nobody swapped my name out for Roseanne, or Rosamund, or even Rosemarie, because Rosemary is a known and recognized name. Gah!

    Another name anecdote: I knew a caucasian guy who was named Rajesh, he allowed people to call him Raj, but constantly had to school those who changed it to “Rodge” or even “Rodger”.

  67. Re: baby sounds

    In one of my linguistics classes that talked about that it was found that sounds could still be distinguished in non linguistic contexts. The isolated the distinctive /l/ and /r/ sounds, so much so it’s not intuitively thought of as a speech sound, and told the group that they were listening to water dripping and raise their hands when they hear the drip change. They did with high accuracy.

    On topic, I have thought along the same lines as Renatus: if people are going to rely on stereotypes to interact with a group of people, it’s redundant to use more brain space to individually note what each person looks like, since basically this becomes trash knowledge. I believe as prejudice and stereotypes against a group lessen, there will be less instances of “all look alike” syndrome.

    I think I do a similar thing with movies/shows roles. Actors/Actresses that typically fill a certain slot in the formula (ie “hot chick”, “lead guy”, “father person” loses individual distinctiveness, because, in my head, there’s no reason to give them any. Just noting that they’re that roles gives me enough info to get what I want out of the interaction (watch the movie), and learning who they are outside of that is superfluous.

    Also, not proudly, I do have a couple of prototypes, like “sorority type”, “indie guy”, etc that if I’m not careful I will put people in, and those people lose distinctive with each other. Like race, that type that you identify with, in my case it’s “geek/nerd”, is usually exempt (I’ve never confused those I’ve put in that category).

  68. Someone needs to make a site called WHOASKEDMEN.com.

    Weeeellll,

    Account Is Being Created… Order #521314
    Your order will be processed shortly, please hang on. This page will be automatically reloaded every 20 seconds (click here to reload this page)
    You have chosen to purchase the following service(s):
    Domain Registration: whoaskedmen.com, FREE Domain Registration, 1 year(s)

    ***

    So, what should I do with the site?

    TRiG.

  69. @Michelle – that poem is awesome. I like that line, “I do not feel sorry for you.”

    @Snarky – what the …. Oprah?!

  70. Thanks MAG for taking this apart. I didn’t immediately think of the racial implications to this ridiculous meme until I saw some of the people of color I know putting up pictures and thinking “That person looks nothing like them… oh wait, I guess there isn’t a lot of (X race/ethinicity) actors to choose from.”

    In funny news on that meme, my boyfriend’s cousin who is in LA acting put up a picture of himself from a commercial he was in, so that made me laugh.

    When I was thin I would usually have a stranger tell me I lookedl ike Mena Suvari at least once a week. In the last five years (since I got fat… sorta) I don’t think i’ve been told I look like a celebrity once. So… I guess all that does is tell how very fucking privileged I am (for the record I don’t really think beyond white, blonde, thin I really looked like her).

  71. Also, I’m not going to lie there is a real caustic mental response when white people I know come up to me and go “oh, I saw someone at the mall/school/whatever that looks just like you!”. I know I must put on a real special face because those conversations, no matter what I actually say, end awkwardly. I don’t know how well the thought “Yeah she must have been real BLACK wasn’t she??! Probably with some, hmm lessee, GLASSES?!?” seep through but I fear it’s more than I want.

    And I know, technically, that that’s not fair, because I didn’t see the woman, and she could have been a complete dead ringer for my twin. But, in my defense, the track record for this is abysmal.

  72. Oh, and on names.

    My boyfriend’s sister was born in Korea and adopted by his family. They have a unique and obviously Scandanvian last name. This CONFUSES THE FUCK OUT OF PEOPLE.

    Also, if I introduce her to someone who knows my white boyfriend as his sister their faces go blank for a split second before they figure it out. So far no one has said to her face “but she’s Asian” in front of me, but who knows what his family has dealt with over the years. I’ve never really asked about it.

  73. My boyfriend’s sister was born in Korea and adopted by his family. They have a unique and obviously Scandanvian last name. This CONFUSES THE FUCK OUT OF PEOPLE.

    Did you see the Starburst commercial that used Asian Scottish people to symbolize, like, a world-exploding paradox? I saw it on tv once and it literally made my jaw drop.

  74. Every damn last blond I know on FB thinks she looks like Scarlett Johansen. “I don’t see it, but people always tell me . . .” Every single one of them.

  75. TRiG: it should have a tab for “cause in this case, it wasn’t such a great idea.”

    Elysia: I just jetted you a note, then called you by your e-mail name and not your username (sorry).

    Snarky’sM: What are the attributes of “Chaka Khan-ness” not related to the way a person looks? Do you have those attributes, too? I just was all “hm… wonder what she’s up to these days?” Professor Google reveals she has an admirable foundation and an enviable way with a purple dress.

  76. This is an issue I never want to touch with a ten foot pole. On one hand, I totally see what’s awful and racist about the, “They all look alike!” statement. On the other hand, for some reason, I have a hard time telling anyone apart, especially males. So I’m afraid I don’t have an accurate personal view on this issue.

  77. S-Machine: that was a terrible ad! Scotland has a small minority population, it’s true. But not that small nor most Scots that narrow. Punjabi-Glasweigan is a recognized dialect of the city of Glasgow; it’s something people acquire if they’ve learned English as a second+ language in the area. Those migrant residents have kids who are have Glasgow-sans-Punjabi English. Strong comedy Scottish accents used to imply provincialsim aren’t new, either.

    So there was a double whammy of misrepresenting Asian people as Not Real Scots and Scottish people as Yokels To Demean.

    I think the variety of Scottish accents is a glorious audible map of the people who make the city what it is.

    *bleh* starburst

  78. The “I’m no good with foreign names” or “All those X group of people look alike” seem like another one of those conversational hedges on par with “no offense, but…” Which is to say, it’s supposed to be some kind of excuse for someone’s poor behavior. A general feeling of “I’ve noted that this is in poor taste, making me self-aware and thus absolving me of any guilt that would propel me to change and attempt progress.”

    No, you haven’t even tried my name. No, you can’t just assume a large number of diverse individuals all look alike. No, you *are* being offensive. Just because you’re telling me you don’t want to be thought of as rude, thoughtless, or offensive doesn’t mean you aren’t being those things.

    It sure as heck doesn’t mean people aren’t going to think of you as a rude, thoughtless, or offensive person, because they probably will unless you make the effort to treat people with the dignity you assume for yourself.

  79. My celebrity doppelganger is Jay Leno. Actually, that’s just my chin’s celebrity doppelganger, but I will say that I put that on my OKCupid profile as a way to weed out men with no sense of humor.

    That irrelevancy out of the way, I worked part-time at a bookstore and was mistaken constantly for another part-time worker, both of us white and brunette and possessed of a name beginning with S–and both of us about size 20-22. We both worked there for about 2 years, and I had coworkers calling me Sarah up until the end. No, we didn’t actually resemble each other. So maybe inability to differentiate between fat people is also one of those things. Or maybe we had identical mannerisms or something. But has anyone else been confused with the other fat coworker?

  80. @Lucy Too: One of the most interesting law enforcement trainings I’ve ever had was related to this phenomenon of bad eyewitness identification. You would be given a photo or drawing of a scene, usually one with a crime in progress. You’d be given a set time to study it and try to commit the important parts to memory, and then the picture would be taken away and a test given. When the person portrayed as the criminal was white, and the person portrayed as the victim was black, a staggeringly high percentage of the tested reversed the races in their answers, describing the criminal as black and the victim as white. This did not happen when the actual photo showed a white victim and a black criminal; those were usually relatively accurate.

    When I applied with NYPD, they used this photo-recall problem as part of the police officer test. I sincerely hope that it was a disqualifying error to elide criminality with race, but I never did find out.

    In practice, many many reports of crimes in progress have racial identities superimposed onto the perpetrators. I learned to take the “I think he was Hispanic” reports with a chunk of salt–in my part of the world, that was essentially meaningless information for the cops, except as it provided an insight into the way the Hispanic community was viewed by the majority-white population.

    People who believe that we live in a color-blind society are sweetly naive or willfully ignorant. When I’m holding a cell phone in my hand, the cops look at me and see a fat white woman with a cell phone. Too often, though, the same cell phone looks like a gun, so long as the person holding it is a young black man. Same problem–race becomes the only identifying feature, and then everything else is filled in by what the viewer expects, rather than what’s actually there. That gets innocent people killed.

  81. Lexy and SM, my brother is Korean too, and yes, both our last name and family introductions confuse the shit out of people. That, and the fact that he’s really, really tall, not just tall for an Asian dude. I theorize that he developed his perfect deadpan poker face by dealing with ridiculous reactions so often.

  82. I had to try the face recognition thing at myheritage.com after this – it confirms, I don’t look like anyone famous, though I have features shared by famous people. What with the limited pool of human facial features and all… and it’s always annoyed me that people *simply must* figure out which part of my face or body looks like someone famous who is “in” right now. I mean, every now and then, you notice resemblances, that’s fine – but it is (was, actually, as I get older people have stopped caring) this weird, obsessive need people had to figure out who I looked like after meeting me, before we could move on. Like “your appearance makes me uncomfortable! I don’t know how to respond to you! I must find something familiar about you so I can defuse my discomfort and relate to you!”.

    Since I am white (7th generation Scotch-German-Anglo-Franco-Metis-Canadian, to really pin it down), I just thought the other kids thought I was an ugly person, because they would.not.let.it.rest that my lips were ugly and wrong and gross and disgusting, but when my elementary school nickname that got chanted on the bus became N****r Lips (and I had to ask my mom what the word meant, then figure out why looking black was supposed to be bad) I realised that my not-stereotypical-white feature meant other white people were reading me as “other” and “other” was what made me ugly. Not something objectively wrong with my lips for a human being. They were normal – but for the wrong kind of human being. It was annoying and othering to have people ask my friends “oh, is she foreign?! She looks so exotic!” while standing right there – but I had the white privilege to simply be annoyed. The insults would stop at words. Once they figured out that, oh, it’s okay! This one famous white woman (Angelina Jolie, lately) has big lips too! That’s where I’ve seen an acceptable presentation of that feature before! I got un-othered. I think that’s perhaps a big part of why some white people do that to people of other races – it’s not just that they think you all look alike, it’s that they need to assure you/themselves that they don’t really think of you as other – they have seen and accept as Acceptable, someone who shares some of your racial markings, and by extension, your race, so we can all be comfortable here, can’t we?

  83. Thanks for the comments, everybody. As for people looking alike even though they are different races, I knew of a white minor-league baseball player who looked just former Major Leaguer Tim Raines, who is black (I’m too lazy to post links, sorry). One of the things I thought was interesting about the Sepia Mutiny post was that people seemed to feel obligated to find an Indian/South Asian doppelganger.

    As for people changing their names to make them easier to pronounce, I don’t think that’s necessarily racially/culturally biased. It’s just easier. I mean, think of Mike Krzyzewski. I will say, however, that my legal name is Korean, and not exactly feminine-sounding by western standards. I get lots of mail addressed to “Mr. Mean Asian Girl” (Mean Asian Boy?), and also the very awkward, insincere, “Oh, that’s a … lovely name.” So I have a more westernized, feminine variant that I use, and that was the name I used for the other FB meme, where you look your name up on urbandictionary.com. And, as Sepia Mutiny said, that could be a whole other blog post.

  84. First, thank you Mean Asian Girl for this post. I hope we see a lot more from you here at SP!

    Secondly, this post really helped me realize why that meme gave me an uneasy feeling. I didn’t participate because I don’t look like any fat celebrities and I didn’t want people think I’m living in some kind of fantasy land, thinking I look like a thin person (perhaps this is a personal issue, but you know.) I get told I look like Liv Tyler constantly, but I would be more apt to put up a picture of her half-sister Mia Tyler, who I don’t really look like because Mia is fat and Liv is not. I hate feeling like I have to define my identity by fatness before anything else. I can’t even imagine how infuriating it would be to add being a POC to the mix.

  85. Snarky’sM: What are the attributes of “Chaka Khan-ness” not related to the way a person looks? Do you have those attributes, too? I just was all “hm… wonder what she’s up to these days?” Professor Google reveals she has an admirable foundation and an enviable way with a purple dress.

    Mostly, my friends say I remind them of her. We do have a similar speaking voice. Like it kind of freaked me out when I heard her interviewed.

    When I first saw the meme, I took it to mean, “Who would play you in a movie?” which is a better more interesting question. Since I’m from the “evocative” school of performance – think: Angela Bassett as Tina Turner vs. Jesse L. Martin as Marvin Gaye – I selected Jill Scott, who while not really resembling me except for being the right skin tone, bust size and general smile-y-ness, could probably get the mannerisms accurate enough that people would be like, “DAMN, she like became you!!!”

    And I realize the reason I approached it from that perspective, is EXACTLY what’s being discussed in this stellar post. There is a paucity of WOC working, so it’s not like you can just tick off a list of famous people you resemble.

    Interestingly enough, When I first heard that A Mighty Heart was being adapted into a movie I immediately thought Angelina Jolie could play the shit out of that role, despite Troy Beyer (sp) being the person initially being mentioned to play the role. Then again, I also thought Lynn Whitfield could have banged it out too. Again, it’s about evoking the person.

    Oh yeah, I did that myheritage thingie and got one of the Olsen Twins. I can totally see it. Big golf ball eyes and the nose. It’s weird.

  86. I’m a short, fat, white redhead and I resemble no famous women. However, Mario Batali could be my brother. Maybe not quite twin, but pretty forking close. What’s funny about that is that I’m half Sicilian, but my looks come from the non-Italian half of the family.

    And yes, Sandra Oh is so ugly that she portrayed a *stripper* in Dancing at the Blue Iguana. Which, BTW, she was so very excellent in.

  87. Can I just repeat the praise for this post and request a return visit soon.

    Incredibly well written, insightful, clever and funny.

    Major thanks Mean Asian Girl.

  88. Plus I agree with Snarky, I am usually compared to whichever fat person is currently famous.

    Despite the fact I am white this sometimes means being compared to WOC.

    I apparently have a bit of the Missy Elliots about me, who knew.

    *Sad face*

  89. I don’t want to suggest that my experience is similar to yours, because I get that the whole ‘POC all look alike’ trope is seriously messed up. I just want to chip in that when I was bald/extremely shorthaired, people would often tell me that I looked like either V-For-Vendetta Natalie Portman or Sinead O’Connor. Of course, these women do not look alike and I absolutely don’t look like neither of them. Totally different facial features and head shape.

    It used to irritate me quite a lot – of course, there’s a big difference between my hairstyle and the issue narrow ranges of ethnicity among famous/idolized persons and the following lack of a broad pool in which to reflect oneself, because I could actually choose how to present myself. But this was an experience that made it very clear to me personally how strict we adhere to a extremely limited set of racial, sexual and bodily features. When somebody venture outside of these confinements, it’s like its really hard for a lot of people to notice anything at all about that person, besides the particular feature – thus, the ‘all you people look alike’ bs.

    And there I was, used to assesing my individuality and getting that acknowledged with all my privilege, and all of the sudden my terms of self-expression was all reduced to two not very satisfying possible representations.

  90. (this is not a “reverse-racism” story, just a fun, topical anecdote)

    When my (white) aunts were in college, they frequented a corner store run by a black family. I don’t think my aunts look particularly similar even for sisters, but the store owners couldn’t tell them apart, except that they bought different kinds of gum. So they called my aunts “Peppermint” and “Spearmint”.

    I work in a school district with quite a few Latino/a students and sometimes I confuse their names. I always feel bad about it, and I don’t want them to think that they’re all the same to me because their Latino/a. Then again, I also confuse the names of white students at times, especially if they have similar macro-features (hair color, height, etc).

  91. Emily, yeah, that’s why I didn’t participate in said meme either; my facial structure is extremely similar to Natalie Portman’s, but I’m less conventionally pretty and fatter than she is. So I wasn’t in the mood to open myself up for a round of, ‘oh look, killedbyllamas is delusional now!’ So I too can only imagine how much more uncomfortable it would make PsOC. So thanks MAG for making me think!

  92. I don’t look like anyone famous, but I would like Bob Hoskins to play me if they ever make Paintmonkey the Movie.

  93. it’s not so much that my face recognition software is borked as that I have a weird aversion to actually looking at people’s faces… looking at faces leads to eye contact, which sort of freaks me out (even with people I’ve known for years).

    it still took me over a year to be able to reliably match up names and faces at work – and I’m pretty sure that the only reason I can do it is because we have staff pictures up and I studied those…

  94. As for people changing their names to make them easier to pronounce, I don’t think that’s necessarily racially/culturally biased. It’s just easier. I mean, think of Mike Krzyzewski

    True, but what counts as hard to pronounce differs depending on cultural factors, right? Especially when we’re talking cities in the US, the population demographics are going to affect which letter combinations/sounds look “normal” and which look “exotic.”

  95. “When I first saw the meme, I took it to mean, “Who would play you in a movie?” which is a better more interesting question. Since I’m from the “evocative” school of performance – think: Angela Bassett as Tina Turner vs. Jesse L. Martin as Marvin Gaye – I selected Jill Scott, who while not really resembling me except for being the right skin tone, bust size and general smile-y-ness, could probably get the mannerisms accurate enough that people would be like, “DAMN, she like became you!!!”

    That is a much better meme, for sure.

    Off subject, I saw Angela Bassett in a stage version of His Girl Friday at a local theater a while back. She had a fantastic red suit and hat, and it was a very fun production.

  96. *sigh*

    I fail at editing. the “still” in the second paragraph only made sense when the preceding phrase was “I’m better at it than I used to be, but…”, which I took out because I realized that I’m really not better at facial recognition than I used to be – I just have a handy pictorial guide to fall back on :p

  97. 1) Eddie Izzard in drag is my celebrity doppelganger.

    2) You guys just reminded me of a thing that makes me cringe to this day. About 3 years ago our former Dir. of Operations was interviewing an Indian-American for a job and asked me to come in to meet him because he would have been my direct peer if hired. She (the Dir.) introduced him by his first name only and looked directly to me (as if conspiratorially) and said, “I won’t even TRY to pronounce his last name, because I can tell you right now, I will NEVER get that right.” I could feel the blood rising into my face as I mutely shook hands with the job candidate. I was so gobsmacked I could barely concentrate on what was being said. Mortifying.

    He did not get the job. But the good news is, she later got canned.

    3) Great post.

  98. When I was younger, I spent my summers with my mother’s family in Kentucky. I can still see the looks in people’s eyes when my grandparents introduced me as their granddaughter. Without my father as a visual explanation, the looks I got were confused to say the least.

  99. True, but what counts as hard to pronounce differs depending on cultural factors, right?

    Right, and regarding Krzyzewski in particular, I’d also point out that Polish kids, especially with Polish names, were still openly made fun of when I was growing up (at least around Chicago), so there is an added dimension to this shit even with a lot of European names. It doesn’t take away white privilege, obviously, but there’s a vein of cultural prejudice that gets tapped into there.

  100. Funny but telling anecdote:

    My best friend is Chinese-Canadian. Many moons ago, when we were maybe 20 years old or so, he put a photo of her (which was admittedly bad) into one of those celebrity look-a-like programs, and her top result was Jacques Chirac. We were delighted, and then realized after about 10 seconds that this was probably because a) there were so few “famous” (to whom?) people with Asian features, and b) the software may not even really be able to correctly process facial features that don’t map closely onto a “white” template.

    She did have Sandra Oh, Margaret Cho, and Jet Li in her Top 10 results. So, you know. They all look alike, right?

  101. This reminds me of something I’ve been wanting to deconstruct: I recently rewatched the 1996 movie “Beautiful Girls,” and there was this scene toward the end where the Rosie O’Donnell character, a small-town hairdresser, is at a party hanging out with her friends and the visiting big-city lawyer fiancee of the male lead (Annabeth Gish, who has played The Fattie in other movies but not here), who Rosie is meeting for the first time. The group of women are telling each other which celebrities they look like (always a weird thing in a movie where the actors are themselves celebrities) and Annabeth’s character says to Rosie’s, “Have you seen Misery? You look just like Kathy Bates!”

    Aside from the fact that this is just another instance of “all [insert non-dominant group here] people look alike” syndrome, and Rosie and Kathy looked nothing alike except that they were both fat white women with shoulder-length dark brown hair, what struck me as odd about this scene was that it wasn’t presented as “Annabeth insults Rosie.” It was clearly meant as just a lighthearted conversation between well-meaning, friendly women, and not a way to show what a catty bitch the fiancee was (she wasn’t portrayed as one). It wasn’t even played as a passive-aggressive, faux-friendly move on her part; you were obviously expected to take the friendliness at face value. And that would never happen in any movie today. You simply couldn’t have a character compare another character to the Kathy Bates character in “Misery,” a fat-woman-as-monster, without it being framed as an insult, used to show that the person saying it was an asshole and/or to ridicule the person it was being said about. Or as a statement about how women play barbed games of relational aggression with one another under a mask of faux sweetness. You simply couldn’t have a thinner character say something about a fatter character’s fatness without it being “mean.”

    And it made me wonder: Does that mean that the times we live in now are more enlightened than 1996, or less? It certainly seems that the distance between “fat” and “insult” in popular culture is shorter now than ever, but it didn’t strike me as if 1996 were a halcyon time of unspoiled innocence where oppressed groups could roam free and unmolested. It was rather the opposite—it came across like ignorance, like privileged unawareness, as if those responsible for making the film had never even thought to consider that the “Kathy Bates” comment might play as something other than harmless party chitchat. Similar to how some people think the observation “they all look alike” is harmless. Both writer and director were men, and my guess is that no woman would have been unaware in that way, even in 1996.

