Am I racist?

I was in the grocery store I go to almost weekly, where an old friend’s brother is the manager. I saw who I thought was Vernon, the produce guy I met the week before when I was asking the manager about some Napa cabbage. Remembering something from last week, I rolled my cart up to him and said, “We have a problem. The spicy mix sprouts I bought last week were moldy when I opened the package the next day.”

The manager had seen me by this time and was coming over. I said, “I was telling Vernon here about some moldy sprouts I got last week.” The manager looked at me and said, “That’s Michael,” and pointed to Michael’s nametag.

Well I was completely embarrassed, because it just so happens that Vernon and Michael are both of a same age, sex, race, and facial hair persuasion. In other words, they’re black, and I’m white. I thought these two guys looked exactly the same.

I wanted to say something, anything, to convey that I am not a prejudiced person, one of my best friends is black, eek, I made an embarrassing mistake. The manager tried to bail me out and said, “Yeah, all those guys in their mid-thirties look alike.” That didn’t help. I just tried to bail as best I could. Michael was really nice about it. I’m going to look at the nametag next time.

Would you feel the same way if they were white and you committed the same faux pas?

Well, I would be embarassed, but not in the same way, and not in a way to make me wonder if I have been unavoidably conditioned in my upbringing. All that went through my head was, “I can’t be seen as a person who thinks all black people look alike!”

Even though I used to think I didn’t think all black people looked alike, evidently I think some do.

So no, I wouldn’t be embarrassed in the same way if they were white. I would be, though, if they were Asian or some other “ethnic group.”

After I redfacedly left the produce section I realized Vernon is cuter. There, they don’t look the same!

I’m assuming Vernon is someone with who your acquaintance as yet has been brief. A lot of people do bear great resemblance to other people And you were in the same anvironment where’d you’d met the first fellow. Considering those factors, I’d say don’t worry about it.

…with whom


Well, the fact of the matter is that some do.

You’re not a racist, just a poor observer. :wink:

My family is white. My sister’s husband is black (from Guyana). A good friend of one of my brothers is from Trinidad, and dark-skinned, although not of African ancestry. At family gatherings, some of my more distant cousins who don’t see them very often get them confused, even though they don’t really look at all alike aside from being dark. They think it’s pretty funny.

I’ve had a lot of Japanese people tell me that all whites look alike. I can never understand that…white people have great variations in hair and eye colour, compared to Asian people anyway.

All Japanese looked similar to me until I’d lived here for a few months.

I don’t think its anything to do with being racist. Its poor observation combined with the fact that you may not have had much opportunity to be with black people.

(and I’m hoping that last sentence doesn’t sound as bad as I think it does…but I can’t think of a better way to put it. Stupid brain-which-forgets-basic-English-because-its-been-in-Japan-for-too-long).

At my sister’s wedding her brand new father-in-law, Japanese, sought to take good photos of all her 5 Caucasian siblings. He took a magnificent photo of another unrelated guest thinking it was me. We have vaguely similar hair color and thats it. Not the same height, not the same eye color, quite different facial bone structure… oh yeah, and I’m much better looking.

Next time, just say you’re really bad with names.

I’ve heard studies that say people of all races find it more difficult to tell people of other races apart.

Look, you probably see white people a good bit more often than black people. Therefore you’re probably going to notice the dark skin first - just as you’d notice bright red hair or a loud shirt or some other characteristic that jumps out because it’s different. I don’t think it’s racist unless you’re obnoxious about it.

I like big butts.

But they haven’t learned to use those cues to distinguish between people. When everyone around you has brown eyes, you don’t learn to notice eye color. The cues they do use don’t work on white people because all white people are off the scale.

Sounds like you do understand.

White people look the same to me sometimes. Where I went to college, the typical student was a young white male. Adding the fact that everyone dressed the same (Abercrombie & Fitch, Old Navy, and Gap fashions with raggedy deck shoes and baseball caps with rounded bills), everyone just plain out LOOKED the same. And it didn’t help that many had the same first names (John, David, Jason, Josh, Mike, etc.). Identifying the white girls was not much easier.

