All Look the Same

You know that old shorthand for someone is racist “Oh, they all look the same to me.”? I think using it ignores some basics of human identification. Ethnic groups do look similar. All Japanese people don’t look the same, but if you have a bunch of Japanese and Chinese people in room, you can pretty accurately tell which is which. The same definitely goes for Scandinavians. If you’re a European-American, groups like this are particularly hard, because you’re used to bucketing people first by major genetic group, African, Asian, European or Other, and then coloring, skin, hair and eyes…This is how European-Americans describe people, it’s how identification is set up, it’s even how cartoons are drawn. Whereas if you’re somewhere with homogenous coloring like say India or Iceland, you’re much more likely to look at things like nose shape, eye shape, face shape etc., especially somewhere like say Laos, where everyone even has the same general hair texture.

Anyway, where I’m going with this is that despite having now lived in three very different countries with homogeneous coloring, I still find that I default to the coloring dichotomy and mix people up, be they Danes, Africans, Arabs or something else. This morning I mistook one of the Eritrean kids for another. His father graciously tried to say something along the lines of we all look alike. I disagreed with him. I said that, yeah in head to toe snow suits with mittens and hoods it was really hard to differentiate them, but that the girl I mistook his son for has darker skin and tiny rough black curls, whereas his son has lighter skin, silky large curls that are dark brown. (I’m sure their facial features are also different, but as face recognition software can tell you, children’s faces are hard to tell apart and neither child is half as distinct as the third Eritrean kid who has extremely wide set round eyes and a long thin nose set in an extremely oblong face). The dad seemed impressed and I felt better that I could show that I was paying attention to how the different children looked.