    I can’t imagine anyone of any gender in Hollywood being that unaware today, but the Hollywood of today is much crueler and much more rigid about notions of attractiveness. Do the cruelty and rigidity go hand in hand with that increased awareness? Was the Kathy Bates scene a hamhanded 90s attempt at Fruitopia-style “tolerance” that could exist only because we were less cynical then? I mean, the entire movie is about the notion of “beautiful girls” and what it means, and ranges from reductive/offensive to women’s-studies-101 to downright insightful. Was it a sort of naive version of “acceptance at every size”?

    When I saw the movie in the theatre in 1996, I didn’t even notice the Kathy Bates thing (I was an inbetweenie, the same size as I am now, but far less sensitized to these things). When I saw it recently, I flinched, just as I flinched at the Facebook meme (and declined to participate in it). I felt like no matter how I played it, any celebrity I decided to compare myself to would be a statement about how attractive I thought I was, and a plea for others to agree with me, and I really didn’t want to go there. I think the “celebrity lookalike” meme in general, on Facebook and everywhere else in life, is basically a tool for making statements of privilege and dominance without sounding like you’re making them. Thanks for calling that out in this post.

  102. Mr. Twistie has ‘fun’ with this aspect of race. Being mixed race (half white on the Dutch combined with Welsh arc, half Japanese), people know he’s not white, and they know he’s not black…but then they can’t figure out what the hell he is. People come up with whatever racial identity they can think of that Isn’t White, But Isn’t Black, Either. He’s been mistaken for Samoan, Native American, Mexican, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian…you name it, if it Isn’t White, But Isn’t Black, Either, he’s probably been called it.

    He was kind of gobsmacked a couple days after the US started bombing Afghanistan when an old man walked up to him in the grocery store and said: “Our president said we shouldn’t hate all of your people, so I just wanted to let you know I don’t hate you.”

    Thanks???

    In re: the actual subject, a tiny piece of me almost wanted (for the first and thus far last time ever) to have a Facebook account so I could play by posting a pic of my great-grandmother. I really do look exactly like her. It’s kind of cool. Having pictures of her throughout her life is sort of like having a mirror with a fast forward button. Plus posting a picture of someone who isn’t/wasn’t famous would freak people the hell out, and I always love doing that.

    Fuck trying to pretend I look like someone famous. I look like someone AWESOME, and that’s better any day of the week.

    When the film of my life is made, can we have Eddie Izzard star in it? Or maybe an unholy melange of Eddie and Michael Palin? Neither one looks a damn thing like me (other than being white), but they both make me smile, and smiling is a big part of being me. Plus Michael has done a lot of drag and Eddie is an executive transvestite!

  103. I second that the culture you grew up in really determines what features you see in people.

    I recently had the chance to travel to/spend a significant amount of time (2 months) in Tanzania, with a bunch of other white college age students like myself. It’s only the second time in my life that I have ever been confused with someone else, and it struck me as odd because I was confused with two of the other women on the trip who looked nothing at all like me except that they were tall. Literally, eye color, hair color, length, body shape and size, all completely different.

    I think the funny thing is, or well maybe the not so funny, is that I used to live along the same lines of getting people of non-white races somewhat confused, until last summer. People tend to think all Africans look the same, but I can tell you from experience, though Tanzania and Uganda (where I got to spend just 3 days) are neighboring countries, the people look completely different. Different features, even different skin tone. It absolutely blew my mind, and my white privilege exploded in my face. Needless to say, I now get really angry when people say Africa as though everyone there is the same, but that’s an entirely different post.

    TY for the amazing post Mean Asian Girl.

    ps- I did actually participate in the doppleganger thing. I put up Grace Kelly. I always get “old movie star looks.” I swear its just the fact that am I not a stick figure like today’s celebrities, I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and very traditionally white “All-American” (what does that even mean anymore?) looks. Apparently. I don’t see it.

  104. I don’t know if it was because I hung out almost exclusively with International Students, but there was a point in college when I could not tell which white guy in my large class was the one that had randomly been assigned to my group. Backward baseball cap, hair that is somewhere in the blond to dark brown range and has grown out to that flipping up around the cap length, backpack, no glasses. Year 6 at ND State, the random 20 yr/olds all started to bleed together. I hit 24 and stopped caring about even trying to differentiate them. I guess that speaks to the “who cares about that ‘other’” people mentioned above. I think I’ve phased back into caring.. it can be done!

  105. I live in a postal code where I am a minority, although white; because of this, the “who you look like” game is often outside my personal frame of entertainment reference.

    However, it was this diversity that helped me find out my only real celebrity doppelganger is a Hong Kong actress from the 70s named Lily Ho (or Lily Ho Li Li. I’m not sure which is most correct). Now I’m a bit fatter and older than when the comparison was first made, but she is really the only person I’ve seen that I actually do resemble.

    Anyway, if I actually google her picture people almost always say “Wow! You could be sisters!” and yet people don’t believe me at first because of different ethnicity. I’ve been annoyed by the disbelief and amazement.

    It seems to me a slightly different take on the “all people of X background look the same” – which, given my FrenchCanuck history on one side, is somewhat true in smaller groups. (Although not in groups as large as continents and in populations as diverse as “Asian”.) The “dark haired blue eyed stocky” type, for example, comes to my children from three different grandparent families.

    But to be amazed and alarmed that the same arrangement of features can happen without close common genetics seems to seem pretty redonk.

    We’re all human, for crying out loud.

    Also, tangentially, Sandra Oh is from Napean, Ontario, where I lived for a time. She was in a play I saw as a kid – like, she was 10. So I always say I saw her when she was underground, and squee with her successes. *g* Aside from being gorgeous (and whoever said otherwise can bite me), she’s also funny, poised, and incredibly classy.

  106. Speaking of names that are “hard” to pronounce:

    I have a long, Polish last name (though the spelling is very simplified) and back about 10 years ago, telemarketers often asked for Ms. Intern-Who-Had-An-Affair-With-The-President. The first and last letters of our names are the same. Nothing else is. At least I could honestly tell them that there was no one there by that name.

    Also, my last name is totally phonetic.

    For some reason, I regularly got confused with two specific girls, one in elementary school and the other in high school. I look nothing like either of them, but both are (at least half) Latina. I’m…not…but look ethnically ambiguous. Who knows.

    Great post!

  107. AnthroK8: no worries. It’s particularly entertaining to me, given the nature of the name discussion in the thread: I had a name-thing happen in a way that *didn’t* involve suspicion, an immediate demand that I explain my ethnic heritage, or horrible mispronunciation of a short phonetic word!

    Arwen said: But to be amazed and alarmed that the same arrangement of features can happen without close common genetics seems to seem pretty redonk.

    We’re all human, for crying out loud. …and thus, on average, >99% genetically identical. ;-) There really isn’t such thing as “without close common genetics” for humans. So much more ridiculous to think that people wouldn’t look like other people given that, eh? (Even though I know you were discussing groups that amount to very big families with even more limited genetic variation to start with. Had to take my tangent and run with it.)

  108. @Jenny I Love Love Love Beautiful Girls–it was one of my all time favorite movies. I think because it’s about someone who’s left a small place returning and how that is navigated. These same folks made the tv shows October Road (and Life on Mars which I enjoy less) and they’re really obsessed with small town-big city, but they also always have fat women as characters. On October Road there was the fat bartender who ends up with the football star, in particular. I find their inclusion of fatties refreshing and their story lines more generally awesome, but on OR the fat girl was definitely amazingly unconfident (at least to me) which did wear on me some. But, at other times she was just real. Anyway, all that is to say, that the 1990s vs. 2010s isn’t one of content, as much as, perhaps our own reactions to such content? Though, I’m not sure.

  109. I’d been hoping that someone would post about the doppelganger meme: this is excellent. Thank you! I like where this thread has gone, though I also like the other main point: that the meme was annoying because it gave some women the chance to point out how close to the conventional standards of beauty they are. How much better to ask, “Which mighty woman are you most like?” and see pictures of Eleanor Roosevelt, Indira Ghandi, Sojourner Truth, and so forth floating around Facebook.

    Several years ago, I regularly confused two students of color in one of my classes: in rapid fire discussions, I would call on each by the other’s name. While I did also regularly confuse girls with long blond hair, it was clear to me that I was confusing these two students of color because of race. I was horrified, and worked quite hard to stop it. It took awhile, and some concentration, but I did.

    As I’ve read the comments here, I’ve struggled with how I should have handled the situation. While here, on SP, we emphasize recognizing–to the other person or people–our privilege, I’m not sure that it’s appropriate for me to say, “That’s racist of me: I’m sorry and I’m working on it” because depending on students’ ages, my statement of “that’s racist of me” can get spread around school and misconstrued in some quite damaging ways. Perhaps that’s too self-protective of me, but I think it’s just a tricky thing.

    I guess I’m hoping that my apologies–I did apologize and they were aware, I hope, that I was actively struggling with it, rather than dismissing it–and my internal focus on ending that behavior were the right way to handle it.

    Anyway, fabulous post, and one I was hungry for. Thanks.

  110. I don’t look like anyone famous, but I would like Bob Hoskins to play me if they ever make Paintmonkey the Movie.

    Bob Hoskins is sexy as all get out! I once saw him at Heathrow and nearly peed my pants. I was like 16 and way too bubbly. And he was really nice!

  111. I found that a certain circle of my friends made the doppelganger meme pretty enjoyable. A lot of the “celebrities” posted weren’t instantly recognizable as famous figures as much as they were recognizable as photos of doppelgangeresque figures. Obscure avant-garde artists, musicians from nineties bands, etc. Either that or muppets, cartoon characters, and comic book heroes sporting the same glasses, or hair color, or sweaters.

    As a person whose weight pretty much means I’ll never enter into a Prince and the Pauper type scenario with most of Hollywood, I still surprisingly have had comparisons to one actress over the last five years or so. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if she weighs literally half as much as I do, strangers and acquaintances have both brought up that we have similar faces. So on one hand, it should have been easy, right? People were asking me when I was going to post my celebrity doppelganger, and we were chatting about it, but I definitely had part of me that felt that if I posted the photo, people would look at it and see the weight difference and think that I was delusional. I spent probably an hour looking through online photo galleries, trying to find the one that looked the most like me. Then, I uploaded it and had to add a caption saying that people had told me that I looked like her, just so no one would think that I thought I was “that pretty”, or some shit.

    So, technically, I liked celebrity doppelgangers. I learned about bands I never heard of, I liked helping friends find random characters that somehow totally worked, and the temporary weirdness on the FB page was interesting. But personally, I probably didn’t need the reminder that I’m still not over my own body issues.

    When I think of some of my friends who posted the not-so-famous celebrities, I guess a lot of that’s because they aren’t people who look like people in movies. They’re bigger or scruffier or have a different face or are a race that doesn’t get a lot of Hollywood play.

  112. Mean Asian Girl, this was a great post, and I thank you for it!

    Hsofia – NO WAY old lady! Omg I hate when people simply refuse to pronounce names that are unfamiliar. My cousin’s name is Ansh. Four letters, say it like it’s spelled. Nobody can do this. Poor kid. And he has a twenty-four character surname.

    Just did myheritage.com with my icon photograph: apparently, there weren’t any blue people, and all of my doppelgangers are men (Kirk Hammett, Al Pacino, Freeman Dyson, and Andre Breuger?). For some reason, this makes me extraordinarily happy. I am also very happy to not use Facebook anymore. It gives me an extraordinary lightness of being.

  113. In my life I have been told that I look like Bridget Bardot, Grace Kelly, Marilyn Monroe, Kate Winslet, Geena Davis and Courtney Love. None of these women look particularly alike but they are all white and blonde, as am I. However, I don’t get mistaken for other white people in real life and that, I think, is one key difference.

    @Starling makes an interesting point about police reports. When I was a reporter in Australia it seemed that every police report would identify the suspect as “a male of Mediterranean appearance”. What the heck is that supposed to mean? Italian? Lebanese? Egyptian? It’s a pretty wide term and it seemed to me that it was a catch-all for anyone who wasn’t the Northern European style of white or Aboriginal.

  114. Do you mind if I digress into biology? I find this a fascinating subject and I am not trying to make a political or cultural point. If I’m crossing a line, then please let me know.

    Apparently it is scientifically true that some parts of the world (countries or regions rather than entire continents) are more genetically homogeneous than others. The human population in a part of the world that has not had much immigration for hundreds of years will be less genetically diverse than somewhere that has waves of immigration. For that reason, historically island populations tend to be less genetically diverse than continental populations. The reason we know this is because of things like the relative concentrations of various hereditary diseases.

    However, still along the biology front, it’s a stretch to infer from that all people of a certain background look alike. Even among a highly genetically homogeneous population such as Japan, the diversity in appearance is biologically vast compared with other species. Human beings have evolved to tell each other apart by sight, rather than scent or sound. We are a very visual species and human individuals look far different from each other than individuals of other species that use other biological markers. So they “they all look alike” argument is fairly ridiculous. Maybe all squirrels look alike, but humans don’t, no matter their ethnic background.

  115. Adot – That just gave me the greatest idea for “celebrity dopplegangers,” way back in the early aught’s my current boyfriend’s best friend used to say I looked like Eeek The Cat (presumably because I have large eyes and a toothy grin… not because of my purple facade). I should totes put up Eeek The Cat.

  116. Thank you for posting this and as always, I can’t read fast enough for all the great responses!

    I have always hated with vitriolic passion anytime I hear someone say they “saw someone” who “looks just like…”. Unfortunately I have a friend who does this constantly! And I just cringe inside because it pisses me off sooo freakin much! To me it’s along the same lines of “all look the same” and also the reason I despise the whole celebrity look-a-like thing, because it erases/negates what is unique about each individual. But then I found highly offensive the old Lucille Robert’s Gym ads where they showed the body (sans face) of three thin celebrities saying all women are one of these three body types. You just had to go there and find out which bodytype/celebrity you could be if you worked out/dieted and were born to those celebritie’s parents. (Ok, not that last bit…. stair master and genetic modification combo not included.)

    Of course this could also be part of my own baggage from growing up with parents that always said “if only you looked like your sister, with your talent…” or in answer to a compliment from someone who had seen a show when I was young—didn’t matter what the person said the response was always the same “yeah.. you wouldn’t think it to look at her”, which always seemed to stop the person for a second as they never seemed to know how to respond to that. Usually they just gave a kindly smiled and got the hell outta there. But anyway…

    “Exotic looks”… Well, Godzilla is exotic! So what are they saying?

    For me I don’t seem to remember names well, but I remember faces.

    Side note: I just totally love Eddie Izzard!!! He is just every kind of fabulous to me!

  117. I’m a white American living in Japan now. 3 of my friends are bald white men. Except for the fact that they’re bald, they don’t look anything alike, but Japanese people in our neighborhood and students at our English school are constantly mixing them up.

  118. So, the name thing.

    One thing that I think needs to be brought up here is that not all languages have the same sounds. If your name contains sounds that do not exist in English, your name will be butchered by every person you meet who doesn’t speak the language from which your name hails/who isn’t any good at imitating accents. If your name contains letters that make different sounds in other languages than they do in English, your name will be (initially, anyway) be butchered by everyone who doesn’t know how to pronounce that language/isn’t familiar with that language. It seems eminently sensible to me to change your name because most speakers won’t be able to pronounce it correctly and you don’t want to hear it get murdered; it’s what most of my white friends teaching English abroad do with their names like Rebecca and Elizabeth.

    These strike me as vastly more likely to be elements of circumstance than elements of privilege. For example, in my part of New Jersey there isn’t a huge Polish community that I come in contact with due to geography, so I didn’t learn to pronounce Polish names until college. There also isn’t any sort of significant Vietnamese community to speak of, so I still don’t know how to pronounce Vietnamese names. However, my best friend growing up was Greek, so long multisyllabic names don’t phase me in the slightest, and many of my friends in high school were Chinese, so I have a better-than-average grasp of pinyin pronounciation. I also happen to be good at imitating accents, so I can get around most names decently once I get a good grasp on them.

    I don’t mean to downplay privilege. None of this excuses, for example, my coworkers who can’t grasp that our client Rajesh’s name has a long E, despite hearing me call him “rajeesh” every time. But I do think we need to consider linguistic factors here, which for many many people aren’t as simple as just trying harder. The reason that, despite trying for years, I could never get my mouth around the correct Chinese pronunciation of Zheng Qing, is the same reason why 99% of the native English speakers I’ve met don’t pronounce my name, Sara, the way it’s supposed to be pronounced. They’re not prejudiced against Italian-Irish brunettes from New Jersey, they just can’t create the same “ar” sound that I can because it doesn’t exist in their dialect.

  119. sara l., that is a good point and certainly something I think most people who have tried to learn a foreign language have experienced. There are a lot of factors behind why someone would pick another name or a nickname, or why any given person might have a hard time pronouncing another person’s name, especially if it’s from a language that is starkly different from their own. That said, think of the uproar in the media when Justice Sotomayor became famous and wanted people to pronounce her name with the accent on the last syllable, or the Texas state representative who told her Asian American constituents that they should change their names so that they’re “easier for Americans to deal with” (emphasis added). I think you’re absolutely right that linguistic circumstances are important; I just think it’s shameful that many English-speaking Americans use those circumstances as a reason to not even bother trying or acknowledging that cultural difference is not just about “us” and “them.”

  120. “It seems eminently sensible to me to change your name because most speakers won’t be able to pronounce it correctly and you don’t want to hear it get murdered; it’s what most of my white friends teaching English abroad do with their names like Rebecca and Elizabeth.”

    No.

    As a trilingual (North) American by choice, this sounds not only completely wrong to me in terms of identity erasure, but also like a lazy isolationist (and colonialist) hangover.

    People born in Switzerland speak three and four languages, of both Latin and Germanic derivation, without blinking, in part, because they’re surrounded on all sides by countries that speak those languages and have no intention of disadvantaging themselves by virtue of inability.

    If my last name is Nuñez and I live in L.A., I’m going to change my name because the English speakers there might mangle it?

    Assuming I’ve understood you correctly (I never rule out the inapposite), I’m sorry, I can’t think of anything more articulate than just “NO.”

  121. LittleM–
    I’m comfortable with the idea of having a ‘convenience’ name if there’s a part of your name that is just unpronounceable in the language you’re currently using, or if there’s a grammatical reason to do so. When I introduce myself in Russian, I add an -a to my name, because it becomes much easier to modify according to its part of speech. (Russian is a language with seven grammatical cases.) I also find that the St- that begins my last name usually needs an E at the beginning in some of the Romance languages, and it in fact originally had one and had it dropped when it Anglicized. (Individual pronunciations vary, but it does get the E from a lot of native Spanish-speakers.) And of course English has the famous shibboleth problem–the “th” sound is something not used in most languages and a serious tongue-twister for a lot of folks. My brother Jonathan doesn’t use his full first name in Japan. It’s just unkind.

    But then, I don’t have to do anything with my name, either. It’s a choice. When it becomes a demand, or when you are cavalierly renamed by people who can’t be bothered, that’s completely different.

  122. Regarding names:

    My full first name is Shoshanna. It’s pronounced phonetically. Show-Shah-Nah.

    I can’t tell you how many time’s I’ve gotten blatent mistakes like Shoshone (like the Native American tribe) or Sho-anna. I had one teacher call me Sho-anna for an entire quarter. I just gave up trying to correct him after a while. When my friend heard him call me that, she corrected him. He responded, “Oh. Well, I like Sho-anna better.”

    Um, K. Sure. You are welcome to name your children Sho-anna.

    I also never quite know how to respond when people say “You have such a lovely name.” Or “That’s a really interesting name.” Like, uh, thanks? I picked it myself?

    And I’m just your typical fat Jewish white girl. Dealing with the stupid of racism on top of the name stuff must be maddening.

    Regarding celebrities:

    Evidently I look most like John Cusak?

  123. Either that or muppets, cartoon characters, and comic book heroes sporting the same glasses, or hair color, or sweaters.

    I have a friend who looks and acts just like Scooter!

  124. Littlem – the thing Sara L. said is “if you didn’t like hearing it mangled”, and I think that’s fair – if she doesn’t like hearing it mangled. Of course, for those who don’t mind, then it’s no big deal!

    My name is variously pronounced by various people for whom English is a late second language, and I am often “Ow-wen” or “Owen”, and there is one friend who calls me “Wennie” because the Ar- is hard to shape given her dialect. I know that for some it’s embarrassing to not be able to pronounce it or hear it properly, so if I were moving someplace where there was near universal difficulty, I might change it.

    For many people, the ability to assimilate new phonemes actually starts dissipating by 10 – which is why those surrounded by various languages as kids have a wider “palette” of phoneme sounds – but that’s well shown. It’s not people being rude if they immigrate to a new country as adults and never learn the language well.

    I can’t insist on the English “Arw” and be fair or practical in my largely immigrant community, but I don’t mind the gender bending of Owen. I imagine some might have more difficulty with it.

  125. Being half-Asian half white, I have never gotten the “has anyone ever told you that you look a bit like X” treatment. My brother has, however. He was playing at a music festival once, and a few people mistook him for Luke Steele of The Sleepy Jackson and Empire Of The Sun, who was also on the bill (he is not of Asian descent AFAIK).

    Couldn’t agree more about the “non-white people Are Borg” idea. My sister’s ex-workmates all thought she was related to a Sri Lankan bloke who also worked there. He didn’t look a damn thing like her in bone structure, skin tone, hair type, etc. Both brown people? Even if their skin tones are at different ends of the chart, they must be related!

  126. I never thought of it that way, wish I had though. I had decided not to participate because I’m a plain, snub-nosed white girl and I don’t resemble any celebrity I know (or even any scientist I admire). Then I changed my profile image to Chowder, off the cartoon Chowder as a gag and decided he actually worked pretty well as a doppleganger for me and otherwise, as a statement.

