Wednesday, August 12, 2009

mistake non-white people for service workers

More and more frequently these days, white people are claiming that they don't see race -- that they're "colorblind."

"You know something?" they might say to a black person, "I never even notice that you're black!"

Which actually says a lot about black people, or rather, the supposedly white person's denigrating conceptions about black people. And on top of that nonsense, this black person is often someone whom the white person otherwise holds up proudly as a "black friend."

When white people claim that they're colorblind, what they're actually demonstrating is that they're delusional. What they fail to recognize is something about themselves, which is that they do notice the color of non-white people, and that it's often the very first thing they notice.

One way white people sometimes demonstrate that they're the opposite of colorblind is by mistaking non-white people for service workers. I've been in department stores, for instance, and seen white shoppers ask black shoppers where to find something.

Being mistaken by white people for a service worker also happens to other non-white people. I've also seen apparently Hispanic customers stopped as they're walking through restaurants by a white person, who wants to know where the restrooms are.

Chinese American journalist Thomas Lee recently wrote about his experience with this form of racism, when he went to interview a company president:

I arrived a few minutes before noon and told the receptionist at the front desk I was looking for the president's executive assistant.

"Oh. Are you delivering food?" she asked.

Oh, no, she didn't!

It wasn't the first time I was mistaken for a Chinese food delivery guy. In college, I had arrived at my girlfriend's dorm with dinner and the front desk dude assumed just that. I was embarrassed, to be sure, but let it go. That's the burden of being a Chinese-American with a penchant for baseball caps, jeans and takeout food.

Yet the receptionist's inquiry stunned me. I was wearing a dress shirt, black slacks and black dress shoes. True, I was sporting a backpack and sunglasses, but how many food delivery guys whip out kung pao chicken from a Gap bag?

After realizing her error, the receptionist offered a rather clumsy explanation. "I only asked because [the executive assistant] always orders food," she said.

Nice try, lady. . . . At least she didn't speak extra slowly and offer a tip.

Derald Wing Sue, a psychologist, labels such incidents "racial microaggressions" (he adopted the term from an earlier psychiatrist, Chester M. Pierce). Sue defines these behaviors as "everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned white people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent."

Ordinary, well-intentioned white people almost never want the word "racism" associated with themselves. In this post, I just labeled a common white tendency -- to mistake non-white people for service workers -- a form of racism, and I'm committed to that description.

White people usually think that "racists" are the ones who harbor racist thoughts and feelings, and thus the ones who commit "racist" acts. However, as Derald Wing Sue suggests, there are many, many ways in which white people can act with unwarranted and unconscious aggression toward people of color, and thus, act in "racist" ways. Mistaking non-white people for service workers is but one common example.

Another common example is something that sometimes happens after such incidents, when the non-white victims explain what just happened to another white person. After describing his racist encounter with a white receptionist, Thomas Lee writes about his subsequent encounters with, I assume, other white people:

I told the story to friends and colleagues. I expected them to laugh and sympathize. Instead they offered several explanations, everything except what seemed obvious to me.

It was my backpack. It was my sunglasses. It was my age. It was Elvis.

The backpack defense seemed particularly popular so I considered it. OK, maybe -- maybe -- I could buy that. But the receptionist didn't ask if I was delivering just anything. She asked if I was delivering food. Not documents, not packages, not flowers, but food.

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

Walk differently? I wasn't aware that I walked like a deliveryman. I'm not even sure how a deliveryman walks. Just to be safe, maybe I should don a tuxedo, speak in a faux British accent and goose-step my way to the front desk.

As I've noted before, white people often feel a need to explain away racist incidents, to argue that they're not racist. This common denial of a non-white person's point of view -- which tends to be an informed and experienced point of view -- is itself another racial microaggression.

According to an article on Derald Sue Winger's work in Monitor on Psychology, he and his colleagues have been developing a taxonomy of racial microaggressions, in order "to help people of color understand what is going on and perhaps to educate white people as well" (other examples are listed in this PDF table and graph based on Sue's work):

"It's a monumental task to get white people to realize that they are delivering microaggressions, because it's scary to them," he contends. "It assails their self-image of being good, moral, decent human beings to realize that maybe at an unconscious level they have biased thoughts, attitudes and feelings that harm people of color."