Often, someone would mistake me for another black person on campus. It didn’t matter if that person was dark-skinned with short hair (I’m light-skinned and I used to have long hair). It didn’t matter if that person was a good fifty pounds heavier than me. To my schoolmates, monstro = black person. To me, it’s much easier to distinguish black people than white people, because we have the different shades of skin color thing going for us. White people’s most immediate identifier is hair color, which can be changed.

My first year of teaching, I had a hard time separating the black girls. The black boys seemed to stand out to me, but the girls, and especially the names, all ran together. My first year, I had a Latisha, Latisa, Lasheena, La’Quida, and La’Quandra. Plus, a Quinita, Quatisha, and Quintcheta. Eventually, I learned them all and even began to laugh at how I had confused them. After teaching predominantly African-American students for four years now, to be honest, white girls (and sometimes boys) tend to look the same to me.

It doesn’t make you a bad person. Your observation skills just need work. I just came home from a coffee shop. I had been there for almost three hours grading papers. Before I left, I decided to get some freshly ground bagged coffee. The clerk said, “You must have a twin because there was a girl in here earlier who looks JUST like you.”

of course it was me. she just didn’t realize I’d been sitting ten feet away from her for almost three hours. poor observation skills.

All you earthlings look the same to me. Two legs,(yuck) two arms, two eyes. Not only that but you all smell funny.

When I was a college student I was staying at my mom’s house for some reason when, in the middle of the day, a man and woman tried to break into the house. They were both black. They ran off when they saw me.

When the police arrived and asked me to describe the suspects, I had to say that the man looked very much like the black police officer I was talking to. He really did! Same head shape, short hair, lack of facial hair, same chubby cheeks, similar lips and nose. But I just knew the police officers assumed I was so unfamiliar with black people that I couldn’t tell them apart.

The police officer could have been the burglar’s brother.

My mom, who doesn’t like pets, came to visit us for four days and never was able to tell our two cats apart. One is a petite calico and the other is a medium-sized dark tortoiseshell. On top of that, one wears a red collar and one wears a blue collar. But Mom wasn’t even sure if we had one cat or two.

I just can’t seem to stop typing today.

I’m always aware of which people look like me, of the people I work with. So I’m never surprised when someone I barely know accidentally calls me by this other person’s name. I mean, it makes perfect sense that when everyone’s wearing the same uniform, and there are two women of the same height and approximately the same figure, with almost the same hair color and they both wear their hair in a braid, with no bangs, and have germanic faces and two-syllable names…well, I think it’s understandable if someone confuses one of us for the other.

Then there’s the situation when you can tell the people apart, but not remember which face goes with which name. And then you get people who get offended about it! Weird.

I totally agree. You weren’t obnoxious about it.

I sometimes mistake people for other people, and they’re Asian, just like me! :o

It’s just a matter that you (and I) didn’t pay attention, and didn’t notice anything distinguishing about the person in order for you to “file” it away in your memory.

Thanks folks. I am a poor observer and I’m also not good with names. I was proud of myself that I remembered Vernon’s name, wanting to add that personal touch.

Really need to get better about it. I’m going to practice.

I know I’m not a racist, but it’s good to get a sampling of opinions from you guys. That was my fear, to be perceived as being racist/prejudiced/whatever by someone else. Maybe I worry too much about what other people think.

Anyway, thanks again and have a good weekend, y’all!:slight_smile:

I never thought I had problems telling people of other races apart until I started working in hospitals and care homes where 75% of the staff are Phillipina. And then I had a few bad months, being the new white nurse who couldnt remember anybody.

Well the learning curve was steep, but I learned fast and now I cant imagine NOT being able to tell people apart.

But I still suck at names. Or rather I remember faces. I remember names. I dont always remember which name goes with which face. This problem is compounded by nicknames, example… Theresa, Teresa, Terry, Tess, Tessa, Tessie, Teresita, Theresalinda…all different people most offended if you call by the wrong name…

Anyway, if Im stuck for a name, I just make a joking reference to a conversation we’ve had, (Hey, you, with the inlaws!) or something else like… Its “Mr Smith’s special little friend” (if she works with mr Smith)

Just suggestions…