    I have a lot in common with the little guy, aside from not being purple. He also gave me some added credibility with my godkids.

  127. I teach English at a university in Shanghai. My students all had English names before they even started our program (I work in an Australian joint venture that sends the Chinese kids to Oz in their 3rd year). I had spent 6 years teaching in Turkey before I moved to China and all my students there kept their own names. I don’t think they had ever considered changing their names for a foreigner’s tongue. It took me a few days to get my tongue around some of the more difficult (for me) pronunciation but it wasn’t at all insurmountable.

    With my Chinese students, it has been a bit different as they ASKED me to use their English names specifically. I spent the first few days stubbornly calling out their Chinese names during roll call but apparently my tones were appalling and they were rolling in the aisles, laughing.

    I’ve been told that many (mainland) Chinese professionals take foreign names (not just English- I have a Klaus and a Luzifel, among others) because with such a huge population, an office can easily have several employees with not only the same given name but also the same family name. Thus, Yu Yidong chooses to be Ian to differentiate himself at work from Yu Yidong 2 and 3.

    My students, I should note, often can’t wrap their tongues around my ultra generic English name and have rearranged it to suit their comfortable phonemic abilities (MaryAnne— Ma Lian) That’s fine with me.

    As for the Facebook meme, I did succumb to it as my friends were doing it in such a fascinating, irreverent way– with muppets and robots and whatnot, which all somehow captured something in them. I chose a photo of Chrissie Hynde from the early 80s— but not one of the glam shots. This one was her sitting cross-legged , wearing a shapeless old sweatshirt, uncombed hair, no makeup, looking really tired and haggard, taking a fierce drag on a cigarette… and after I posted it, I got emails from several people who asked me when I’d taken up smoking. Ha. Doppelganger memes needn’t be an ego-stroking exercise!

  128. To clarify, Luke Steele is not of Asian descent AFAIK, not my brother.

    I think the inability to tell people from a different racial group apart can sometimes stem, in part, from being *told*/believing that all X people look the same.

    I say sometimes and in part because I sometimes have trouble telling white people apart, and also encounter the same problem with Asian people! When I told one of my white mates this, she was appalled (it’s only acceptable to admit that re. non-white people, obvs.)

  129. “the thing Sara L. said is “if you didn’t like hearing it mangled””

    I’m having trouble seeing why the “Then other people should learn to pronounce it” option is, apparently, so much more problematic than the insufferably arrogant “If ‘these people’ want to be in this country they should learn to speak English” declaration.

    Obviously, this is something about which I feel a little strongly — which I feel might be related in turn to the anti-anything-other-than-English attitude I’ve grown up observing having been embedded in this country.

    I mean, when I’m in a smug mood, it feels like a last reactionary gasp of a population that senses even when it won’t admit it, the inevitability of globalization threatening an economic grip sustained in great part by that same colonialist expansion structure that quashed those languages.

    But, being as much of an American as any of ‘those people’, and a little tetchy about the RSCC gathering its forces to attempt to reinstate that very same order as Bayh steps down, I’m just not in a smug mood today.

  130. LittleM:
    I totally get behind your irritation about the “real American”/”not real American” and the English-only problem. Totally. My flexibility re: my name has a lot to do with the fact that the pronunciation issues really are about pronunciation, not coded racism or othering. In my case, unwillingness to accommodate local pronunciation and grammatical rules when abroad would be read as another exercise of entitlement–the “ugly American” problem.

    Context is everything, isn’t it?

  131. I really liked MAG’s post … it’s unfortunate that people can’t see that people of different ethnicities actually can look alike if you look at their features and not their skin tone but I don’t see very many people getting this and in fact have, a few times confused people by noticing resemblances that go beyond ethnicity. And, fwiw I like the myheritage tool because it doesn’t seem to care what ethnicity you are – for me it turned up people of many ethnicities and apparently it does for others as well.

    This is kinda OT but this post made me think of it … I have an acquaintance who recently made the comment “don’t you think little black children are just the cutest kids ever” and just pissed me off but I couldn’t quite figure out why when she said it. Now I think I know – partly because she lumped all black children together and partly because there was this implication that their cuteness was somehow there for her … that these children don’t exist for their own reasons and with their own identities completely aside from her desire to look at cute kids.

    I haven’t been on facebook for a long time so I missed the meme. I might have participated to be funny … I say this because I just ran a couple of photos through the myheritage.com tool and came up with: Robert Patrick, Nicolas Tse, Brooke Shields (which I used to get when I was young and had big eyebrows), Jessican Biel, and … wait for it … STROM THURMOND!!

    If I had done the meme on FB I probably would have posted myself as Strom just for the absurdity factor.

    It just turns my stomach that people are calling Sandra Oh ugly. To me ugly is a behavior, not a look.

  132. I’m having trouble seeing why the “Then other people should learn to pronounce it” option is, apparently, so much more problematic than the insufferably arrogant “If ‘these people’ want to be in this country they should learn to speak English” declaration.

    I think they’re both problematic, in terms of the science of language acquisition; but of course the anti-immigrant stance is problem on a bunch of other levels. And there are always assholes who have a palette but willfully mispronounce or Anglicize aggressively; sort of a different issue.

    On the other hand, unaccented/clear pronunciation of “new” language isn’t actively possible for the majority of people confronting new phonemes as adults, and the ability to acquire vocabulary tends to be a skill which people have varying success regardless of effort. Not everyone has the same capacity. That’s important to keep in mind for immigrants and emigrants both.

    Anti-immigrant xenophobia demanding language acquisition is horse-shit, and unscientific to boot. But even allies can get the names wrong while trying of those out of their previous-to-10-years-old phoneme palette.

  133. My name is Edith. It’s prit-near impossible for anyone who is not a native speaker of English to pronounce. I’ve spent most of my life on the California coast, so I’ve met a lot of people who aren’t native speakers of English. And, do you know? everyone makes a good-faith effort to say it anyway. They don’t get it right, any more than I get Nguyen right, but no one ever pulls that “I can’t be bothered to try” crap.

  134. Sara l – I don’t know if anyone here (maybe one person?) was complaining about people mispronouncing their name. I think all of the commenters here speak English, so we all know what sounds exist in the English language. The racism and ethnocentrism comes into play when people flat out REFUSE to call you by the name you have introduced yourself by, or tell you that there is something wrong with your name. I don’t care if people screw up saying my name; I will always appreciate sincere efforts. My brother in law is dyslexic and has a speech impediment; he cannot spell or say my name correctly. I don’t mind this.

    What I did mind? A good friend of mine (A) got into a discussion with another good friend of mine (B) about how to pronounce my name. B told A she was mispronouncing it (in such a common way that I barely notice), so they asked me who was right. I said B was right. At which point, Friend A vehemently disagrees that she is saying it wrong, and gets into an argument with Friend B and friends C & D who happened to be sitting nearby. After a five minute tirade, she told me that she didn’t know what was wrong with the rest of us and that I didn’t know how to pronounce my own effing name!. And yes, friend A has some serious entitlement and race issues, which she has been working on. And we are still friends. And I’ve long forgiven her, but will probably never forget it. (Incidentally, at some point in time she started pronouncing my name correctly.)

  135. correction – what she actually said to me was, “I’m not saying your name wrong; I hear myself and I’m saying it just right. You’re the one saying it wrong.

  136. One of my friends put up Cousin Itt, because of her long hair. A former colleague put up a note saying that he was unable to find a decent picture of the dude from the Men’s Wearhouse commercials (the resemblance is, in fact, uncanny).

    But overall? Yes. This entire post/thread. YES.

  137. Come to think of it, the only people who’ve ever forcibly renamed me have been other white people who decided that I must have said “Eva,” or, one time, “Zenith.” No one’s ever argued when I corrected them.

  138. @snarkysmachine: I too took the meme as a “who would play you in a film” type thing and therefore chose Sarah Gilbert, who played Darlene on the long-lost Roseanne. What was interesting about this choice was how much it sparked comments from my friends trying to “reassure” me that I am “much prettier” than Gilbert (whom I actually do resemble a fair amount). Speaks, I guess, to the narrowing standard of beauty Kate was referencing upthread – Gilbert is a cis white woman who happened to play a CHARACTER who was not worried about her prettiness. She MUST, therefore, not be pretty. And I must have some kind of bad hangup to want to identify with her rather than some more traditionally pretty Hollywood celebrity?

    Thanks so much for the post, Mean Asian Girl. I am among the legions who didn’t consider the racial or FA implications of this meme, but I’m glad to have had my eyes opened about it, and to read all the great points everyone is making!

  139. I don’t look like anyone famous, but I would like Bob Hoskins to play me if they ever make Paintmonkey the Movie.

    I don’t care what schlub gets cast as me when they make my biographic but I want Carlos Santana’s “Put Your Lights On” to be playing when I’m blasting or slashing my way to the final confrontation with an old friend/lover turned deadliest enemy.

  140. I am good with faces and life stories, and terrible, really terrible with names – since names tend not to have any information in themselves. (For example, my name is Liz Miller – there are at least 8 people with my name working in my building) and my department has 5 Daves, 4 Johns…you get the picture.

    So if I meet you a second time, I will NOT remember what your name is, but I WILL remember whatever you told me about your life story the first time we met.

    And I WON’T think you look like some random person who happens to have the same skin color you do.

  141. Sweet Machine: Totally agreed with everything you said. I just wanted to bring up another perspective.

    Littlem: The example you gave doesn’t apply. Nunez-with-tilde (how did you make that letter, btw?) can be pronounced by English-speakers. All the sounds in it exist in English (the n-with-tilde exists, for example, in canyon), so any English-speaker who isn’t saying it right doesn’t have an excuse. However, if your was Katia, chances of ever hearing it correctly from English-speakers would be almost nonexistent. The Russian soft “t” in Katia does not map onto the English “tya” sound, much though we’d like it to. Russian soft consonants do not exist in English. And to a Russian-speaking ear, the different between a Russian saying “Katia” and an American saying it is as clear as the different you pointed out between Nunez with and without tilde. I’m not talking about people being lazy, I’m talking about (for example) the lack of r-l differentiation in some Asian languages. Also, your point about the Swiss … like, yes they speak four languages. That was my point exactly. Most Americans don’t. Your average Swiss person can probably cope with a lot more different sorts of names than your average American for that reason. Which was exactly my point

    Further, I … don’t know where you got “THEY SHOULD LEARN TO SPEAK ENGLISH” from my nerdy trip down linguist lane. What Starling and Arwen said is basically exactly what I meant. Allowable phonemes vary cross-linguistically, and for a lot of people, learning new ones is really hard. My mom, for example, can’t roll her r’s. She’s tried. She also can’t pronounce French to save her life, much to my constant chagrin.

    hsofia: Clearly we got different things from the comments ::shrug:: I 100% agree with everything you said, and as someone whose name routinely gets mangled despite being whiteywhite bog standard and totally phonetic, I’m sympathetic to how awful it is when simple names get mangled. I brought up my point because people were acting as though the only reason some non-Europeans take European names was because of racism, when in my experience it’s had a lot more to do with having names that Americans can’t pronounce due to the phonetic constraints of our language and not wanting to bother walking English-speakers down Other-Language-Pronounciation-Lane ten times daily.

  142. Weighing in on the name pronunciation thing, probably too late, since this point might already be clear to everyone but me — I think we’re talking about two different things: 1) Willful refusal to get as close as one possibly can to the correct pronunciation as dictated by the owner of the name, because (whether this is consciously acknowledged or not) it’s not sufficiently “American/English” — which is total bullshit for all the reasons littlem and hsofia have laid out. 2) Physical inability to make certain sounds, which is a real thing when one gets past a certain age.

    I studied both Spanish and Russian, for instance, and I still cannot roll Rs to save my life. I started too late, and I have a particularly bad ear — can’t sing, can’t do accents, probably cannot pronounce Sara’s name the way she’d like me to (though I know what she’s talking about). So in my case, it’s not a matter of laziness or lack of curiosity (I’ve also studied other languages, though I’m not fluent in any but English), much less a lack of respect for proper pronunciation or what people prefer to be called. I would LOVE to be able to get it right every time, but I just can’t make certain sounds come out of my mouth. I shudder to think how thick my accent sounds in other languages.

    And that means there are some names I will never pronounce correctly. But using Sweet Machine’s example, there’s a big difference between saying “Soto-my-OR” with a noticeable American English accent (which I do) and pronouncing it “Sodamare” while insisting it’s unamerican of her to object (which I would never do). Or between getting someone’s name slightly wrong, because that’s as close as you can get, and going, “Yeah, I’m just gonna call you Bob.”

    So basically, I think you’re all right.

    ETA: I hadn’t seen Sara’s last post when I wrote this, so maybe a little more clarification was in order.

  143. sara l.,

    “[W]hen in my experience it’s had a lot more to do with having names that Americans can’t pronounce due to the phonetic constraints of our language and not wanting to bother walking English-speakers down Other-Language-Pronounciation-Lane ten times daily.”

    There IS no American language. Privileging English over other languages in the U.S. is really problematic. There are LOTS of areas of the country where you’ll hear many languages other than English.

    Also, let’s talk about names that “Americans” can’t pronounce. To look at the two most populous states in the U.S., California and Texas, you’ll find that the #10 boy’s name in 2008 in California was Jose. (http://www.ssa.gov/cgi-bin/namesbystate.cgi)

    In Texas, 2008′s TOP MOST COMMON boy’s name was … Jose.

    When I was a young boy in Texas, I chose a boy’s name for myself and insisted upon putting it on top of all of my school work papers. The name I chose was Jose. Though I’m a white U.S.ian from Anglo-Saxon descent, I knew perfectly well how to both say and spell my chosen name, because “Jose” seemed as American to me as apple pie. Because it is.

    Positing the “average American” as a white English-only-speaker erases huge swathes of the U.S. citizenry. Eighteen percent of U.S. households–nearly 1 in 5–speak a language other than English. (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/00000.html) Those who hold a bachelor’s degree only comprise a slightly higher percentage–24% of the population. But we don’t treat college grads as strange exotic creatures whose needs and language cannot possibly be understood.

    White people of non-Hispanic descent are about 65% of the U.S. population. Sure, that’s a majority–but women also comprise a slightly larger percentage of the population than do men, and we probably wouldn’t describe the “average American” as being a woman.

    Insisting that this is all really about the science of language and phonetic geekery obscures the fact that it’s partially the racism and xenophobia in the U.S. that allows some names to be regarded as rightfully “American” while other names–names of those who are every bit as much a U.S. citizen as a John or a Mary–to be labelled “foreign” and “not-American.”

  144. This post was great. Anything substantive I had to say has been said, but the whole “face-blindness” thing reminded of this guy I dated in college. For some reason I routinely forgot what he looked like. Seriously, in between dates (which were only spaced a few days apart) I would try to picture his face and be completely unable to do so. Whenever we would meet up somewhere I would just stand around waiting to be recognized! I’d say it didn’t work out and I haven’t seen him in years but for all I know he’s my neighbor.

  145. @snarkysmachine…..Bob Hoskins at the airport? SHHHRRREEEIIIK!!!!!! You lucky minx!…Obviously I dont look like Bob Hoskins (well, I dont think I do), but it would be cool if he’d play us in a film, wouldnt it? I’d also like Raul Julia to play me in a film. Actually, I’d like him to play every man woman and child in every film, but that’s just my quiet pining grief still coming out.
    Bob Hoskins playing me would be good to watch because he’d really have to learn to wear much make-up.

  146. I have two people in my life whose names I can’t pronounce – my sister-in-law, and a dear friend from college. My inability to do it correctly does not relieve me of the obligation to do the best I can – and indeed, neither woman has ever said word one to me about my difficulty, except to help me get closer when I ask.

    Refusing to even try an ethnic name strikes me as closer to the attitude of my father-in-law – who just gave me a Valentine’s card with my name misspelled on it. My English, traditionally spelled, entirely unremarkable name. And who at Christmas misspelled not only my name (in a different way yet), but also both sons’ – one of whom is named after him but uses a different (very common) nickname! I’ve been married to his son for eighteen years, and he’s been living with us for a year now, and he still can’t be bothered to actually figure out how anybody in the house spells their name. (No, he doesn’t have dyslexia or any other spelling/writing disability.)

    I seem to be peculiar. I identify individuals not by face alone (though I do notice faces), but also by voice, mannerisms and movement. In HS, I completely failed to realize there was a pair of identical twins in my class, even though I had classes with each of them separately, because they moved and acted differently. I didn’t notice the facial similarity until yearbook photos came out and their behavior was taken out of the equation. (Speaking of which – does anybody else watching the Olympics think that the Japanese figure skater Takahashi looks remarkably like Prince? Many of the same mannerisms, and a similar build and face.)

    The only celebrity I’ve been told I look like is Robin Williams (and they weren’t talking about the Mrs. Doubtfire incarnation).

  147. ‘The name mispronouncing can totally be used as a power play.

    As I said earlier I am a white woman and I generally go by the name Jen which is as simple as a name can be (unless you come from somewhere that finds the J sound problematic).

    An ex boss of mine insisted in calling me Jan, for weeks and weeks this went on.

    I reminded him everytime he said it that my name was Jen and I got “whatever” in reply.

    I eventually refused to answer him when he didn’t use the correct name, and still he wouldn’t stop.

    I tried every way to make this man call me by my given name and he was not having any of it.

    I finally went over his head, to his boss, and once he was told by another man that his behaviour was unacceptable he stopped.

    He did, however, hate me for this and made my life miserable for years in as many spiteful ways as he could.

  148. David Crosby, even though he’s not Jewish, could totally play me in a movie. Except he’d have to shave most though not all of his mustache, wear giant falsies, and remain in a seated position at all times, since he’s 7-1/2 inches taller than I am. I can’t think of a famous woman, alive or dead, who could physically portray me without shitloads of special-effects makeup, including the scalp. Thanks, PCOS.

    Prosopagnosia (I haz it) is definitely associated with the autism spectrum, although not all autistic people have it and not all people who have it are autistic. The fact that I have it pretty much means that I could match two people’s hairdos a lot better than I could their faces. (When I was 10, they showed A Hard Day’s Night at my summer camp, and I remember bursting into tears in the middle of it because I could not tell the damn Beatles apart like everyone else did.) Therefore, I’d automatically disqualify myself from this meme were I on Facebook, because I know I’d bollix it up. Unless I meet someone who is a dead ringer for a celebrity whose image I’ve seen hundreds of times, which happens to me maybe once a decade, forget it.

    Or maybe it’s just that I admit I suck at this, and most people who suck at it are loath to. They would rather say something head-bangingly stupid (and racist) than admit they don’t know the answer. Boggles the orbs.

  149. @Renatus

    I realized that I have a fair amount of face recognition blindness and everybody comes across as broad strokes unless I make an effort to really look at any given person to get enough data to seperate them out from the sea of faces. Everyone that I wans’t deeply familiar with looked more or less alike until I realized it was something borked with my mental software.
    [...]
    I’m borderline/high functioning autistic, so there is something demonstrably different about my brain that affects my perceptions, but I have no clue if this is common. Take with appropriately sized grain of salt.

    Prosopagnosia isn’t uncommon among autistics. I have it too.

    This site will give those who don’t a good idea what that’s like: http://www.prosopagnosia.com/main/stones/index.asp

    As I understand it, most people recognize other human faces in a holistic sort of way — you see the face as a whole and recognize the person. If I want to recognize you later I probably will have memorize individual features. I became more skilled at that by studying a little manual that was meant to help police recognized suspects who’d dyed their hair or changed their facial hair, but I take more time and I am not at all reliable. There are people I’ve known for years that I won’t recognize if I see them somewhere I don’t expect them, or if they are sitting very still (I recognized people’s movement-patterns pretty well) or don’t speak to me (I recognize voices pretty well.)

    But when it comes to racial stuff, the ‘they all look alike’ thing is weird. African American people are, for me, largely easier — I seem to have less trouble finding a couple of distinctive features unique to each face. Everybody else it’s about the same. I frequently mistake people with similar hair colours/styles for one another. But am not going to mistake the tall Vietnamese woman with the punk spiked hair for the short Korean woman with the bangs. Until they both sit down wearing shower caps and refuse to talk…

  150. Denise, I also have trouble looking other people in the eye – it feels too close and personal for some reason – which I know doesn’t help with my ability to recognize faces.

    Meowser, Grafton, thank you for the information. I’ve had to navigate most things autism on my own so far, so there’s lots I don’t know.

    There are people I’ve known for years that I won’t recognize if I see them somewhere I don’t expect them, or if they are sitting very still

    Gah, me too. It rattled me terribly whenever it would happen until I found out that my oddness was unusual brain wiring and not some personal flaw. Not that it still doesn’t rattle me, but now that I know why it happens it doesn’t broadside me.

    Movement and voices are also more recognizable for me, although voices are far easier.

    Re: name mispronounciations – I feel the pain of others who have a hard time pronouncing non-English words and names; like Kate, I just can’t pronounce certain things, even after training my ear to hear the difference. But I do my best.

    I think that’s an important point – an adult’s ear can be trained to unfamiliar sounds even if they’ve lost the ability to reproduce them. There’s quite a big difference between how people pronounce words/names because they can’t quite make certain sounds and because they can’t be bothered to make themselves suffer the minor embarrassment of their best effort at that show of resepct not being perfect.

  151. The Other Caitlin said: Human beings have evolved to tell each other apart by sight, rather than scent or sound. We are a very visual species and human individuals look far different from each other than individuals of other species that use other biological markers. So they “they all look alike” argument is fairly ridiculous. Maybe all squirrels look alike, but humans don’t, no matter their ethnic background.