I find it interesting (as well as saddening -- and thus inspiring) that white people are commonly reluctant to recognize not only their own actions as racist, but even those of other white people. This second reluctance is what they're displaying when, after hearing that someone white mistook a non-white person for a service worker, they struggle to come up with other explanations for what happened. Even though it wasn't they themselves who made the mistake, but instead someone they don't even know!

I can only conclude here with something that I've said before. Although white people commonly think that their racial status has little to do with who they are and how they act, they are nevertheless trained to be, and act, "white." If they don't understand that about themselves, and then work to counteract it, they will sometimes commit acts of racism.

Actually, even if they do come to understand that about themselves, they'll still commit racist acts at times. But, at least they'll inflict their common and largely unconscious white tendencies on fewer non-white people, and they'll better understand themselves, and the power that they often unconsciously wield. And if they then interact and work with non-white people and treat them more equally, but also as people with differing perspectives and understandings, they'll be countering racism at both individual and systemic, institutional levels.

h/t: resistance @ Resist Racism


  1. "I told the story to friends and colleagues. I expected them to laugh and sympathize. Instead they offered several explanations, everything except what seemed obvious to me."

    I can relate to this. This reminds me of an incident that happened when I was in grad school and worked part-time as an Editorial Assistant to an author, whose office was also in a luxury apartment building in Manhattan. This white woman asked me if I cleaned any of the apartments. When I told this to a white male friend, he offered "Sure, it wasn't because of your age? because you're so young?" This led me to doubt the situation, although I knew the obvious.

    However, one of my other friends, a white female said, "Of course she assumed you were a maid because of your skin color. What planet is your friend on?"

  2. Unfortunately, this isn't just limited to white people. As a South Asian, I've felt embarrassed when my own parents have approached black people at restaurants to order food or asking black people at the airport questions about flights.

    So embarrassing.

  3. I love this term 'microaggressions,' though I'd contend that it's primarily based on personal experience (of which race is of course a facet). Microagression hardly needs to be race based.

  4. JUST this morning i was talking with my colleague who is white and married to a black man. They live on a farm. When her husband is out in the yard people frequently stop to inquire about hunting on the property. They always assume he is the hired man. The look on their face when they find out he is the owner is the reason he does not let them hunt on his land.

  5. Well, it's funny but a white friend of mine did the opposite. She arrived at a party where she was expecting a racially mixed attendance, and she introduced herself to the Indian guy who was at the door. He actually was the delivery guy. I couldn't stop laughing when she told me the story. Does that count as non racist attitude?

  6. I can relate to Thomas Lee's experience as well. I find that people want to believe that racism is "solved," that it's no longer a problem. If it were a problem, then it gives them responsibility to correct it, so it's easier to suggest things that the other person could've done to have avoided the situation.

    I am particularly frustrated when they tell me what I could've done differently, how I could've dressed differently. This happens in more than just things regarding race. I am angered when I complain about being treated or oogled at by men, friends respond with how I could've dressed differently, or not walked home alone, etc. Or expressing that I feel unsafe walking home because I'm a woman, they suggest self-defense classes. It frustrates me to no end.

    I want to point out that you use the phrase "white people" quite often, but the whole mistaking non-white people for service workers is done by non-white people as well. I was on the phone with a receptionist the other day who had an accent. Afterward, I realized that halfway through the phone conversation, I felt like she was incompetent. This gave me pause. Did I think her incompetent because of accent? I could point to a specific reason why I thought her incompetent, but I felt that I was more quick to judge her so because of her accent.