    Um, sorry – not quite right. Squirrels DO NOT all look alike. I’m not even sure we’re more visual than many other mammals, and as far as other animals, we for damned sure don’t have the visual ranges of many birds and insects. I don’t have any quantitative measures to provide, alas, but my own field work and teaching experience in mammalogy won’t let me let this one go. And I remain unconvinced that people rely primarily on visual cues for mate choice.

    Also, re: genetic homogeneity: this is a tough one. Yes, there are areas with less immigration, and depending on the way the population was founded, they may have genetic homogeneity. But there’s also a very important cultural influence here that I don’t think we should forget to discuss. For instance, the incidence of many diseases has been well-studied among Ashkenazic Jews…not because the Ashkenazim are physically isolated, but socially isolated, and have thus experienced a higher level of inbreeding than their surrounding communities (which exposes recessive traits). And even with limited genetic variation (which I find somewhat problematic to discuss, in some ways, given how little variation we see in general among humans), you’re right that people look different from each other. “Appearance” is pretty clearly determined by a lot of genes, so even a little bit of variation can lead to visible differences – and that’s without considering new mutations (= new variations) or the influence of environment on trait development.

    Frankly, my own misadventures with my name being mispronounced or my body being compared to the pretty white Hollywood starlet image collection have not seemed at all tied to biology, but rather bigotry. It’s a fascinating discussion, sure, but I think the ideas that MAG highlighted to start us off fall squarely within that cultural realm. (Sorry if this comes across as harsh – I don’t mean it to, except for the squirrel comment. ;-) As a WOC and a geneticist, this stuff gets my pulse up.)

  152. Starling asked: But has anyone else been confused with the other fat coworker?

    Yep, twice. The first made sense to me. We have a similar hair color and style and very similar taste in clothes, and the guy who said “Hi, Coworker’s Name” to me isn’t someone I work with directly or know very well. So, yeah, I can see it.

    The second was a real WTF moment.

    Her: platinum blonde short hair. Me: brownish gold hair that falls a few inches past my shoulders.

    Her: Large blue eyes. Me: small brown eyes

    Her: Light-colored, sculpted eyebrows. Me: Dark, natural, slightly bushy eyebrows

    Her: Clear complexion, usually made up. Me: Always a few acne spots and, make-up, what make-up?

    Her: No glasses. Me: Glasses.

    My nose is shorter, my face is a different shape, the differences go on and on.

    The part that made it even more annoying was that she’s worked there for 5 years, me for 4, and the person who called me by her name *really* should’ve known better.

  153. I have prosopagnosia. I was tested last year by one of the leading researchers in the field. Part of the testing involves being given 10 things to learn and remember (horses, houses, cars and women without hair) then pick out of an assortment of pics. All the women without hair were white, and I asked why this is, and apparently people do score lower when trying to remember faces from members of ethnic groups other than that with which they’re most familiar in these tests, so being a white woman living in a country that’s 80-90% white, I got tested on white women without hair. (The hairlessness is to prevent focussing on hairstyles.)

    I guess what I’m wondering is how much of the inability to recognise is racist, and how much is because people are a little way along the faceblindness spectrum, and it’s showing up when they encounter people outside the racial group with which they’re most familiar. That said, most people with prosop rely on things like build and hairstyle to recognise people, so we’re pretty sure to tell people like Robin and Debbie apart.

  154. @Jadis – I’ve also had this experience when meeting people for the first time in the company of a childhood friend of mine. We look absolutely nothing alike, except that’re both fat and wear glasses, yet I’ve been told multiple times “OMG, you must be sisters!”

    Oh gawd, I get this all the time with one of my best friends. We’re both short and plump and bespectacled, but that’s where the resemblance ends. She’s blonde! And has straight hair! I have short brown curls! She has a rack of doom! I have a rack of slight intimidation! What, are all the fat girls from the same family, now? (Should we have reunions?)

    Yeah, count me in on skipping this meme, too. The whole thing struck me as stupid, even before the implications laid out here smacked me between the eyes. There are not enough fat famous women out there, and I don’t look like any of them. And I’m damned lucky, being a fat white chick, because I have at least a few options that don’t-quite-work. The “people that look like me” representation in the popular media sucks, but it sucks worse for POC. My eensy bit of butthurt is nothing.

  155. Knithappy, FWIW I’m white and I most often confuse white people with one another. I’m hopeless with actors and many of my husband’s zillion friends.

  156. I’m white and work in a predominantly Hispanic school district. I always get called the other young, white, female English teacher’s name even though she’s taller, thinner, and has short brown hair while mine is long and blonde. And if the kids aren’t calling us the wrong name, they’re asking if we’re sisters. The exact same thing happened at the previous school I worked at where the students were Hispanic & Asian. So, yeah, the “all-(insert ethnicity)-people-look-alike” applies to caucasians too.

    My husband is black, and our son doesn’t resemble either one of us, in terms of ethnicity. When my husband isn’t with us, people often ask “what is he?”, and sometimes assume he’s adopted. Or a girl since he has longish curly hair.

  157. Renatus, I’ve got my own husband wrong before now :D

    White men in suits are the worst for me, although if I encountered more men of colour in suits I’d probably have as much trouble with them too. Suits are all so similar, and I need distinguishing features.

    I think I was trying to say that there is test evidence that people have more difficulty recognising people outside their most familiar ethnic group, although this is not evidence that ‘they all look the same’.

  158. Sara L–
    OT, but the Russian soft sign is second only to the Russian verbs of motion in making my college years a horror. Aughhh flashback!

    I still can’t do much with the language, but it has made me polite, tolerant and admiring of people learning English as a second + language, or speaking English with an accent. Because if my Russian sucks as hard as it does after five years of daily classes, I have no stones to throw.

  159. Since my first comment was on a tangent, can I make this my “real” first comment and thank Mean Asian Girl for the very thought-provoking guest post and the link to Sepia Mutiny?

  160. Muppets: I hate the Which Muppet Are You? meme. Because my family always ALWAYS insisted I am Miss Piggy. And not in a good way. If I said I wanted to be Rolf or Gonzo or the Swedish Chef (there could be some argument made for why any of those would work), they’d laugh at me and say I was wrong. I love my family, but I hate the Kate is Miss Piggy and No, You Can’t Be Gonzo meme.

    “And I remain unconvinced that people rely primarily on visual cues for mate choice.”

    THIS. THIS THIS THIS.

    “Mate” as in “sex partner” or “mate” as in “social-economic-legal-kin-sex partner?” In the former case, I would say “primarily” is not the word we want here. And in the case of the latter, it absolutely is not.

    Much as those of us in the individuality-emphasizing West like to tell ourselves we choose mates based on our unique-individual-preferences of ANY kind, including visual preferences, that is just not how things have worked historically. (And today!)

    You don’t have to go back many generations of even American history to find that many kinds of constraints- religious, class, ethnic, gender- really shaped who you were allowed to marry and how much choice you had in the pool of “allowed” candidates. And we’re talking about when people had some component of being able to choose.

    If we think across the greater span of history, and cross-culturally today, who marries whom is plainly a community and family decision as much as it is a decision of individual choice. There are more than a few cases in history where individuals (sometimes men AND women, but very often only women) had no choice in mating partners. Or even saw them before they became mates.

    So unless the limited choice making we do now is some kind of accelerated process of retrograde evolution towards what our hominid ancestors “did,” visual preferences are a small part of a complicated mix of characteristics in mate choice.

    If you were Mr Tape the Tailor’s Son in some community of the distant past, and your parents got to heavily influence who you married, what would they want? Would they want you to marry the very-attractive-to-you Ms. Flotsam, daughter of the low-status impoverished midden manager, or Ms. Guilder, the less-attractive-to-you but economic alliance forming daughter of a local guildmaster?

    My point is, I get SO TIRED of reductionist and essentialist “we are evolved to” and “our hominid ancestors” as explanations for things that require a complicated approach to understanding why people do what they do.

    I don’t mean to say genes and evolution don’t influence biological functions or influence behavior. Of course I don’t. But I wish evo-psych people would realize that culture has been with humans since before we were humans. Whatever our biology has evolved to become, it became that way IN CONCERT with human culture/s. And cultures, as a rule, have more than “visual attractiveness” as a criteria for appropriate mate, of either kind.

    I don’t have a strong background in biological anthropology, but if I can see that the cultural anthropology-related aspects of who “chooses” who be their mates are this context-bound and complicated, surely the biology-explains-everything types in the great internetz can say the same about their fields?

    /rant

  161. Also: I think Our Biology Says So is a really good excuse to not admit We Can Change Our Culture RIGHT FUCKING NOW.

    Evolution: we can’t control it when it comes to reenforcing existing social inequalities. But we can hope to some time in the future manipulate it to do our gene-therpay bidding? (And probably reenforce our exisiting social inequalities?).

    That’s so much nicer than:

    Culture: We are tool-using hominids with big brains and a capacity for adaptation. To do things like change our behavior and the complex-symbol-manipulating of social life is what makes us successful niche-occupiers. So tell me again why we reenforce social inequalities?

  162. On getting confused w/ other people: I always got confused with other short people at work. One time it was with a woman who was my Moms age when I was 8 months pregnant. But we were the same height!

    On celebrity meme: I wasn’t aware of it because I’ve only recently & under duress had to go on facebook, because for some reason my Mom won’t communicate any other way. No phone, no email, Facebook – I humor her. I look like Liza Minelli, everybody knows it.

    On Facebook: I hate it because you can only be male or female or straight or gay in the profile. Though I present as a female on my LJ & body image sites, because my body image issues are primarily about being born female, my “real life” is about awareness of the spectrum of gender & sexuality. With all the kind of real life stuff I do on this front, it’s kind of humiliating to have to choose a binary gender & not be allowed to bypass it. For relationship I just put “it’s complicated,” but really, FB should have options for GenderQueers. Or at least “executive transvestites.”

    On names: I can’t roll my “r”s either, but I try my best to pronounce peoples names right & ask them to repeat them, then I repeat them, till I get them right, or as acceptably right as possible. I call people by the gender they want to present too, no matter what they may look like. It’s disrespectful to just not bother to find out what people want to be called.

  163. I used one of those upload-your-photo-and-see-your-doppelganger sites, and got Larry King as my best match. I happen to be young, female, and Asian.

    On the other hand, I do have a forehead and glasses. I can definitely see why I would look more like Larry King than, say, Ming Na. So maybe there is something there about humans looking at societally “important” appearance markers like race and hair color rather than what a computer might look at, like the size of your forehead.

  164. I think Our Biology Says So is a really good excuse to not admit We Can Change Our Culture RIGHT FUCKING NOW.

    Win.

    Casual comment: I wonder if people, who normally use holistic-face-recognition-module to recognize people, use general-pattern-recognition-module to determine ‘resemblances’ and this is why they are so lousy at it. Lousier than one might expect, even, because they are not used to using general-pattern on faces.

    As a kid I had a terrible time getting it through to people that my stepmother, who has similar hair and eye colour to me but otherwise doesn’t really look much like me, is not my ‘real’ mother. I have no idea how much of that was just that people fail to listen to children, but it really got weird, what with the insistence that step-mother must be ‘real’ mother in spite of the fact that I made it known that most of the year I lived with my mother, a woman who’s appearance causes people to assume that she is (a) hispanic and (b) a lesbian. It just seems odd of people to figure that my parents would send their kids off to live with an unrelated hispanic lesbian for nine months of the year.

    When I went through my early-teens punk phase and dyed my hair midnight blue, people got it right, and remarked, correctly, about how much I resemble my mother in most facial characteristics besides eye-colour and skin-tone.

  165. Facebook’s options definitely skew heteronormative. There’s an option for “In An Open Relationship”, but you can’t specify being in a relationship (open or otherwise) with more than one person. Luckily there’s at least one app that can handle that.

  166. I only get annoyed about my name being mispronounced when people are arsey about it. Like the person who said that if I intended to live in England I should change how it’s spelled because it wasn’t pronounced phonetically. (Yes, it is. And besides, ghoti).

    And I have trouble telling people of other races apart until I get to know individuals, but I rarely say so because I’m ashamed of it. How could one have that issue and NOT find it at least embarrassing? (Rhetorical question).

  167. kallista,

    There’s a “SGO” app that allows you to fill in more options for gender, sexuality, etc., than Facebook itself lets you choose, if you’re interested. It’s definitely frustrating.

  168. Thanks hsofia & Just Some Trans Guy & Alexandra Erin! I will look into apps. As of now I did figure out how to not show gender in my profile, & I said I was having a complicated relationship with myself for relationship status, which is pretty accurate at this time.

    See, people here are so understanding about stuff. I love the SP.

  169. I worked in an office where I was constantly mistaken for the one other woman and vice versa (15 year age difference there…*and* my hair was pink for most of my tenure).

    I grew up in a very homogeneous backwoods Wisconsin town, and I do think some part of my brain is wired to preferentially weight facial similarities that aren’t racial characteristics to some extent (i.e. the parts that actually differ when a group is homogeneous). When I moved to Japan, I noticed there were some kids in my school who looked “just like” kids back home to me; obviously if you break it down to traits you could portray with Crayola labels they were not much alike, but the bits — cheekbones, eyebrows, noses, mouths, jawlines, shoulders, posture, whatever — that helped me recognize “this is Kevin” or “this is Kazu” were similar. *shrug* Although as an aside I have to say there’s a lot more subtle racial diversity (for lack of a better word) among Japanese people than among backwoods German-derived Wisconsinites.

  170. @Grafton, I have had a bizarro world similar experience when my white self is out socially with my black niece. It has always been interesting introducing her to people who have heard me talk about her but haven’t yet met her or seen pictures because there is always some surprise, but people manage it differently. Some people take it completely in stride and move on and try to get to know her but I have been in situations where people literally COULD NOT SEE HER because they’re expecting someone of my race. I mean down to, she was one of only 2 children in the room, I was pointing directly at her and describing what she was wearing, and they would be looking directly at her and just not seeing her and saying “no, I don’t see her, where is she?” I even had a couple of people, who, when they finally got it blurted out “but she’s not really your niece is she?” Uh, define ‘really’ for me please.

    I never pre-alerted people to her race because I thought that by talking about her and then saying “oh, by the way she’s black, so don’t be surprised when you meet her” somehow gave too much power to the idea that she *shouldn’t* be black. I think I also have tried to be color-blind because I wish we COULD just take people for who they are, but I am seeing more and more how color-blindness can’t really work given the current state of things.

  171. @Elysia I understood that the human species’ primary sense was sight and that there is more facial variation in our species than in some others (I don’t know whether or not squirrels was a good counter-example or not). However, my information about humans as a visual species comes primarily from high school biology and watching too many David Attenborough BBC wildlife documentaries. If you have studied this in more depth then I’m happy to defer to you.

    Just to clarify, as I see some others have picked up on this angle as well, I didn’t say anything about mate selection. It’s important for a social species such as humans for members of a group to be able to tell each other apart. This is independent of mate selection, which can have a number of factors.

  172. On the name thing, I was a volunteer on a community development project in Costa Rica when I was 20 and it seemed like no one in the village could say my name. I had one guy try to write it and it came out as “Keiker”. If I had my time over, I would have gone with a variation like Catalina.

    I don’t think anyone should be forced to change their name. It’s also different changing it for a few months than to have to permanently change it in your full-time home.

    In English speaking countries, I do get people wanting to call me Kate a lot. I let friends call me Cait (which sounds like Kate) but I’d like them to actually know my name first. Strangers who call me Kate will be politely corrected.

    Hardly anyone spells my name correctly but I’m used to that. I often get Catland. Miaow.

  173. Starling: I had to learn Russian soft consonants for a choral piece, and we were lucky enough to have an L2 speaker teaching us the pronounciation. Thus, rather than saying “you just do it like this!” – which any L1 non-linguist would do when teaching someone to pronounce their native language, myself included – he was able to physically tell us the things we should be doing with our mouths to make those sounds, as well as useful things like “the dark L occurs in English at the end of devil!” It was super sweet, and infinitely helpful. I still practice them sometimes.

    JSTG: I’m going to answer your comments when I’m home. Right now I’m at work. But I wanted to respond to Starling, since it was fast, whereas your comment obviously requires more thought from me.

  174. @Jenniferal

    That is really pretty creepy. There’s about a third of my family who are multiracial in three or four ways, while most of the rest of us are not only white, but pale and blue-eyed and light haired white. But I’ve never had anybody question that my small cousins are my ‘real’ cousins. I think I’d be pretty furious.

  175. Other Caitlin:

    You might be interested to know that some of the seminal ethologists (Lorenz, Tinbergen) did studies where they discovered that geese recognize one another by their faces. If you put a mask on one, its friends and mate don’t treat it appropriately as friend or mate. This happens even among geese who have distinctive white markings that made it easy for the researchers to tell them apart by the plumage on their bodies.

    Squirrels are not, for my face-blind self, significantly more difficult to recognize than uniform-wearing uniform-hairstyled humans of similar colouring.

  176. @Grafton – yeah, it always has pissed me off – my response to the “she can’t be your niece” comments is “and yet … she is!” And then I just let the person stew in their own discomfort rather than try to make it all OK. Maybe that forces them to question their assumptions a bit.

  177. Categorizing people in your head according to their most obvious physical trait is so common. For the last decade people are constantly confusing me with every thin white young woman they know or see. I walk a lot, and people I know tell me they saw me places I wasn’t. I’m a waitress, so I tend to work with younger women who are more likely to be around my size, and it causes problems when customers can’t tell me and the other white, thin young women apart. Serving makes how little attention people will pay to someone who is interacting with them so obvious.. in various ways. Since I’m unobtrusive in general I think my weight is what defines me for most people. Obviously this feels totally different to me than for someone who has to handle other people’s inability to see anything about them but their race.

  178. Mods, I commented from work, and I think it got stuck in moderation? Can that get approved?

    JSTG: I hear everything you’re saying, but none of that contradicts the fact that the vast majority of Americans speak English, many or most as a first language; that immigrants to the U.S. whose names contain sounds that do not exist in English will most likely be dealing with English constantly; and that if one has a name that will be mangled by English speakers because it contains sounds that do not exist in English, one may wish to change it because one will prefer to not hear one’s name mangled. Again, I offer the example of my friend Elizabeth teaching English in Korea, who is now Lisa. Furthermore, as I think I’ve made clear, I’m not talking about names like Jose, which contains only sounds that are native to English-speakers. I’m talking about names that contain sounds that do not exist in English. See my comment above about soft consonants in Russian. Further, see Starling and Arwen’s responses to me, where they gave lots of great examples. Kate further clarified what I meant.

    Insisting that this is all really about the science of language and phonetic geekery obscures the fact that it’s partially the racism and xenophobia in the U.S. that allows some names to be regarded as rightfully “American” while other names–names of those who are every bit as much a U.S. citizen as a John or a Mary–to be labelled “foreign” and “not-American.”
    Nowhere did I excuse racism and xenophobia. In fact, I explicitly acknowledged situations (which are many) that are about racism and xenophobia. In the main, I was responding specifically to the implicit assertions being made that the only reason someone might adopt a European name was racism. In retrospect, I suppose it’s a somewhat pedantic and tangential point, and I’ll fully acknowledge that.

  179. Wow. What a post, Mean Asian Girl, and the comments have been so fascinating! I’ve gotten Kirsten Dunst from two different people (neither of whom I knew particularly well, one at State Forensics and one at State Knowledge Bowl), which I’m inclined to believe means facially because I have waist-length light brown hair and am defs. not a skinny sylph like she is. However, I have gotten Marilyn Monroe and Scarlett Johansen, and I lack the lovely features, flawless porcelain skin, platinum hair or remarkable bosoms of either of them, so I would guess that it’s based entirely on waist-to-hip ratio- yay pear shape? I must admit to mixing up celebs, but not celebs of color-it’s telling Natalie Portman and Kiera Knightley apart that I find basically completely impossible. I swear I spent the whole of Atonement thinking it was Natalie Portman, and had it not been for the well-publicized head-shaving thing, I would have had the same confusion over V for Vendetta, only reversed. I love both of them, but I’ll be darned if I can tell ‘em apart. Like, at all.

    As for names, I think it is really nasty to make fun of/refuse to even attempt someone’s name regardless of culture or language. I always make an effort to do a name right (some Spanish names I can’t simply because I am physically incapable of rolling my Rs, and I will explain that to people, who are quite understanding), because I’ve seen some unconscionably rude things done to people because of unusual names from any culture. I have one classmate with the last name Bratosovsky (pronounced exactly like it is spelled-Brat-o-sov-ski) who carries with him to this day the nickname “Braskolasky” because our sixth grade band teacher refused to even try to pronounce his last name correctly. Everyone else found this HILARIOUS, and simply could not understand why I thought it was mean and stupid and wouldn’t use it. Six years later, with the originator of the nickname long gone (the band director was fired that year for making inappropriate advances on a high school student), and people still call him Braskolasky- ’cause God forbid they call him by his very simple and easy-to-pronounce in any language first name when they can make fun of his different last name! That’s why I’m proud of Mia Wasikowska for refusing to change her name into something more “American”-because Wasikowska, along with Nguyen, Garcia, Ruiz, and Ramotswe, is as American as any Smith or Jones.

  180. Oh. Uh. It got through between the time I started my comment. Sorry!

    Kate: Honeslty, given your avowed terrible ear, I’m amazed that you know what I mean about my name! One of my favorite games at college in Chicago was blowing the minds of Midwesterners by pointing out the differences in how we said my name and watching them struggle to say it like me. It was a great game.

  181. I’ll give fair warning that I’m likely to put my foot in my mouth somewhere in this comment, so if I offend you please take my apology as a given!

    Where I live (Australia), there’s a pretty diverse mix of races/cultures/ethnicities, so I tend to work on the assumption that everyone is Australian, unless they tell me otherwise. However, I do admit that I am often curious about peoples’ heritage (white people included, since they’re commonly immigrants too!)- although I never bring it up as I’m afraid to offend people.

    So I wonder, as a white person who is never mistaken for anything else – is there any way to approach this without being offensive, or should I just stick to my “keep your mouth shut” policy??

  182. I say, I say, I say – How you roll your R’s?

    Wear high heels! Wocka wocka wocka!

    (Sorry, guys. Telling this dreadful Vaudeville joke anytime anyone says anything about R’s and the rolling thereof is pretty much a compulsion for me, inherited from my banjo-playing father who upholds the same practice with great dedication. Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled programming.)

  183. Reading all the comments here has made me realise the level of privilege I enjoy as a person with a “normal,” albeit old fashioned, name. The racism I endured in my school years would have been worse, for one thing.

    Sidenote- @Jamie: Mia Wasikowska is from Canberra. You can take Dame Nic though! (she was born in Hawaii). And somewhat-noted tennis player Lleyton Hewitt, simply because he’s kind of a tool.

    (Sorry. Ever since I saw Dave Chapelle’s “Racial Draft” skit, I have formed a game out of mentally drafting famous people to other places. Dibs on SWINTON!)

  184. Random Quorum, please don’t enquire as to stranger’s “nashos,” as they say round my way (Melbourne). As a coloured – which I feel is an appropriate way to refer to myself when confronted with someone who is asking me “where I’m *really* from”- it is othering.

    Please don’t privilege your curiosity over someone’s comfort or feeling of belonging. I know you mean well, but what seems to you like a harmless enquiry can, after years of experience as a POC, seem like a request to “hand over ze papers” or “dance for the nice people.”

    Again, I know you mean well, but getting asked that question by a stranger (often without so much as a greeting) comes as a jolt to my system – “Oh, that’s right, I really don’t belong here, do I? At least, maybe not according to this person.”

    If you are getting to know somebody in a social/work situation, the topic will probably come up naturally. Again, I’m sorry if my wording seems terse. I of course don’t have the necessary accreditiation from the Semi-Asian Persons’ Guild to speak on behalf of all and sundry, I only speak from my own perspective.

  185. RQ, I didn’t mean to imply that tyou were asking me, or hypothetical people IRL “where [they're] *really* from.” It’s just that that’s how it is most often phrased when I encounter such a question. Asking about someone’s “nationality” or “ethnicity” usually has the same subtext and effect, although the use of the latter at least shows that the questioner has some grasp on the idea that non-white people can be Australian too.

  186. Someone had mentioned people not knowing what to make of their ethnicity:
    My entire life, people have asked me the question “what are you?” It never really bothered me; I just thought it as a (strange) way of learning more about someone. I’ve got a dark complexion, but I’m *mostly* of European decent and I didn’t think much of it. People even called me a liar and I didn’t blink. (“I’m mostly Irish.” “No, that’s not it, what else are you? You don’t look Irish.”)

    It wasn’t until someone asked “what” my half-hispanic daughter was that I freaked out. I reacted like someone had attacked her! Fuck off! I don’t know, is that me being overly sensitive? I’m really afraid that I was reading othering where none was. Is this a normal conversational topic?

  187. The phenomenon being described here is called outgroup homogeneity bias. It is a well-recognized psychological phenomenon for most all populations. “Those” people really are perceived as looking “the same.”

  188. Speaking of different phonemes and totally realizing this is a derail (so feel free to ignore!)

    Mary, merry, and marry sound completely different to me. My husband cannot hear the difference at all.

  189. I don’t know, is that me being overly sensitive? I’m really afraid that I was reading othering where none was. Is this a normal conversational topic?

    It’s a *common* conversational gambit, in my experience. Myself … I find it intrusive at best, and at worst … it’s like a slap in the face: ‘What animal are you?’

    It may be well-intentioned, sometimes, but that doesn’t make it any less othering. Or welcome.

  190. I became more skilled at that by studying a little manual that was meant to help police recognized suspects who’d dyed their hair or changed their facial hair

    Oooooh, Grafton, I need one of those!

  191. So I wonder, as a white person who is never mistaken for anything else – is there any way to approach this without being offensive, or should I just stick to my “keep your mouth shut” policy??

    As a mixed-race American (mom is very white, of Northern European descent, dad is 1st-gen Mexican-American) who has gotten the “so…what ARE you?” question all of her life, usually followed by a guessing game of what I must be (so far, only one person- a Mexican- has ever gotten it right), I have to say that I doubt there is a way to approach this non-offensively. You won’t be the first person to ask, nor will you be the last, and I can almost guarantee that they’re sick of the question already. I also wonder, do people ask this question of you? If so, how does it make you feel? If you weren’t coming from a place of white privilege, how would it make you feel?

  192. Argh, “gfgrad”=”i-geek”. I’ve recently obtained a WordPress account and forgot to log out. My apologies to the mods.

  193. @Sara are you Sara same as Sarah (pronounced Saira) or are you Sara pronounced Sahra? I have met Saras with both pronunciations.

  194. @gfgrad
    that is similar to what I’m going through with my daughter. Coming from a place of white privilege, the question seems innocuous. But when I put myself in the shoes of a POC, it seems so offensive! So then I start to doubt myself because people ask me the same question–why am I only offended when they ask it of my daughter? Am I just assuming the question comes from a different place? Or all this time should I have been offended when people asked it of ME?

  195. Thanks everyone who has responded to my question – I’m very glad to hear that my policy so far (which has been not to mention anything regarding ethnicity etc) is the one that makes other people most comfortable. That is after all what I aim for!! :P

    The only reason I asked was that I’ve often wondered if there is any way that would NOT upset people (asking about heritage vs “what are you” etc, since at least in my mind those questions are different). Clearly though the feeling is that ANY mention is othering, and so I will continue to avoid it. But I’m glad that SP gave me the space to be able to get an answer, hopefully without offending anyone!

    @i-geek:
    I also wonder, do people ask this question of you? If so, how does it make you feel? If you weren’t coming from a place of white privilege, how would it make you feel?

    People don’t ask me this, and I’m very concious of that. I personally find the topic interesting (father came over from England at 12, his Dad is Welsh, etc) but I’m well aware that if I was constantly asked and othered because of it, I wouldn’t like it so much! I do think however that the phrasing would determine how it made me feel… butI realise that this also might be a function of my privilege – which is why I thought I would take the opportunity to clarify, since its not too far off topic here.

  196. Aw, Sweet Machine, you made me blush! Also, everyone, please forgive the typos and punctuation/style errors in my posts – I have a bugger of a time proofreading sometimes.

  197. @Other Caitlin, I get the name thing with both my first and last name, too. Meems is from Mimi (which I hate, but my brother was big on double syllables as a baby) and no one but my best friend is allowed to call me by either. I don’t think my real name is particularly difficult (there are multiple spellings, but I use the most common), but in a recent insurance communication, it was spelled incorrectly…on two different sheets…in two different ways!

    This may be because I’m generally perceived as some variation of caucasian, but I don’t actually mind people asking about my heritage. I think I just like looking ambiguous and confusing people.

  198. Totally OT: Sara, I have friends from the mid-Atlantic region, and one of my best friends in high school had a similar accent — she was the first person I noticed pronouncing words with “ar” right up front that way (we lived in a town called Barrington, so it came up a lot). I noticed the difference pretty quickly but couldn’t have reproduced it if you paid me. Years later, I sort of put my finger on it — I say Sara to rhyme with Stare-uh; she pronounces the “Sa” like you would in “sat” then tacks the “ra” on to it — but I still can’t quite make it come out of my mouth that way. (I just tried. The dog is looking at me funny.)

  199. RandomQuorum – What Perla said, “Please don’t privilege your curiosity over someone’s comfort or feeling of belonging.”

    Yep! I’m not Australian (and never been there), but here in the States it really is perceived by other POC I know as othering. It means, “oh, you’re different.” At least when it’s someone you don’t know or just met five minutes ago. I’m a human being just like everyone else and I get curious about people’s ethnicities, too, so I understand the impulse to know. But when I was younger I was asked all the time, “Where are you from?” People just assumed I was from someplace “else” because I didn’t look American to them. Or like the white lady who came up to me said, “You’re not 100% black, are you? You have some white ancestors, don’t you? Because you don’t look totally black to me.” OK, WHAT? I don’t care! WHOASKEDYOU?

    I chuckle/chortle as I type that because whatever, I moved on, and I was annoyed more than offended, but I’m sure you’re a nice person so I don’t want anyone to have those not-nice thoughts about you that I had about that lady. LOL

  200. My last name in RL is a variant spelling and pronunciation of a fairly common Norwegian name. If I don’t specifically *tell* people how to pronounce it (and sometimes even if I do), it gets mangled into the standard pronunciation. So (despite being pasty white) I can sympathize at least to a limited extent with the rest of the Shapelings whose names perplex people.

    I live in a majority-minority city, which helps work on those “no, x racial group does *not* all look alike” skills. They still aren’t perfect, but I’m quite sure they’re better than when I was living in the land of almost all white people.

  201. @RandomQuorum I can give you my perspective as a fellow white Australian. People asked me where I was from all the time while I was growing up. Apparently I had an accent. Usually people would think I was British, though I had a drama teacher when I was 15 convinced I sounded Czechoslovakian. The thing that drove me crazy is that I sound like my mother and I’m 8th generation Australian on her side (18th century; second fleet of convicts). But my dad is Welsh and moved to Australia when he was five and has a much broader Aussie accent than I do. But they would always seize on that and decide I must have a Welsh accent from my father. It didn’t feel “othering” because I never got the impression that anyone thought it was bad to be English/Welsh/Czech, but it was supremely irritating.

    Having said that, the last time I asked where someone was from (because of an accent), we ended up having a very interesting conversation about her home country of Argentina and her life as an expat in the Bay Area. I don’t *think* I offended her!

  202. Sometimes I’ll ask people if they grew up in San Francisco. It’s not intended as a round-about way of asking about background but just a conversation starter because it seems that with this city so many people move here as an adult. And they might say “no, I grew up in Ohio/Texas/Los Angeles but I’ve lived here 10 years”. Or they might say “no, I grew up in Italy/Australia/India/wherever but I’ve lived here 10 years”.

    Is that still othering? I’m not assuming that someone is not American in the same way that “where are you from?” might imply and I ask the question regardless of race or accent … but I’ll stop if you guys think it’s bad.

    I don’t mind being asked where I’m from here as my accent clearly is not American.

  203. The Other Caitlin, I hate to be difficult about this, but “did you grow up in Melbourne” is still kinda othering to me personally, seeing as my attachment to Melbourne is seen by some people as tenuous, of a largely “technical” nature (I was “technically” born here and my mother “technically” became a citizen 30 years ago), or mainly based on the fact that my dad is white. I’d just advise mindfulness in regards to POC.

  204. I didn’t mean to imply it was the same as “where are you *really* from?” I just meant that it’s not entirely unproblematic. And that it may not be received by all ears as a thoroughly neutral and benign question.

  205. Please don’t privilege your curiosity over someone’s comfort or feeling of belonging.

    I’m seconding SM: if everyone followed this rule, Miss Manners would go out of business. I should have it tattooed on my wrist or something. Thanks, Perla.

  206. @The Other Caitlin, people ask me that all the time too. Well, not in SF any longer; I moved from there a few years ago, to Sonoma Co. But I’m still often asked where I’m from, and yes, it rankles sometimes. In this case, though, it’s in part because I really AM from the Bay Area, I was born here, my family’s here, and I’ve lived here all but a scant handful of years, and at times I feel like … folks like me, longtime Californians, we’re being erased.

    Or, what Perla said. That too.

  207. @Meowser

    I became more skilled at that by studying a little manual that was meant to help police recognize suspects who’d dyed their hair or changed their facial hair

    Oooooh, Grafton, I need one of those!

    I am pretty sure police academies still print variants of those and they’re not too hard to find. Mine was a booklet, sixteen pages. Another very useful document was an old photocopied CIA manual that was essentially ‘How To Read Body Language and Facial Expressions.’ While I am far too lousy at facial expressions to put that information to the intended use, doing it badly is an improvement. I’ve no idea how one would obtain that, but there are several ex-CIA guys who have published the same info rephrased in wanky ways with self-aggrandizing anecdotes.

  208. The most telling example of what Mean Asian Girl is describing that I’ve ever experienced was on an online forum about movies. Wherein someone opined that Takeshi Kaneshiro looks just like Jackie Chan. Um, what? I responded with “yep, the same way Brad Pitt looks just like Groucho Marx”. Sadly no one got the joke.

    (Seriously, if you don’t recognise the names, Google them – Kaneshiro is like 10 inches taller than Chan, and much thinner, and Chan is about 20 years older. And they have totally different facial features. All they have in common is being Asian men who are actors.)

    RE The idea that one’s closest facial match isn’t necessarily of the same race, I agree with this. A while back the fans of one of the bands I sometimes work with were all playing with this online app that you plug a picture into and it generates the celebrities the person most looks like. For the guitar player, his closest match was Gisele Bundchen. He’s a Japanese man.

    Also, I am willing to write copy for hsofia’s proposed WhoAskedMen site. Or we could also call it IfICaredAboutYourOpinionIWouldHaveAskedForIt.com. That way we could also include other people prone to offering their wisdom unsolicited.

  209. Fairly OT, but, over here in Melbourne, we never got Kaneshiro’s ads for Armani undies. Just the Beckham ones, from what I remember. Dammit! I wouldn’t have minded big business’ intrusion into my line of sight if TK was involved!

  210. @Perla – Sad! Not only because yay TK, but also because at this point we’ve all seen Becks in his undies so often that it barely even registers any more. It’s like, oh look, Becks in his skivvies again – in other news, sky still blue.

  211. It happens with disabilities as well – I have two friends who both use wheelchairs to get around town. One of them is in her mid to late thirties, has a very long face, wears glasses, and is fairly average weight and height. She has a kid. The other one has just turned thirty, is considerably heavier/larger, doesn’t wear glasses, has a very round face. Beyond the fact that they’re both brunette women aged 30-something they don’t look *at all* similar. They’ve both lived here for years, and all this time they are *constantly* being mistaken for each other. The woman without a kid is always being asked how her kid is, and having to explain that they’ve mixed her up with the other woman – one person actually turned round and *contradicted her* and insisted that she did too have a kid (what, did she think she’d forgotten or something??) and would not accept that they were two different people! It drives her insane, people clearly just don’t look beyond the wheelchair.

  212. sara l.,

    “Nowhere did I excuse racism and xenophobia. In fact, I explicitly acknowledged situations (which are many) that are about racism and xenophobia. In the main, I was responding specifically to the implicit assertions being made that the only reason someone might adopt a European name was racism. In retrospect, I suppose it’s a somewhat pedantic and tangential point, and I’ll fully acknowledge that.”

    I do know that my example of the name Jose wasn’t the best, because yes, of course there are names from languages that English-only speakers might not be able to pronounce. But I’m not sure it’s completely divorced from racism.

    What if U.S. culture didn’t force immigrants to drop their languages of birth and speak only English? What if we didn’t have de facto segregation along racial and ethnic lines throughout much of the country? What if we saw more people of color on television, on the evening news, in movies? (How many people in the U.S. mispronounce the name “Barack” today … compared to how might would have mispronounced the name 10 years ago?) What if, in our schools, students (especially elementary students, who we’ve established are young enough to understand phonemes from languages other than their native language) HAD to learn other languages and were made to correctly pronounce everyone’s name?

    Some (but no, not all) of why white English-only speakers haven’t been exposed to other languages and to people with non-English-origin names is because of racism and xenophobia. Some folks might change their names so that speakers of the dominant language can pronounce their names–but I think we should then ask WHY can’t English-speakers pronounce those names. WHY were English-only-speakers not exposed to other languages or allowed to ignore those other languages? I think that’s important to the discussion.

    Also, I should apologize. I still think your comment was problematic, but really, I’m bothered by the overall arc of this thread in general. The post was about the Facebook celebrity meme and how it left people of color with the short end of the stick and also about the racism of “You all look alike.”

    A rather large number (I would say disproportionate number) of the comments have been of a “Well, English speakers just can’t say some names” and “Oh, but I’m white, and that happens to me too” nature. It strikes me as very privilege-erasing, to emphasize all that when there is so much that is really and truly based on racism. It could just be me reading the thread this way, though, so I’d like to say upfront that I might be out of line here. I’m not sure.

    *Which even gets its own Derailing for Dummies entry: http://www.derailingfordummies.com/#butbut.

  213. @AnthroK8:

    “We are tool-using hominids with big brains and a capacity for adaptation. To do things like change our behavior and the complex-symbol-manipulating of social life is what makes us successful niche-occupiers. So tell me again why we reenforce social inequalities?”

    That is so spot-on what I keep wanting to say to people about a whole host of feminist issues (but had failed to articulate)! THANK YOU.

  214. One of the odd things I’ve found in multi-diverse London, is that as a mixed Jew (albeit taking after my v.pale Ashkenazi half and who has been taken for everything from Afghani to Italian via every other part of North Africa, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, the Balkans and the former Ottoman Empire) is that it is never typical English WASP people who ask me the othering ‘no, but where are you *really* from?’ question but POC.
    And this really puzzles me.

    The myheritage thing gave me matches including Benazir Bhutto, Eliza Dushku, Angelina Jolie, Denise Richards, Nakashima Mita, Daisy Fuentes and a Finnish bloke called Aki Hakala, so I clearly do have a really ‘international’ face. But I do find it intrusive even if it is a POC asking and also quite upsetting because I am scared in some cases to admit to my background against a backdrop of rising anti-Semitism in the UK. Clearly I look generically ‘foreign’ (a great British term there!) and it never feels like a good thing.

    The strange thing is, I spend a lot of time on US websites that deal with race and the consensus there is that Jews are white. End of story. Which then puzzles me again, because it is POC who are actively coding me here as ‘foreign’ and not white. Context is indeed everything!

    So I guess, I didn’t originally see the FB doppelganger thing as offensive, because personally I’ve only ever experienced a scenario where I can and am put into every type of ethnic box by everyone!

  215. @ Just Some Trans Guy

    I’m an English speaker and have learnt French and Russian to a high standard, Arabic and Ivrit to a basic level and bits and bobs of Urdu, Greek, Kurdish, Cantonese, Farsi and many of the other languages of my school, university and work mates. I have been exposed to literally tens (hundreds?) of languages in London I’m guessing, not to mention from extensive travel overseas. And I am necessarily sure that I still mis-pronounce names/words in some/many of those languages despite trying and despite regular exposure to those languages. I still can’t pronounce an Arabic ayin to save my life, much to my friend Afra’s immense amusement.

    If you are saying that English speakers should regularly learn other languages particularly in a multi-cultural/lingual/racial environment, I think that’s great. In California, for example, I can’t understand why being bi-lingual shouldn’t be expected to be taught as mandatory.

    However, your comment seems to be expecting much more than that. What exactly would you like to see in terms of people learning other languages? How would you increase exposure to the vast amazing amount of languages and dialects in an area of the country were there aren’t many people speaking those languages? If I find certain sounds/words very difficult, nay impossible, to pronounce despite personal experience of other languages from the age of 2 (when I entered playgroup (kindergarten?)), what would you suggest to overcome this issue?

  216. WestEndGirl,

    “If I find certain sounds/words very difficult, nay impossible, to pronounce despite personal experience of other languages from the age of 2 (when I entered playgroup (kindergarten?)), what would you suggest to overcome this issue?”

    To just try your best to approximate the most accurate pronounciation. There’s nothing else to do, really.

    I’ve boxed myself in and probably argued beyond a point of what I actually think is reasonable. I’d like to see students learn languages that are commonly spoken in their geographic area (not all areas will have a diversity of languages, but many will). I’d like to see better representation of people of color from various backgrounds–of ALL people, more generally–in all the forms of media (television, films, books, music, etc.). Lots of this media will be accessible to people in the U.S. in geographic regions which don’t have large populations of certain races or ethnic groups.

    There are people who just can’t pronounce certain names, and that’s a function of language acquisition, and I should have said that upfront–but there are also white U.S.ians (I’ve kept my comments restricted to the U.S. simply because I’m most familiar with how race functions here and because race works differently elsewhere) who simply aren’t trying, who feel they don’t have to try, because of privilege/racism. Or who treat names that are perfectly pronouncable to English-only speakers as beyond their capabilities because they view the name as “foreign.” Or who simply say, “Yeah, that name is too hard … I’m just going to call you Bob.”

    It’s the disproportionate focus on the “some people can’t pronounce some sounds” thing that bothers me.

  217. In California, for example, I can’t understand why being bi-lingual shouldn’t be expected to be taught as mandatory.

    Racism. Pure and simple.

    In my day, in the 60s and 70s, it wasn’t unusual for the descriptions of classes in Spanish – and the instructors – to emphasize that they taught ‘Castilian Spanish,’ or ‘real Spanish,’ and not ‘Mexican.’ Even then, students were discouraged from taking it. When I returned to uni in the early 90s, in the anthropology department, Spanish was considered only useful for students focused on cultural anthropology. These days, from what I gather peripherally – I have no children – none of this has changed; if anything I think it’s gotten worse.

    Add in that language instruction in the public schools in the U.S. is delayed until students are in their teens, and it’s really no surprise that comparatively few attain any particular fluency.

    All that said, though, being able to recognize and speak sounds more common in languages other than U.S. English isn’t dependent on actually knowing those other languages. That’s more just being exposed to the sounds, and paying some attention. So what flummoxes me isn’t that so few folks outside the Latin@ community in California are fluent in Spanish but rather how many will act like they don’t hear it every day.