  7. Another good post.

  8. This has happened to me often, but not as a server per se. One particularly serious infraction occurred when I was in graduate school. We had a guest speaker, who was a white woman. She saw me in the stairwell and immediately told me that she was expecting an important message and could I make sure the call was forwarded to the office she was using. She assumed that I was the receptionist because I could not possibly be a student of any kind at this prestigious university. I informed her that I was a graduate student, not the secretary, and that the office could be found on the third floor. She was shocked and didn't make eye contact with me for the rest of her visit. No apology or other explanation was offered. I mentioned that she was a woman because white women have most consistently treated me like a lesser being.

  9. I cannot tell you how many times when speaking of either a personal experience or news item a white person has tried to justify the inherit racism with something else.

    How many times I am told I am overacting or that there must be another reason. And they can't figure out how/why that makes me more upset. Often, I don't know what to say I'm just so frustrated.

  10. I don't disagree with your post because I have seen it first hand but I, who am about as white as they get, am frequently mistaken for an employee of whatever store I am in and by poc as well as whites. I don't really understand it, what it is about my looks or body language that makes them think this.

  11. Ellen, your response has me wondering - - why is that more interesting to you, and more worth sharing, than anything the post has to say?

  12. Actually @Macon, I have had similar experiences as @Ellen in that "I am frequently mistaken for an employee of whatever store I am in and by poc as well as whites." - ok, so I am a PoC... people in a supermarket would ask me where to find such and such even though I've stopped working in supermarkets for a LONG while by now... I'd just tell them where to find such and such because I'm a "helpful idiot" and er... I loiter around supermarkets a lot and know them off by heart lol... when I see the same person when we are both checking out they do look a bit embarrassed hehe any whooo, I do think "what it is about my looks or body language that makes them think this" when I am approached by people in high end department stores when I am browsing clothes or make up - I DO dress in black often (what can I say, black is easy to wear and I'm lazy) BUT I also rarely wear make up or have nice hair when I'm dressed "casual corporate" ie. working attire because again I'm lazy... so it is really baffling especially in a make up section to be confused with a store employee when I haven't got a smidge of anything on my face O_o maybe some people are just prone to mistaking everyone as not being consumers like them? I am also mistaken as a child carer... but maybe that's because I love children and get along with them? I get mistaken as a pet store employee because I'm nuts about animals and cuddle every dog that comes within reaching range. I dunno... lots of questions... maybe it IS race, maybe it's partially me?

  13. Feminist goth among other thingsAugust 12, 2009 at 7:53 PM

    This is a really interesting post. I was recently guilty of making this kind of an assumption, thankfully not to a person's face, it was a painful wake-up call. I'm glad I was able to learn the lesson without hurting anyone.

    There's one thing that's making me uncomfortable though. I'm not sure how I'd feel if I were a service worker reading this. I think there are elements of classism here.

  14. Sadly, I've seen this happen about a million times. And yes, white people will almost always try to find another non-racist explanation for it, instead of the obvious explanation. One of the reasons we do this, I think, is to cover up similar racist assumptions we've personally made in the past, or at least know that we could easily make similar mistakes. But another reason is that a lot of white people want to believe that racism is a historical artifact, and since they've never been personally affected by it, they truly don't see how internalized racism is still very much alive. I've had a lot of arguments online with well-meaning white people who think racism is a thing of the past.

    A few years back, I noticed a funny thing: when my wife and I went shopping for clothes with credit cards, I would never get asked for identification. But my wife would get asked for ID every single time. I actually saw this happening for a long time before I realised why it happened - I'm white, and my wife is black. That was the only reason for it. I didn't see it until it happened again and again at all different kinds of stores, because that kind of camouflaged racism just wasn't part of my personal experience - and I would bet that most of our white friends would try to find alternative reasons for it, just like the original poster's coworkers.

    Back on the original topic, our racist assumptions also work the other way. As a veterinary technician, I work in scrubs, and people always think I'm a doctor or in med school. I'm waiting for a city bus, wearing a bazillion earrings, a ratty baseball cap and a beaten up backpack, and people think I'm a doctor! And once I'm at work, I've picked up the habit of telling new clients right away that I'm not the doctor, because everybody assumes that a white male MUST be the doctor.