  218. Adding to what Eucritta said, it’s not just that language instruction is delayed until high school for the most part in the US. The way that it’s taught in most public schools prevents any actual acquisition unless you have some kind of incredible ear or really want to apply yourself. In my high school French and Spanish courses, they were taught entirely in English, as in, “This is the Spanish word for student- estudiante.” And you would repeat the words or read from the text, instead of having actual conversations in the language. The assumption being that you could LEARN the language, but most likely you’d never actually USE the language. A lot of subjects are taught this way in American public schools, actually (math and science, I’m looking at you too).

  219. It’s the disproportionate focus on the “some people can’t pronounce some sounds” thing that bothers me.

    Yeah, if we’re still talking the US, there really is a whole host of issues surrounding public education, racism, and xenophobia that contributes to this, and that’s a huge tangent to what we were originally discussing in this thread.

    I’d like to recap/redirect the discussion as part of a common theme: whatever the mechanism (psychological, linguistic, cultural), the problem that we’re discussing is that people in culturally dominant groups are all encouraged to think of “we” as a group of complex, diverse individuals and “them” as a monolithic block of people whose humanity is less valuable or even under suspicion. So to a lot of NT white people (to remove the face-blindness factor for a moment), other white people look “different” because they get to have individual features because of course they are different people, but all POC look the same because they are an undifferentiated mass of Otherness unless some extraordinary circumstances arise (e.g., worldwide fame, Halle Berry-style). Similarly, to a lot of American English speakers, Anglicized names get to be as diverse and improbably pronounced as you like, but anything “foreign” is literally unspeakably weird — and what counts as “foreign” has more to do with patterns of cultural dominance and representation than with actual ability to pronounce something.

    I’d like to gently remind people who are feeling a little defensive — “I can’t recognize faces” or “I can’t roll my Rs” (hey, me neither) — that the purpose of discussing these things is not to make you feel guilty about how your brain works but to make us all aware of cultural patterns that we may be perpetuating whether we are aware of it or not. And to think about what we do with that knowledge once we have it.

  220. @Eucritta, I’ll bear that in mind about taking care not to erase native Californians / Bay Area residents. I hope that “did you grow up in the Bay Area?” is different to “where do you come from?” because perhaps it can be validating to be able to answer “yes, I grew up in San Mateo/the city/Walnut Creek/wherever”. But I’ll keep a close watch on these conversations and try to be sensitive.

  221. @The Other Caitlin, it’s just … I don’t think it’s a good idea to use idle curiosity about other people’s identity or background as a conversational gambit.

  222. @The Other Caitlin: Oh dear, I think I ask questions like “Where are you from?” or “Did you grow up in [city X]?” I am a student at a large university and most students (including myself) relocated from other places to attend. Professors and fellow students frequently use such questions as conversation starters and it never occurred to me that they could be othering. Does the university context change anything, do you think?

  223. @Eucritta, if you never asked questions about people’s background, dates would be really boring. Although I guess in that case you could argue that is’s no longer idle curiousity if you do, since that really is the point of the whole date. I think it’s most important to be mindful of the situation and the possible interpretation of the person you are asking.

    RE pronouncing names: I have a couple of Indian friends, and I am shocked at people’s absolute refusal to learn their names. They are both American born, so they say their own names with an american accent. Yet people refuse to pronouce “s” as /sh/ or “t” as /th/ (as in this).

    These are Not Hard To Say. “Oh, well, what else can I call you?”

  224. TheOtherCaitlin said: @Elysia I understood that the human species’ primary sense was sight and that there is more facial variation in our species than in some others (I don’t know whether or not squirrels was a good counter-example or not). However, my information about humans as a visual species comes primarily from high school biology and watching too many David Attenborough BBC wildlife documentaries. If you have studied this in more depth then I’m happy to defer to you.

    Not a problem. :-) And thanks for the extra info. Attenborough certainly has produced some wonderful documentaries. I just finished my PhD in a mammalogy and speciation lab, and am very attuned to questions of mating behavior, which overlap with individual recognition. One of the lessons I learnd was that humans don’t see as well as we think we do, and that we probably don’t understand how much we rely on non-visual cues to communicate with each other. I definitely got carried away. (I also am overly cautious when it comes to how laypeople will use faulty science or incorrect understandings of science to justify their socially inappropriate behavior; I didn’t want to leave any room for the argument from anyone out there in the ether that because we’re visual animals, we’re thus justified in bigotry based on visual cues.)

    I also felt like it was an uncomfortable extension of the topic at hand, though; I couldn’t tell whether you felt that “squirrels all look the same” which echoed MAG’s statement that people who claim not to see color don’t see POC, period, let alone as people, or “well, squirrels have been shown not to have facial variation.” (Having just analyzed over 200 mice, I’m unusually aware of how variable rodent bodies can be.) Now that you’ve clarified I know that was in error. I apologize.

    Just to clarify, as I see some others have picked up on this angle as well, I didn’t say anything about mate selection. It’s important for a social species such as humans for members of a group to be able to tell each other apart. This is independent of mate selection, which can have a number of factors.

    Again, my apologies – for me, this topic is right in line with snarkymachine’s recent post on dating sites and WOC, and I’ve been thinking about that post a lot and unconsciously dragged that into this thread with me. Perhaps I did it due to the “exotic looks” comments above – not only do POC get otherized by or excluded from games like the Facebook Doppleganger one, as MAG discussed, but we can be treated as inferiors in or be excluded from certain arenas of the dating and mating game. Which gets us back to “Sandra Oh is ugly” and where that feeling comes from, to me.

    Being tired and in a weird state of mind, I hope that makes sense. I don’t want to be offensive here, and definitely need to be called out on it if I do offend.

  225. @Eucritta I hear you about idle curiosity and I’ll bear that in mind. I see it more in the context of trying to get to know someone and possibly build a friendship. In my experience, people usually like to talk about themselves! But I totally get that I need to be sensitive about which questions are okay and which are not. For example, I don’t like to ask what people do for work, because it can make people uncomfortable if they are unemployed or at home with children.

  226. Sorry, I pressed submit too early. I also wanted to acknowledge @Elysia’s comments, which make perfect sense to me. As you can see from my original comment, I was slightly cautious about bringing up biology as I know it’s often abused by people with ulterior motives. But I also think science, especially the natural world, is fun and interesting and should be discussed more often.

  227. @notadelicateflower, and Everybody Else too – WHY NOT ASK PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT INTERESTS THEM, RATHER THAN WHAT THEY ARE, OR WHERE THEY COME FROM?

    Is this really so damned hard?!

  228. @Eucritta re “WHY NOT ASK PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT INTERESTS THEM”.

    Yep, I do that too. It’s not always either/or. I do understand your point and I’ll bow out.

  229. It’s interesting that a name like Caitlin can be seen as exotic. Here in Ireland it’s fairly normal.

    I’m never asked where I’m from. I’m asked how long I’ve lived here. When I tell people I’ve been here all my life, they are invariably surprised. I blame my English accent on my parents and constant BBC Radio 4.

    I’m always amused by immigrants who speak in a very strong Polish accent but with distinctively Irish turns of phrase. I too have an Irish vocabulary: I didn’t even notice till I was pushing a young Cypriot cousin on a makeshift swing. She was afraid she’d hit the tree trunk; I could see she was nowhere near it. “Ah no,” I said, “you’re grand.” “Why do you keep saying grand?” she asked.

    I stayed with a French family for a while, and they couldn’t pronounce Timothy. That th sound is rare. It exists in English, Icelandic, Greek, and Arabic, but in very few other languages. It doesn’t exist in Irish, which has come over into Hiberno-English pronunciation. Irish people tend to say th as t or d, so that thy thigh becomes die tie.

    TRiG.

  230. My kids are half Filipino/Half white. When I’m walking with them, we get a lot of stares. Many assume they are adopted, or that I’m the babysitter. If my SIL is with me, it is assumed that we are a couple and SHE is the biological mother. It pisses me off, because I DID ALL THE WORK!!!!!!! I carried them for nearly 10 months (40 weeks gestation), I had the constipation and acid reflux and the peeing every 10 minutes, never mind the swollen feet, insomnia, and did I mention the reflux? Let alone 23 frickin’ hours of labor EACH, and the breastfeeding!
    Yeah. That was ME!

    Sandra Oh is a goddess. Keiko Agena is adorable, and one of my son’s many crushes. I, too, saw “Karate Kid II” in an actual movie theater, but am also a fan of “Gilmore Girls.”

  231. @Timothy Caitlin is a popular children’s name in Australia now but it was very rare when I was growing up.

  232. Does the university context change anything, do you think?

    Yeah, I think it does. I’m a grad student and in my program, we’ve got people (students, post-docs, and faculty) from all over the USA and the world. Since we all know that the majority are from elsewhere (even if it’s somewhere else in the state other than the college town), it’s not an “othering” question. I get bothered when random strangers ask me what I am or, for a good example, when kids in my high school would get in my face and ask me what I am.

  233. Lucy Too said: Does the university context change anything, do you think?

    For me, it definitely does. I don’t mind saying that I’m from XXXX state/country during classroom icebreakers, because for me, the academic world is one in which people deliberately come from a diverse set of physical locations in order to benefit from the experience, as you did (and I did). As an instructor, I hate designing icebreakers that, honestly, help me learn my students’ names, because other topics often *do* feel intrusive. If possible, I try to ask instead what they hope to learn in my class or something else topical (to attempt, as Eucritta reminds us, to ask them about what interests *them*. (Teaching mammalogy lab, I think I asked for the students’ favorite mammals.)

    The Other Caitlin : glad we’re in agreement!

  234. Timothy: Lots of soft T or TH sounds exist in Irish, but in learning English they were largely eliminated. In Hiberno-English it’s overcompensation, so the sounds no longer exist in some English-speaking Irish accents, which in turn affects how they pronounce Irish when it’s learned as a second language. And other people say “podato” or “poshasho” instead of potato, because the Anglophone T (as at the beginning of Timothy) and D are so difficult. A bit like English people who put Rs in where they aren’t and don’t vocalise them where they are – like chest of draws and rawr onions.

  235. There’s a big difference between exchanging origin stories with another person, and treating another person as a biological specimen to be identified. There’s also a big difference between exchanging origin stories because it’s a natural development of the conversation, and demanding a detailed origin story because you won’t interact further until you get them pinned down in your taxonomy.

  236. Caitlin is a pretty well known name here in the US. I wouldn’t say it’s “common” but it’s familiar. I’ve met several Caitlins. I’m starting to see a few Katelynns/Catelynns showing up among the babies/toddlers.

  237. >>I’m starting to see a few Katelynns/Catelynns showing up among the babies/toddlers.

    Me too. And for some reason that bothers me, as does Kaitlin. Caitlin or Caitlyn is the traditional spelling and it’s not that hard and I think it looks quite elegant. But to each their own. I guess encountering a Katelynn is an opportunity for me to practise tolerance.

  238. @Ailbhe (In my head, I’m pronouncing that as Alva, but with something like Awl as the first syllable.)

    Irish does have a few interesting sounds which are similar to the English th but a little softer. It’s actually a very interesting language, and I wish I’d paid more attention in school. Unfortunately, my primary school didn’t teach Irish very well. (In fact, I think maths was the only subject they taught decently.) I don’t know whether the lack of decent Irish education was because it was a Church of Ireland primary school, instead of the normal Roman Catholic primary school. (Let’s not get onto religiously divided education. I was brought up JW and am now an atheist.)

    I’m thinking of learning Irish again. One of my housemates is a primary school teacher.

    TRiG.

  239. Oh, I don’t feel defensive about face-blindness. My point was that I can with feature-by-feature recognition, recognize people of all sorts with equal difficulty. This contradicts the idea that non-white people are less variable within their own ethnic groups. I don’t think anybody said that here, but I have actually heard it said.

    I wonder if the test mentioned uses same-race test-faces to avoid false positives, with people who are viewing the “monolithic other” that Sweet Machine mentions coming up positive for prosopagnosia when what they have is racism.

    I once had a black friend who angrily cut off his associations with me because one evening I didn’t recognize him when I saw him someplace I’d never seen him before, standing under the weird sharp yellow light of a nickel-sodium streetlamp. I can’t really blame him for figuring it was racism. Racism is common and prosopagnosia is weird and I couldn’t, at the time, figure out how to explain to him what had happened. (Petty Example #134, How Racism Effected Some Random White Spaz)

  240. Grafton, I didn’t think you were being defensive, just to be clear. It just seems from the way that comments have gone (as JSTG pointed out above, and as they often do in racism-related threads) that a lot of people are more eager to talk about anything but racism. A thread drifts heavily and then we seems to have lost sight of the original ideas at hand, as part of a collective (but probably unintentional) effort.

  241. TRiG: Alva without the Awl would be more accurate; the ai is a vowel sound which doesn’t really seem to be audible in English. And Irish-as-a-second-language teaching in Irish primary schools was fairly universally awful, as I understand it.

    When my sister did her teacher training they had several days at an adult Gaeltacht centre, where they did the same immersive learning many children and teenagers who go to Anglophone schools do.

    The ways in which Irish and English are race-related language issues are really mindboggling, when you start to think about it. It doesn’t seem to be analogous to much in the US though, even though it’s to do with colonialism – perhaps because the ex-colony continued to be the poor relation rather than rising to greatness?

  242. The Other Caitlin & hsofia – to me, Caitlín is not pronounced Kate-lynn, so I am glad that the other spelling for the (to me) completely different name exists. It reduces confusion and stops me from thinking people are pronouncing it wrong.

  243. “that a lot of people are more eager to talk about anything but racism”

    Including the oh-so-subtle and academic vagaries of linguistics.
    I really don’t mean to be a Rant Machine, which is why I’ve tried not to overparticipate in this thread. It just gets really really really tiring when some people appear so eager to over-dissect anything to explain away a phenomenon that’s, you know, been around for decades.

    I read Kate’s Salon post on Kevin Smith (*wild hysterical applause*) and all the comments (*shudder*). There’s a theory brewing in my head related to the stereotype of the fat, sloppy, loud, ignorant, ugly American overseas, who can’t be so bothered to learn the nuances of the language where s/he’s visiting, and how people suffering under that stereotype in one context might want to consider whether, by explaining and explaining and explaining how the existence of Polish and German dipthong variants in this country means that no other suppression of languages other than English-Germanic here can mean anything more than that, never ever ever ever, that they’re contributing to that very same stereotype in another context.

    But I don’t have it yet.

  244. In an art imitating life moment… last night I was listening to Doctor Who, series 3 episode 1 last night while grading papers. And in that episode, a mercenary-space-police squad were Tracking Down a Baddie hiding out in a hospital in London.

    (Lucky London, getting all the aliens that don’t go to Cardiff… how I wish BBC Scotland had gotten to have the Who franchise, then all the locations would be Glasgow! But I digress…)

    One of the Space Police stuck a scanner thing in the face of a character to identify what species they were and zie kept barking:

    WHAT ARE YOU? WHAT ARE YOU? With about as much subtlety as you might expect when a person asks that question of another.

  245. @Ailbhe: How do you say “Caitlin”? In my accent it’s Caytlin. I understand that with an Irish accent is more like Catlin. I don’t see such an overwhelming difference that a different spelling is needed. It’s like the name “Megan”. Australians pronounce it “Meegan” and Canadians pronounce it “Meggan” (and presumably Americans too, but I don’t know for sure). It’s still the same name.

    @JSTG @SweetMachine and others: I’m perfectly happy to discuss racism. It’s been discussed up thread and can still be discussed. But it’s a long thread and sometimes conversations drift to other topics, both online and offline. I’ve found talking about names interesting and not wholly unrelated to racism in many cases. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with thread drift (as distinct from thread-derailment, where it turns into an off-topic argument). But that’s a matter for the mods and I’ll do what I’m told.

  246. TOC, like I said, it’s not about whether thread drift is right or wrong or fascinating or not; it’s just a pattern that happens a lot when privilege is under discussion.

  247. I pronounce “Caitlín” in Irish and it sounds very very different to my ear – much more different than Ailbhe (Irish) and Alva (Anglicised pronunciation). The exact ai sound doesn’t seem to exist in English, that I’ve ever noticed, but a-as-in-cat and a-as-in-ate are very different to my ear. Also, the í is an elongated i, sort of like eee, not i-as-in-inn. And the T is not the same as the T in English Tap, hoT, or Kate. And the emphasis is more strongly on the centre of the word than on the first syllable. Cait, as a short form, would be pronounced CAWeetch. Sorta (the second “syllable” is actually really really really short). This is difficult to represent. I think I give up.

    The Anglicisation of Irish names, whether in spelling or pronunciation or both, is not an apolitical thing, either, and is tied hugely into class perceptions of Irishness and exoticism and othering and all sorts of things (someone wrote a sequel to Gone With The Wind just so that they could be awful about Irishness in very similar-but-opposite-seeming ways to the awfulness about skin-colour race in GWTW itself).

    But that doesn’t affect YOUR name, which is spelled and pronounced how YOU spell and pronounce it, not how *I* do. Names, as someone elsewhere on the internet once told me, are so important that almost everyone in the whole world has at least one.

  248. The Other Caitlin permalink

    “@JSTG @SweetMachine and others: I’m perfectly happy to discuss racism. It’s been discussed up thread and can still be discussed. But it’s a long thread and sometimes conversations drift to other topics, both online and offline. I’ve found talking about names interesting and not wholly unrelated to racism in many cases. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with thread drift (as distinct from thread-derailment, where it turns into an off-topic argument). But that’s a matter for the mods and I’ll do what I’m told.”

    It’s occured to me that maybe it was just me who’s bothered by the drift. Threads in general at SP tend to get drifty, which you’re right, isn’t necessarily a bad thing–and sometimes inevitable, perhaps, when you have 100+ comment threads. But since issues of privilege are involved–and I thought they were, as SP isn’t a poc-majority blog–I decided to bring it up for consideration.

    And I’ll drop it now, since I’ve said a ton already and I fear I’m becoming That Asshole Who Belabors a Point Until You Admit He’s Right. Besides being annoying generally, I very well may NOT be right.

    Grafton,

    “I once had a black friend who angrily cut off his associations with me because one evening I didn’t recognize him when I saw him someplace I’d never seen him before, standing under the weird sharp yellow light of a nickel-sodium streetlamp. I can’t really blame him for figuring it was racism. Racism is common and prosopagnosia is weird and I couldn’t, at the time, figure out how to explain to him what had happened. (Petty Example #134, How Racism Effected Some Random White Spaz)”

    I’m sorry. That just sucks, and I’m not sure what, if anything, could have been done. :(

    littlem,

    “the stereotype of the fat, sloppy, loud, ignorant, ugly American overseas, who can’t be so bothered to learn the nuances of the language where s/he’s visiting …”

    I lived in Europe for a number of years. Literally within two hours of the plane landing when we first arrived, I was told the following hoary joke:

    “What do you call someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language? An American.”

    And as it so happens, I never did learn the language of the country. All of the people in my town spoke English, as a U.S. military base was nearby, and I never was forced to do so. I still wish I had.

  249. “It’s occured to me that maybe it was just me who’s bothered by the drift. “

    In this specific instance, that would be a “no”.

  250. Wow. As someone currently student teaching in a fairly liberal teacher education program, this thread has given me a lot to think about. Just… wow.

    I am white and Jewish. I am on a campus that, while considered liberal, has some SERIOUS issues (google Pacifica Forum if you’re curious, it’s too much of a derail for me to discuss in this thread). I grew up in a community where there was fairly little diversity. Despite not being *actively* racist, since hitting college, I’ve had to take care of a lot of subconscious issues… and this is yet another one I need to look at.

    Yet, if I don’t challenge my privilege, I will NOT be a good teacher. It doesn’t matter where I teach. It doesn’t matter if I have one minority student, or a class that is extremely diverse, or one where all my students are of a different ethnicity than I am.

    Thank you for helping me examine and challenge my own privilege. I need to do more of this, but thank you for helping me do some work I would have been lost at trying to do by myself.

  251. Trans Guy:

    Thanks. Yeah, it did suck. He’s an interesting guy and I don’t often get along well with people, so it was a serious loss to me. I am not sure that there’s much of anything I can do about it. I often tell people that I’m face-blind and that if I don’t recognize them out of context not to take it personally, but I have no idea how many of them believe me. It’s one of those things I say that often makes people laugh for no reason I understand. Or they’ll start saying how they have a hard time matching names to faces, too, which is not the same.

    Really, the problem is that not everyone enjoys the happy privilege of never having to wonder if something like that is a symptom of racism. One of the most horrible experiences in socialising is to discover that a friend you’ve been liking for a good while is actually a bigot and you didn’t know it. Which is one reason I openly tell people I’m face-blind, among other neurological things. I hate that line that goes something like, “It’s fine to be gay/have an invisible disability/etc but why can’t those people just be quiet about it instead of shoving it in our faces all the time?” The answer is, “I’ve got to shove it in your face because otherwise I might accidentally make friends with some ass like yourself, and then you’d say that to me and give me a shock. It’s like finding a handful of maggots in the middle of your sandwich after you’ve already eaten half.

  252. Addendum: Probably the same with race-related issues? I think some of the non-white people I know who talk about race a great deal are doing it not only because it’s an important issue, but to ward off potential ‘friends’ who will eventually display a lot of nasty privilege by dismissing the issue, claiming racism is ‘over,’ and similar bullshit. Anybody do that?

  253. “Really, the problem is that not everyone enjoys the happy privilege of never having to wonder if something like that is a symptom of racism.”

    Not only not having to wonder, but not having to slice and dice six ways from Sunday and ponder kaleidoscopically from multi-parsing hyper-intellectual linguistic angles to decide.

    Repeated for emphasis.

  254. I’m late to the party, as usual. I’ll share a few of my experiences. I’m caucasian (mostly western European descent), with dark brown hair and eyes that are kind of hazel-ish amber (the color of old whiskey). I have round cheeks and a big double chin, which I also sometimes notice on Hispanic people with some Native American heritage in their background (which I may have if some of my French ancestors did more than trade with the Native Americans). Since my 20s, I’ve periodically had people assume I’m Hispanic. I was at the drug store once and was approached by an older Hispanic couple who thought I spoke Spanish and wanted to ask me a question about cold medicine.

    The most interesting experience I had, though, was a few years ago at my previous place of work. I was working as a counselor at a middle school, and had been working there for nearly 2 years at that point. An African-American teacher came into the counseling office one afternoon, looking for any counselor to answer a question. He was in a hurry, saw me standing at the office door and immediately addressed me, using the name of another counselor. The other counselor is a woman over 15 years my senior, Hispanic and wears glasses, which I don’t. The only similar features we share (in my judgment, at any rate) are that we both have dark brown hair cut in a bobbed style, and are close in height (she’s maybe an inch shorter than me). While this counselor might argue that she’s fat, I’d describe her as an ‘in-betweenie,’ and her weight is distributed very differently than mine. She has no double-chin, has a much smaller torso than I do, and again, wears glasses, whereas I do not. Her skin tone is also darker than mine, since she’s Hispanic and I’m caucasian.

    I had no issue with the teacher mistaking me for my counselor co-worker, and took it as a compliment, since my former co-worker is a very experienced counselor and practically ran the counseling department at that school. I did find it interesting to be on the ‘opposite end,’ so to speak, of an assumption, particularly coming from an African-American man (and a teacher who’d had several conversations with me about his students in the past). I don’t think his assumption was motivated by race (in other words, I don’t think he assumed I’m Hispanic or that my co-worker is caucasian), but more by the vague similarities between my and my co-worker’s appearance. …Although, for half a second, I did wonder briefly, “do African-American people think all caucasian or Hispanic people look alike?”

    Recognizing my privilege, that period of wonderment was extremely brief and decidedly much less embittered than a person of color might have felt if the shoe were on the other foot. It was an interesting moment of recognition, though.

  255. LittleM:
    Not only not having to wonder, but not having to slice and dice six ways from Sunday and ponder kaleidoscopically from multi-parsing hyper-intellectual linguistic angles to decide.

    I think we are all easily distracted by linguistics. But you make an excellent point; my nattering about how I choose to be called when traveling abroad is not analogous to how people who are identified as ‘other’ in the United States are expected to ‘Americanize’ without any justification whatsoever for that expectation.

    I appreciate you and others pointing out that the white people talking about how they experience being confused for others, or having names mispronounced, is not particularly relevant to this discussion, and feels a little like the guys descending on a thread about street harassment and saying that all the people they speak to in public are nice and well-meaning. I’ll be smacking myself on the forehead now, and returning to the topic at hand.

    (Can we have an open thread about linguistics sometime soon, though?)

  256. @ thirtiesgirl – “Her skin tone is also darker than mine, since she’s Hispanic and I’m caucasian.”

    Be careful! Skin color is not necessarily indicative of ethnicity, and “Hispanic” is a label that does not actually indicate any particular ethnic makeup.

  257. @ Grafton, Littlem: Having privilege also means that when you dicuss your personal experience as as a member of a certain group, you don’t have to worry about someone turning around and telling you you’re being oversensitive/a member of the Fun Police/making it up/just trying to make life difficult for other people.

    That hasn’t happened here, but it has happened elsewhere.

  258. I’m late to the party too, but in light of the “they all look the same” discussion, I just had to confess to a recent incident in my class. I teach introductory composition and I recently got two of my students (both Chinese) confused. I was MORTIFIED. The thing is, I routinely have a few students I can’t tell apart. Usually, it’s white guys (I’m white myself, but something about the 18-year-old white guys who tend to take intro comp…); in fact, in my class this semester I have a pair of white guys I am always confusing with each other. But I know that to the white guys, it’s just a weird mental block their teacher has, whereas for the Chinese guys, it’s another example in a pattern of racism. I felt so bad about it! I apologized profusely and tried to explain it away as a bad name day, but I know that doesn’t fix it.

    (On the plus side, one of the Chinese students told me I am the first teacher he has had in the US to pronounce his name more or less correctly the first time. Maybe that offsets it for him?)

  259. AnthroK8: yeah, those are the Judoon. They’re as subtle as bricks and, unfortunately, humans are even worse!

    RoseRose, I’m with you: one of the (many) great things about coming here is being with people who challenge our own viewpoints AND people who WANT their viewpoints challenged!

  260. I have a really hard time seeing the discussion of language as a complete derail from racist group dynamics: it is a derail from the original posting, by quite a bit, but I think it’s just eddied into a little whirlpool about people’s home languages and there really is an overall Thing Important to Discuss.

    But I’m Canadian. So in my experience, the discussion of language acquisition is quite a bit about racism – and privileging of culture. “Why don’t they just learn to fit into the language of the hegemony” is a popular xenophobic tactic, and the flip side is the discussion of dominant language and segregation on linguistic lines. Obviously this goes way farther than English speakers fucking up my colleague Zhou’s name until he renames himself Joe, but it is a serious point of friction and culture. Accents, too, within a language.

    Further, education. Huge issue! Populations often lose language as the kids get educated in the main system – it’s why French Canada is so language defensive, why we’re all supposed to know French, and yet I am a good example of a FrenchCanuck gone mostly Anglo. My American Faux Pa – from LA – has lost his family’s language to English, but there’s another huge loss: his ancestor’s loss of their original language to Spanish, which still has left colonial and racial scars all over the place. He has complex feelings about Spanish. That’s a complex discussion within context. And it does matter.

    However, non-shared language is also a *part* of the barrier of cultural chauvinism between the two Canadas. The solution has been two official languages – only where I live, Mandarin, Tagalog, Cantonese, Korean, and Japanese are all major languages, the home language in my postal code is Mandarin, the languages getting swamped are those of the First Nations of the Pacific Northwest. With these losses, something of how we frame the world is lost. Yet we need to know how to talk to one another!

    I completely understand that privileged people trading their own stories of not being able to pronounce language is not directly about racism. But it seems to me a common experience that, once recognized and shared, means that the next guy who makes fun of an accent or says ‘they can learn’ can get verbally slapped down with some recognized power, and we’re all aware of the depth and complexity of the issue. (I’m going to get all “We Are the World” and Noam Chomsky over here and then get all teary. Ahem.)

    Now, that said, I understand the frustration of “what about the menz”. I’ve been on both sides of that when it’s true. But I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of never talking about the similar understanding of the menz, especially if there are a lot of menz in the discussion. Maybe we can reframe instead? Nudge it back to something more inclusive? It seems to me the most powerful ways we learn to share each other’s sorrows and joys is to find common ground. Issues of common culture, multiculturalism, how we talk to one another, how we address one another, immigration and emigration, and shared understanding are important to figuring shit out for all of us.

    Of course, it’s a huge thread, and language as a topic is a derail from the comparison of a person to the nearest person of similar racial background.

    But I also thought there was slightly more depth in the conversation, even in the more superficial moments, than just ‘what about the menz’.

    I was thinking, should it come around again, I may very well put up the picture of my Hong Kong doppleganger. Maybe it would help, in some way, to point out what we share as people. ‘Course, as a fat woman, comparing myself to a thin woman gives me ‘who does she think she is’ pain.

  261. @hsofia:But when I was younger I was asked all the time, “Where are you from?” People just assumed I was from someplace “else” because I didn’t look American to them.

    This reminded me of a story Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Wall, told in Reader’s Digest a couple years ago. She talked about how she would nearly get into fistfights with people who would say “No, where are you REALLY from?” when she would respond “New Jersey” to their asking the first time. She said that they seemed physically incapable of grasping the fact that someone with Asian heritage could REALLY be from New Jersey. If I can’t place an accent, I will ask where someone’s from, (and I will say something like “Pardon my tin ear, but I just can’t quite place your accent-where are you from?) but other than that I figure people’s racial/ethnic heritage is none of my business unless they choose to share it with me. I got pie in my face one time for assuming an El Salvadoran friend was Mexican because most Hispanic people in my town are Mexican, and since then I’ve learned not to make comments like that. Fortunately she was really nice and laughed it off but I certainly felt like the ass in assume that day!

    And AnthroK8, you win at life for Dr. Who reference. Other sci-fi geeks, feminism and FA- could this place be any more amazingly awesome?

  262. Ugh, I hate the “Where are you REALLY from?” thing. Lately I’ve been getting it from complete strangers at places like bus stops. People really won’t let it drop sometimes.

  263. Alyssa, I am going to confess, I actually was listening to that episode and wondering… are all Judoon like that, or was the Doctor just generalizing from his experience of Judoon-as-space-police-with-literal-interpretations-and-lots-of-bureaucracy? I really did. Maybe that (those) particular Judoon was all WHAT ARE YOU WHAT ARE YOU, but, you know… is there no Judoon counter-culture?

    I mean, if Doctor Who has an issue with something, it’s loving conformity. And baddies in Doctor Who are often beings that have broken laws of the universe or their own societies, and not often baddies-by-nature-of-species (except Daleks, see: conformity, cause Daleks ARE all really alike (and meglomaniacal).

    My point being, SP rubs off.

  264. Grafton: That’s definitely a large part of why I, Irish in England, talk about being Irish in the UK a lot – because if people are going to go all leprechauns, Paddy jokes, accent-mocking and pigs-in-the-parlour on me, I want to know *early*. Most of the people over here don’t even see Paddy jokes as a *problem*, usually citing “but I think Irish accents are so sexy” or something as a defense.

    And let’s not even talk about Hollywood’s thing about the quaint auld country. Because although it’s analogous it is, as people pointed out above, off-topic.

  265. @AnthroK8 “I mean, if Doctor Who has an issue with something, it’s loving conformity.”

    I would argue the exact opposite. The hero is highly eccentric, especially in my favourite incarnation (Tom Baker) but in general. And all the classic baddies have been highly conformist. You mention the Daleks but what about the Cybermen?

  266. @Alibhe: When I used to read Jezebel, I remember reading the comments about a picture of Katie Holmes, who was shooting a movie in Melbourne at the time. One or two of the posters were wondering why she had any need for a coat, seeing as how she was in Australia!

  267. What’s frustrating is that people are unable to distinguish fluctuations in skin tone to even apply the “similar skin tone” idea rationally. Though I go to a school that is probably 90% Caucasian-blend (I don’t know how to say this exactly–most of us are so blended in European heritage that we DON’T identify ethnically at all anymore), I do my best to understand skin tone more specifically, because I know people get annoyed when they’re all asked if they’re from China, or just amassed into “Asian.” It’s a question of respect for me. Ethnicity is something so interesting and the cultures that go along with the more strong ones are amazing–I have a lot of respect for them, and truth be told I wish I could be a part of that.

    Another problem with this “game” is that there are quite a few people–quite a few of skinny, gorgeous white girls who simply do not look like anyone else. To “look like someone” there are SO MANY FACTORS to consider–and those who can’t find a doppelganger don’t feel that they are special and unique and beautiful–they feel lonely and ugly. That kills me.

    I was able to participate, and I enjoyed it. I liked the challenge of finding people who looked like others, but the exclusionary aspect of the game bothered me, and I hope people became more aware of it.

  268. rather large number (I would say disproportionate number) of the comments have been of a “Well, English speakers just can’t say some names” and “Oh, but I’m white, and that happens to me too” nature. It strikes me as very privilege-erasing, to emphasize all that when there is so much that is really and truly based on racism. It could just be me reading the thread this way, though, so I’d like to say upfront that I might be out of line here. I’m not sure.

    Yes yes yes. I just caught up and read this whole thread today, and I agree with you, JSTG. That is the overall feel of this conversation. And frankly, this is not the first time: lately it seems to be happening a lot, in general but especially in conversations about race. So you know, when someone tells you a story about, say, race and his or her personal experiences as a target of racism, if you feel the urge to chime in and say “Oh! Oh! This one time I experienced something similar because I’m white and that’s so interesting!” for god’s sake, don’t say it out loud. You’re making it about you. And it’s privilege that makes it seem okay to say something like that, as though everyone else must be equally interested in that tangent. In the reality that is outside of your head, that person is trying to find a place to tell his or her own story without having it turned into a story about (in this example) white people FOR ONCE, and your role is to listen, maybe comment if you have something to say about his or her experience that is of value, and, you know, listen.

    That said, I agree that the conversation about language is related to the original post in an interesting way. Which doesn’t make the comments about how people belonging to a privileged group are often unable to pronounce names from other languages for non-racist reasons any less irrelevant.

  269. It’s a question of respect for me. Ethnicity is something so interesting and the cultures that go along with the more strong ones are amazing–I have a lot of respect for them, and truth be told I wish I could be a part of that.

    Spark, white people do have ethnicities and cultures. The idea that “white” is transparent and not aligned with any particular cultures is part of the racist dynamics we’re discussing here.

  270. Trig, seriously?? This is not your blog, and I think that’s kind of rude to the mods.

    I want to add that it kind of sounds like some of the most vocal [white] commenters on this thread are derailing because otherwise they wouldn’t have anything to talk about. Everyone has something to contribute if the conversation is about pronouncing other languages or non-racism-related facial recognition or how well you can remember names, right? And otherwise you’d have to shut up and listen. It’s far more comfortable to be able to talk as much as you’re used to being allowed to talk.

    And since this blog is the safe space for you to share your personal pain, it should always be about things you are free to weigh in on as much as you want! Yeah, no. This blog is for many people, not just the white ones who want to talk about their hardships all the time. Other people have hardships, and that is okay; and you can be white and yet disadvantaged in other ways, but that doesn’t remove your white privilege.

  271. This is about the fourth time I’ve started a comment on this post. The other three times, I realized that there was no reason for me to share what I had said, other than a belief that everyone must be fascinated by my opinions, so I didn’t post.

    But I just realized that there’s something I’m really surprised that no one’s mentioned — this whole not bothering to learn the actual correct name of someone less privileged? There’s a term for that. I mean, other than racism. It called “calling someone out of their name,” and it has a long racist history in the southern US, wherein white people would just assign “easier” names to POC. (Or to poor white people, but it was more of a racist thing with occasional classist applications.) One of the principles I was very carefully taught was never to give someone else a nickname “because it’s something white people used to do a lot that made a lot of black people feel bad.” (Yeah, I wasn’t very old when we had that conversation.) It was pointed out to me that people name their pets, and children name their stuffed animals, but a human being who isn’t your very own newborn baby already has a name, and attempting to give them a different one is putting them on the same level as a guinea pig or a teddy bear.

    So, sure, sometimes people mispronounce names. But sometimes they don’t even try, and that? Is fucking racist.

  272. I’m sorry, I know I’ve been vocal and I know I’ve aided and abetted the thread drift. I didn’t realise it was such a problem but I do now. I have a hummingbird brain that doesn’t like to stay still for long but I WILL try to stay on topic in future, especially when the main post is discussing privilege or racism.

    While Irish pronunciation is off-topic, I hope that the general subject of Irish oppression is not. Maybe it is in this particular thread, which is specifically about people’s appearance, but in general discussions about privilege and ethnicity I would expect it to have a place. Despite my Irish name, I am not actually Irish myself, but I am acutely aware that the Irish have been an oppressed people for many centuries and are only just coming out of that.

    If I have the wrong end of the stick here, @Sweet Machine, then please let me know. I’m not trying to challenge your authority.

  273. @Other Becky, thank you – it’s not a term I’ve heard before, and I’ve needed it, yes indeedy. (And o.O – I did a search for it on Google, and the second link was to Stormfront >.<)

    I was taught that about nicknames, too. I wish more people were.

  274. By the way, I don’t see this comment from Trig that the last few people seem to be responding to. Has it been removed? My comments are not in response to Trig’s comment so sorry if it sounds like I’m weighing into a particular debate.

  275. While Irish pronunciation is off-topic, I hope that the general subject of Irish oppression is not.

    It’s not off-topic in general; it’s just not on topic either in a post that is specifically about POC.

  276. Forgive my rambling in advance, as I’m not often eloquent on the subject of race. The “please don’t privilege your curiosity…” stuff was a bit of a fluke!

    Seconding Sweet Machine’s comments about racist dynamics and the idea that white people *don’t have* a culture, let alone cultures. I believe it is linked to the idea that Australian culture is monolithic and inherently “white”.

    It’s why I often refer to my father as “neutral” rather than white – according to some people’s worldview, I have one *normal*, nothing-to-see-here dinky-di parent, and one who is *other* and not really Australian. It also “allows” people to say some very racist shit, and hold POC to a higher/different standard of behaviour. Cultural differences, you see.

    The funny thing is, in my experience, the idea of disparate “white” cultures seems to only come up in order to “disprove”/play down my experiences of racism as a POC.

    I have a friend whose parents both come from Hull, UK, but she strongly identifies with her Irish roots. When I bring up my experiences with the “what are you?” and “where are you *really* from?” crowd, she always mentions one occasion when a fellow commuter spotted her claddagh pendant and got chatting to her about her Irish heritage.

    One instance of Irishness being pointed out and discussed in a friendly manner = people othering POC with “curiosity” and asking “what” rather than “who” questions = totes not even remotely racist. Ever. Even if they won’t accept a change of subject and start yelling at me, demanding an answer.

  277. >>It’s not off-topic in general; it’s just not on topic either in a post that is specifically about POC.

    Thanks @SweetMachine. That’s kind of what I said in my next sentence (“maybe it is in this particular thread, which is specifically about people’s appearance, but in general discussions about privilege and ethnicity I would expect it to have a place.”), so I think I got it. Thanks for clarifying/confirming! :-)

  278. I think I’ve popped up too often in this discussion, and have said too much. I think I’ll pull out now. Apologies.

  279. Late to the party.

    About that facial-recognition software thing: I kept getting (a young) Pearl Bailey when I used a particular picture. I’m a blue-eyed, auburn-haired white woman. I realized that it had a lot to do with the pose, but as I looked at the photos side by side, I could see similarities: we had similarly-shaped eyes, our noses were almost the same, cheekbones roughly shaped the same way, etc.

    I was rather mortified once in law school when I expressed surprise that the director of the diversity office was black. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t “look black” (she was very light-skinned) so much that she looked so much like my grandmother that it was freaky. So I guess I just assumed, because she looked like Grams, that she was white, too. I don’t think I ever got that whole train of thought out to the people who looked at me like I had five heads when I expressed the surprise; I just sort of slunk away, and I’m sure they just thought I was an idiot, or worse.

    I don’t see a problem with mixing up people who look alike as long as they do, actually look alike, and celebrities (to use one example*) often look alike because films and TV shows are often cast for a particular type. I mean, how many young, thin, blonde starlets are there, and can you tell them apart at a glance?** Also, Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal got cast as brothers for a reason (and apparently also frequently get mistaken for one another).

    BUT. There’s a big difference between mixing up people who have truly similar features and mixing up the only two black people in a room. A friend of mine in law school had that experience with a rather unpleasant teaching assistant, who had ten assorted white people and two black women in his group. He managed to get the names of the white people right, but continually mixed up Rosalyn and Pam, the two black women. Who were entirely different heights, builds, complexions, had different hairstyles and clothing styles. Finally, when the guy had called Rosalyn Pam one too many times, she just chuckled and said, “No, I’m the other one.” She laughed when she told me about this (I was in a different group for this class), but I could tell she was angry at some level. And I’m not sure I would have picked up on it in any very clear way had I been there. I might have felt uneasy but been unable to understand why until she confronted him.

    * The late, great Spy Magazine had a feature called Separated at Birth? in which various celebrity photos were put side-by-side with other celebrity photos. It really was brilliant.

    **Ever notice that if a starlet (or young singer) makes it, she begins to develop a unique look, so that Angelina doesn’t look like Jessica Alba doesn’t look like Rihanna doesn’t look like Cameron Diaz? Or that it’s startling when someone who doesn’t fit the usual mold, even in some small way – red hair, for example, or curves (why, hello, Christina Hendricks, I’m looking at you), let alone someone like Gabourey Sidibe — makes a big splash and people can’t stop talking about how refreshing she is, at least until she disappears because she can’t get roles because she’s not easily categorizable into a “type” and hasn’t made it big enough to be her own type?

  280. About the white people mixing up POC who don’t actually look alike issue, the creepy thing is that this sometimes happens even with white people who you’d kind of assume wouldn’t do that. Again, via one of the Japanese bands I’ve worked with, I’ve often seen white fans get their bass player confused with one of their guitarists. Bassist is 6 feet tall with huge shoulders. Guitarist is 5ft6 with a tiny build. Facially I don’t think they look remotely like each other – different nose, different overall facial structure, different skin tone, one smiles all the time, the other is kind of dour. I mean they do sometimes have a similar hairstyle, but that’s about it as far as resemblance, and you’d think that 6 inch height difference would be enough of a clue that no, these two men are not the same person. And yet still, I’ve seen hardcore fans get them mixed up.

  281. Trig, seriously?? This is not your blog, and I think that’s kind of rude to the mods.

    Huh? Seriously, what?

    In other news, the whoaskedmen.com domain has been registered and exists. If anyone wants to send me content to put on it, feel free to do so.

    (If anyone wants to actually manage it, let me know, too. I don’t really know what to do with it. I had a credit for a free domain name from my hosting company, so I decided to go for it.)

    You’ll find my contact details from a WHOIS lookup.

    TRiG.

  282. I am frequently asked “Where’s/How’s your dog?” when I exit my condo.

    I don’t have a dog.

    That would be the other fat white woman with glasses, whose hair is several inches longer than mine, stands several inches taller than I, and smokes. Also note my tiny nose, lack of lips, and crooked teeth.

    I have literally argued with people who insisted that they’d seen me with a dog when I’ve told them that I don’t have one. Fortunately, telling them that they’re thinking of the other fat woman usually embarrasses them enough that they shut up and go away.

  283. Oh, and I should add – at work, there are two young white guys with short spiky light brown hair that I consistently confuse with each other. I feel terrible about it, but I can’t seem to help it.

    Also, I am terrible with names.

  284. thanks for the interesting conversation, as usual – I just got all caught up today. If this is too off topic to return to that’s fine, but I guess I have a question about the “can’t tell Korean/Japanese/Chinese apart” line of the thread. For those who claim to be able to do so, what features are telling to you? I’ve never been able to guess well based on how someone looks what their ethnic heritage is… even for white people (well, broadly and regionally speaking I could guess, I suppose, that someone is Scandinavian or southern European or something, but as we’ve seen in this thread, ethnicity-guessing never is that trustworthy…). My bf is Korean and claims he can’t tell where people are from based on their faces, but based on their clothing and how they carry themselves, which I think is interesting.

    But, I guess what is more important to me personally is being careful not to mix up individuals… I mean, yea on the street, if I see an Asian dude, I probably can’t tell if he’s Korean or not, but I try to be careful about not mixing up the people in my life that are Asian just because they are “the Asian people in my life” and to me that is a bigger priority (as well as, of course, knowing that Korean culture =/= Chinese culture or god forbid “Asian culture”). Spending some time in China really helped me with that, so I know for me at least it’s an exposure thing.

    As for the facebook meme, I knew there was something about that that rubbed me the wrong way. I also felt that it was a way for conventionally pretty white women to smirk and complement themselves on being pretty, in a way that would not be frowned on as smug. I mean, it would be sort of weird to go around comparing yourself to Reese Witherspoon on a regular basis, but during doppelganger week you get to say “Oh, I’m so cute that I look like Reese Witherspoon!” and not sound self-satisfied. And of course, that excludes women of color, fat women, whatever women don’t have a “pretty” celebrity to compare themselves to.

  285. wondering: Did you completely miss the point of the reminders from Sweet Machine, Volcanista, JSTG, and others as to what this thread is actually about? I thought they had already said it pretty well, but let me try my hand at it:

    DEAR FELLOW WHITE PEOPLE. THIS THREAD IS NOT ABOUT US.

    Ever tried to tell a man about your experiences of sexism and had him tell you that stuff like that happens to him too so it’s totally not about sexism? Remember how frustrating and silencing and utterly negating that felt? That’s exactly what’s going on here. In a thread where POC are talking about one of the many facets of cultural racism, coming in and saying “Oh, that happens to white people too!” completely trivializes their experiences, even if it does actually happen to white people sometimes.

  286. @gottalovemn – Um, I may be in the minority here, but can I vote for not having the “how do you tell Chinese, Japanese and Korean people apart?” conversation? Especially not in this thread? I dunno, the idea of a bunch of white people having that conversation here of all places really rubs me the wrong way. It does not seem to me that laying out a list of features by specific ethnicity would be helpful here. In fact, it kind of seems like more of the sort of wierd othering that the post was about. I mean, do people have public conversations on the Internet about how you tell, say, Swedish, Finnish and German people apart? And even if they did, would the implications be the same, especially in a thread that’s specifically about racism?

    I’m also sort of scratching my head about the idea that you need to make a special effort to tell the Asian people you know apart. Unless you have face blindness in general, that seems…really wierd. These are people you actually know, who you see on a regular basis? That combined with the comment about people who “claim” to be able to tell Chinese, Japanese and Korean people apart, as if you’re questioning the validity of that “claim”, is kind of wierding me out. Though it’s probably is a great illustration of Mean Asian Girl’s point.

    Sorry if it seems like I’m jumping on you by the way – I don’t mean to be hostile, I’m just honestly kind of baffled.

  287. Um, I may be in the minority here, but can I vote for not having the “how do you tell Chinese, Japanese and Korean people apart?” conversation?

    OMG no, we are SO NOT having this conversation. Cataloging stereotypical ethnic features? Are you serious? NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Please reread the post, which is about not ignoring the personhood of POC by lumping them into blanket racial categories. And then rethink why you seem to find it okay to ask people to identify Chinese, Japanese, and Korean humans as if they’re fucking dog breeds.

    To repeat Perla’s excellent rule from upthread: Please don’t privilege your curiosity over someone’s comfort or feeling of belonging.

  288. Also:

    My bf is Korean and claims he can’t tell where people are from based on their faces, but based on their clothing and how they carry themselves, which I think is interesting.

    That is probably because clothing and how you carry yourself are culturally coded signifiers, whereas your face is your actual fucking face no matter where you were born.

    Dear fellow white people: You do not have some god-given right to know where people are “from.” No one owes you information about their origins or their bodies.

  289. @Sweet Machine: “Dear fellow white people: You do not have some god-given right to know where people are “from.” No one owes you information about their origins or their bodies.”

    This is actually quite close to my original wording, although me beginning a sentence with something like “dear fellow white people” doesn’t go down well. Believe me, I’ve tried!

  290. I apologise for getting carried away with the thread drift earlier and having a lot to say about not much (or at least not much that’s on topic for this post). I am glad the conversation has circled back to the main point. I was thinking I was done with this thread but I’ve been reflecting on Mean Asian Girl’s post over the last day or so.

    So far I’ve come up with this.

    1. I’m on board with the point that the Facebook meme was othering to POCs because there are fewer famous people that look like them to choose from. This lack of famous POCs is reflective of deeper racism in our society. It also meant that an Asian person, for example, had to choose from a handful of famous Asians who may not look anything like them except for sharing the same race. I don’t think there is any disagreement there.

    2. Many POCs get told they look like other POCs when they don’t look anything like them. Many white people *believe* they have the same experience – being told they look a random famous blonde when they don’t, or being mistaken for another fat woman who otherwise looks nothing like them. The question is whether or not this is *actually* the same phenomenon as what the POCs experience.
    Perhaps *some* of the time it is – just as I don’t think that someone is being racist when someone tells me that I look like Bridget Bardot even though I don’t (though I did choose a picture of the wrinkly, grumpy old Bardot for Doppelganger), I don’t think it is *always* racist when an Asian woman is told she looks like Lucy Liu. However, I can imagine it would be *received* differently, if the Asian woman has spent her whole life being confused with other Asians, and clearly everyone should be sensitive to that.
    I’m hearing loud and clear that POCs experience white people confusing them with other POCs a lot more often than white people get confused with other white people. There’s no way to measure that but given the racism in our society it seems likely so I’ll take that as a given.

    That’s all I got…

    Interested to hear any responses but I’ll sit back and listen to the rest of the thread unless I’m asked to or *need to* clarify.

  291. Hi, first comment here. I love your blog.

    JSTG, I just wanted to say I really appreciate it when you call people out on their white/cis privilege. Even as a lurker, I noticed it on another thread and you were dead-on, and you’re dead-on now. This thread was totally becoming WHAT ABOUT THE WHITEZ!!! Even though I personally found the conversation interesting–linguistics, yay!–the chorus of guilty white voices saying how guilty they felt/how it wasn’t actually their fault in excruciating scientific/linguistic detail felt marginalizing. It was starting to feel uncomfortably like those defensive posts on evolutionary biology and how men just can’t help themselves.

    I live in an area with a lot of Asians, so I probably haven’t experienced as much marginalization in my daily life. I’ve noticed that my instructors are pretty good at pronouncing names like “Nguyen” and such, and it’s pretty cool when that they make an effort.

    I do remember being stopped by a cop for speeding and having him ask me what my “nationality” was. I replied “American” and had to repeat myself with “I’m an American citizen” because he couldn’t comprehend nationality versus ethnicity, and after a long pause he said “I’ll just put down ‘Asian.’” I can’t really put my finger on why it bothered and still bothers me. Maybe because I fully answered his question, and he just ignored my actual answer and put down what he thought anyway. It felt like he just paid lip service to diversity then just gave up when it got too hard and defaulted to generic Asian.

  292. Just remembered this Margaret Cho clip about POC being mistaken for other POC (the pertinent part is about 50 seconds in).

  293. TOC, Kate has an old but excellent post that is relevant to your most recent comment, about not being able to “measure” how often things happen. The key point:

    But this is exactly what people mean when they say “Check your privilege.” They mean it is far more likely this person got it wrong once but right the other 99 times out of 100 than it is that this person is hysterically overreacting to a wholly imagined problem. It means you don’t get to see the problem they’re reacting to, the blatant pattern, in your own daily life—so for you, this one experience feels huge and representative, while for the person who doesn’t share your privilege, it’s a drop in the fucking bucket.

  294. @Other Becky –

    “wondering: Did you completely miss the point of the reminders from Sweet Machine, Volcanista, JSTG, and others as to what this thread is actually about?”

    You’ve decided to designate only all-white speakers by name; everyone else who’s speaking on the topic is relegated to “and others” …?

    Plus ça change …

  295. Sorry, littlem. They were just the three most recent that I noticed trying to curtail the derailment. I should have either named no names or named more names.

  296. I read a post of Chally’s at Feministe the other day about USians: http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2010/02/15/dear-usians-on-the-internet/

    This definitely informs my reaction/thoughts to the ensuing discussions on this thread about representation/recognition/othering.

    I have absolutely no interest in diminishing the experiences of POC in the US as relates to the original post and what other people such as Perla have said – in fact the idea, say, that someone could just go, ‘oh your name is Rajinder, I can’t (bother to) say that, I’ll just call you Roy’ is absolutely mind-boggling to me as a Londoner. Race plays out totally differently in the States as it does in the UK (we have our own different, troublesome issues).

    But re: Chally’s post, if someone posits a different experience from outside the States that *is* analogous but doesn’t play out exactly to the USian version, I personally do not believe it is diminishing or being ‘what about teh whitez’ to talk about it.

    The fact that there outside perspectives may help to break down why and understand why people behave the way they do. Because it is pretty clear to me that human beings are, in general, when given the opportunity, at best lazy and at worst malicious, regarding making the effort to individuate or understand people they see as ‘other’ from them.

    This opinion is borne out by my experience living, travelling and working on different continents and in different countries where there is a dominant majority. I’ve heard Japanese people say that all black people look the same, I’ve heard Indian people say it about WASPs and etc etc. I get asked ‘no, but where are you *really* from?’ all the time, which I detest, but in US eyes, I’m believe I’m likely to be coded as white. The phenomenon of othering is clearly entrenched, everywhere. It sucks.

    I guess what I’m saying is that understanding the ‘they all look/sound the same’ phenomenon properly….

    - discussing to what extent does exposure to certain language sounds actually influence being able to hear/pronounce names properly and what actually is laziness/maliciousness?
    - discussing to what extent does being only exposed to one or a few ethnic/racial groups make it harder to recognise those outside those groups and to what extent is it laziness/maliciousness that people can’t?

    …will better enable all of us to determine how we tackle the issues we find. If it’s only laziness or maliciousness, then we are completely justified in telling people ‘just get the f*ck over it right now or get out of my face*. But if it’s also exposure to different races/ethnicities (which in my experience is borne out), then increasing media representation of POCs is essential, also breaking down informal/institutional segretation in where people live and etc in countries where there that is feasible/possible.

    I think this thread demonstrates that talking about race is really, really hard. But I also really believe that looking what lies behind problematic behaviours is really useful. If there are things that can be learnt, that don’t fall in line with the US experience, perhaps they should be considered as well before they are dismissed as expressions of white privilege.

  297. I’m thinking I should acknowledge your intent (which, if I’m not mistaken, was to point out the nature and repetition of the derailment), and I’m sure I’m sitting on the edge of sounding ‘harsh’ and ‘confrontational’, depending on how one is reading/listening.

    (My favorite knife edge. /sardonic humor)

    But I do think the exchange is fairly illustrative of the oft-repeated axiom that “sometimes intent matters less — sometimes much, much less — than the effect of actions/statements”.

    This is how erasure goes. This is how erasure works.

  298. @West End Girl –

    “in fact the idea, say, that someone could just go, ‘oh your name is Rajinder, I can’t (bother to) say that, I’ll just call you Roy’ is absolutely mind-boggling to me as a Londoner.”

    It shouldn’t be.

    Let’s drop the maddening pretense that this crap only happens in the States, shall we?

  299. littlem

    I refer you to back again to Chally’s post on Feministe. Racism happens everywhere, how it plays out differs from country to country and place to place. In Britain, the cultural need to be seemingly polite (regardless of actual feelings) would make that specific type of comment unusual. I’m sure it’s happened, but I said as a LONDONER, where over half of people are not ‘White British’, it would be ludicrous. If you’ve lived in London and have found this not to be the case, I would be very surprised indeed.

  300. Again, I apologize. Major privilege fail on my part. While you’re correct that my intention was to refer specifically to the most recent posts pointing out the massive white derailment (although JSTG was somewhat further upthread), you’re also absolutely correct that the effect of what I said was the implication that the actual voices of POC, discussing actual experiences and pointing out the SAME DAMN THING, were less important or less audible. Mea maxima culpa. And no, you sound neither harsh nor confrontational. You sound more patient than I really have any right to expect or ask for.

  301. You know what, WestEndGirl?

    You have no idea whatsoever my life experience is with respect to what you’re attempting to describe, and your defensiveness is making me quite ill.

    I’m checking out of this thread, because I’m tired of willful blindness based on defensiveness, and transiting Mars is conjuncting my natal Mars (since you’ve clearly already decided based on your assessment of who I am and what I think — without any facts! astounding! amazing! — that I have no idea how the world really works, you can ask Lucy what that means) and I have no patience for your nonsense.

    My satisfaction will be that the depth of your defensiveness and ignorance, based only on your own narrow-minded suppositions, will be right up here where everyone can see it.

  302. I’m sure it’s happened, but I said as a LONDONER, where over half of people are not ‘White British’, it would be ludicrous. If you’ve lived in London and have found this not to be the case, I would be very surprised indeed.

    There are a lot of white Americans living in diverse communities to whom the idea of saying such a thing would also be ludicrous. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen here, as everyone sharing stories on this thread has pointed out; it just means it’s easier for them to pretend it doesn’t.

  303. WestEndGirl, the international perspective that many people have brought to this thread has been helpful (for instance, see Perla’s comments about her experiences in Australia). That said, all of the mods here live in the US, and that means we are moderating based on our knowledge and experiences of racial discussions in a US context. In that context, white people taking over a discussion to talk about themselves (especially while minimizing whiteness as a racial construct that has real effects in the world) in the way many, many people have pointed out in this thread is a huge problem and a common way of delaying or deflecting discussions about POC. As a mod, I am calling shenanigans on that. White people have a lot of places to talk about how fascinating it is to be a white person. This thread should not be one of them.

  304. O.O
    @CassandraSays and SM

    Point taken, definitely do not need to have that conversation in that way *headdesk* Sorry.

    I guess, it just struck me as odd that in a thread where people were saying that people have a hard time “guessing” their or their loved ones’ ethnicity, others were complaining that people can’t tell East Asians apart according to how they look.

    “I mean, do people have public conversations on the Internet about how you tell, say, Swedish, Finnish and German people apart? And even if they did, would the implications be the same, especially in a thread that’s specifically about racism?”

    –> Erf- I totally see how I went about this the wrong way. *shame* I apologize for being offensive.

    I guess that was sort of my point though. You DON’T have conversations about telling Germans apart from Finns so how can someone claim to be able to do the same for Koreans/Chinese/Japanese? In retrospect I posed the question in a way that would open up to a discussion on stereotypical facial features though and for that I do apologize.

    As to the last item, CassandraSays, again I was not being articulate. It’s not that I need to make a “special effort” to tell people apart… it’s more that, I guess what is important to me is not being about to “figure out someone’s ethnicity” or “know where they come from” based on how they look (because, as has been discussed in this thread, that’s not my right to know). It’s not confusing individuals because they happen to be of the same race. And I KNOW it’s something I’ve done before, just like I KNOW it’s something other people (white people) do regularly, so I make *that* my priority.

    In short: I apologize for saying idiotic things before, thanks for calling me out, and I’ll try to do better in the future. And I think we’re on the same page anyway, but I’m apparently having a hard time removing my Unchecked White Privilege hat, so thank you.

  305. Not being facetious…I wonder what it would look like: a conversation about privilege and discrimination that did not become infected by acts of unconscious privilege. How might the experiences of sharing—or learning—change? What do these acts of privilege erase?

  306. WestEndGirl: I absolutely promise that in London, Londoners refuse to learn or pronounce non-obviously-English names correctly, up to and inculding asking strangers, even paying customers, why they haven’t changed their name to a “proper” one if they intend to stay here. Possibly this happens less with Indian sub-continent style names than with African or other foreign names, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

  307. Dear fellow white people: You do not have some god-given right to know where people are “from.” No one owes you information about their origins or their bodies.

    This POC signs on to this statement. Maybe it will have a bigger impact coming from a white person than it would from, say, me (’cause IRL it’s never worked for me; people just keep asking, or worse, assuming based on facial features/coloring).

    Oh, and WestEndGirl, I work for a Brit here in the USA. He is notorious for pronouncing peoples’ names however the hell he pleases, regardless of whether or not he’s right. He anglicizes everything and then makes fun of me or goes all defensive “this is how we say it in the UK, and we invented English so we’re right” when I try to get the pronunciations right or call him on his mispronunciations.

  308. gfgrad: When they do that to me here, I point out that my English-speaking accent is based on an older British model, before the English started aping the fashionable Germans… This doesn’t always work but it gives me something to say.

  309. Another UK bod confirming that this shit absolutely, absolutely happens here. I fully believe that in some social circles in London, it would be frowned upon. But the rules of some social circles in London sure as hell don’t apply to the UK as a whole.

  310. Argh! West End Girl, I have lived in London, and yes, it’s a little different in some ways, and no, that’s not actually relevant to this conversation. Neither is the experience of white or black people in Japan, or any of the other examples being cited here. You know why? Because Mean Asian Girl wrote about the experience of being Asian in America.

    It’s a wierd thing, this British urge to pretend that we’re so much better about race issues. We’re not, we just suck in slightly different ways, and British racism is most heavily aimed at Indian and Pakistani people. It’s still a racist society (and quite possibly even more zenophobic than the US, being an island and all).

  311. Or to clarify – I’m calling bullshit on the idea that what happens in the most integrated urban parts of London has anything to do with how racism plays out in the world as a whole. It’s not even particularly reflective of how racism plays out in the UK in general, never mind anywhere else. I now live in the Bay Area, and there are social circles here where you rarely see anyone, say, willfully refusing to try to pronounce non-Anglo names correctly, but what does that tell us about the rest of the US? Not much, honestly. Little pockets of not-quite-as-overtly-racist have very little influence on the culture overall, and their existance does nothing to help anyone who doesn’t happen to live in one of them.

  312. I appreciate your words, Sweet Machine. I just think I have trouble staying on topic sometimes – “here is another rambling anecdote about being not-as-white-as-some in Ostraya.” Thanks again.

    @CassandraSays “It’s a wierd thing, this British urge to pretend that we’re so much better about race issues. We’re not, we just suck in slightly different ways,”

    Mate, I think people all over the world like to think that. Here in Melbourne, we like to think we invented multiculturalism.

  313. It’s not just POC. It’s any minority. I work in a pretty much all male job. I frequently have been mistaken for the only 2 other women that worked with me and none of us look anything alike.

    As for not being able to tell people apart, I’m pretty bad at it as well. Did anyone think about the fact that women are taught to never look anyone in the eye? It’s pretty hard to recognize someone you’ve never actually looked at. And it has little to do with how close you are. I knew my best friend for 10 years (age 6 – 16) before I realized she had blue eyes. Just assumed that someone with brown hair had brown eyes. I’m not proud of it, but I walk around oblivious to the world around me most of the time. It’s nothing personal. It’s not that I don’t see you because you have a different skin color. I don’t see anyone. Sorry.

  314. @Mary – wow, I may have to retract my self-diagnosis of prosopagnosia based on that.

    But @everyone, I want to apologize for my part in the threaddrift. It has been extremely educational for me to read this whole thread and watch the different ways that it happened.

    And @ Mean Asian Girl, I hope all this hasn’t made you loath to guest-blog further!

  315. @Mary – I’m the same way (I was raised to not look men in the eye, period). But because I don’t suffer from a disability, I trained myself to start looking at people’s faces when I talked to them. It took about five years, but it’s not rocket science. I considered it an issue because at a certain point I realized that not recognizing people I’d talked to repeatedly because I wasn’t paying attention to them was not something I felt good about. It doesn’t come easy to me still, but calling people by their wrong names or simply not being able to place them was preventing me from being in relationship with them. YMMV.

  316. As much as I hate to perpetuate the name/pronounciation derail, may I say that calling a person by name is at heart a matter of common courtesy and respect. I love linguistics as much as the next person (actually, probably more) but I do not think this is a lingusitics issue.

    When someone says, “Hi my name is Shi Ming,” you call that person Shi Ming to the best of your ability. Whether you can, or cannot, pronounce it 100% correctly is not the point. The person may correct your pronounciation, and if they do, LISTEN TO THEM and try to do better. Not because you are an amateur linguist. Because they are a person and that is what they wish to be called.

    If someone’s legal name is Shi Ming but they say to you, “Hi, my name is Jose,” you call the person Jose. If they say, “Hi, my name is Mrs. Ziggy Stardust,” you call the person Mrs. Ziggy Stardust. Because they are a person and that is what they wish to be called.

    This to me is another example of erasure by generalizing. Putting it in terms of, “But I can’t pronounce it because I never learned Elbonian” is not the point. It erases the actual PERSON behind the name.

  317. Really late to the party — thank you Mean Asian Girl for such an on-target post. Your post really got to what bothered me about the meme!

    I participated by posting a 6 smaller pictures (as one image) of Lucy Liu, Kelly Hu, Devon Aoki, Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Zi Yi, and Preity Zinta– all of whom I’ve been told I look like, yet these women look very different from myself and from each other. At least two friends got the point!

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