  15. "I think there are elements of classism here"

    Absolutely there are. Racism and classism are strongly intertwined. I think the "mistake non-white people for service workers" tendency is because the white supremacist standard in society considers the role of non-white people to be servants of white people (whose role it is to be served). The fact that there is a classist hierarchy within whiteness itself doesn't really change the expectation that even poor white folk are still considered more "worthy" than any non-white person.

    I live on an American Indian reservation seasonally and notice myself being asked for favors (money, rides, etc.) more than any indigenous folk around me. I know/assume this is because, as a white person, I am expected to be wealthy/wealthier (despite the fact that I am broke, work only for room and board, have no car...). I understand why this happens. It is the system my ancestors, peers, and self have imposed on the rest of the world. I grant the favors when I can and politely decline when I can't, as that is what I would hope anyone else would likewise do for me. Perhaps most importantly, I don't judge them for it because I am still the one with White Privilege.

  16. To connect this post back to your earlier one on POC and their experiences traveling....

    A few years back as a college student I went to Jamaica on spring break and as an black american I had countless experiences of people assuming I was out of place at hotels and tourist attractions-- in a country where my skin color would make me a majority.

    Although I have many good memories from the trip, I will never forget when a white family were condenscending to my friends, who were assumed to be lazy staff at a tourist attraction.

  17. I've had the experience of being mistaken for a service worker. My washer went on the fritz. I went to the laundry mat. I took a magazine with me to pass the time. When I began my laundry no one was there. A group of people came in and began to do their laundry. I guess one of the machines didn't start up. A young man walked up to me and started complaining about the malfunction. I thought he was just complaining to me because I was nearby. When I didn't make a move to help him-he became outraged and made it known by demanding I get up and help him. I did as he requested. I pointed out the white woman who worked as the attendant. He looked at me and said, "I thought you worked here." My response was, "Why?" When I asked him this question his face grew flushed. I had on a casual designer outfit and a pair of brand new Nikes. I was reading a copy of The Smithsonian when he approached me. Which all seemed to elude his gaze until I asked that question. (Which he never answered). Instead he turned around and headed over to the attendant.

    Before I left he tried to apologize for his error. That was a bigger fiasco than the orginial slight. He never had the courage to admit that it was due to my race and gender. He tried to use the fact that I was sitting there reading that made him think that I was working there. That made me angrier than his intial approach. I prefer honest to a lie any day.

  18. OMG - that whole "I don't see color" just annoys the crap out of me!! OF COURSE YOU DO!! Stop saying you DON'T and just admit "I have a problem with color" instead.


    It also bugs me when I hear white people defending obvious acts of racism - using the same excuses listed here. That automatic need to defend an often unknown offender shows how insidious white entitlement is.

  19. What would be great is if someone were to mistake me for a parking valet or a hotel porter, wherein that person would hand over his/her keys to me, and off I'd be with his/her valuable(s). So, I say, assume away!

    I agree with Feminist goth..., who said: "There's one thing that's making me uncomfortable though. I'm not sure how I'd feel if I were a service worker reading this. I think there are elements of classism here." The comments here (and even the post) are weighted heavy with classism/snobbishness. It ain't necessary to put down folks who do the "dirty" work of our society, or to be offended that some white person sees you as one of those people. Who really cares what a stranger assumes. Yes, even the almighty white stranger. You know, some people of colour give too much power to whites over their minds.

    An interviewer once asked the Dalai Lama why he did not hate the Chinese. The Dalai Lama responded something like this: They have taken everything, must they have my mind, too!?

    There is institutional racism, which really and deeply and truly impacts, negatively, one's life. And then there is the petty crap, like being assumed to be a service worker (which I do not find insulting, not at all...I mean, look at it this way, given this economic collapse, if you've got a job at all, then you are damn lucky, and there are folks out there who would give their eye-teeth to sweep floors and take out garbage for a paycheck), which in the grand scheme of things is insignificant, because the human animal assumes--there ain't nothing you, or I, can do about that. I assume--although, I am cognizant that I do, so I am able to catch myself and stop it, and be aware without judgment. And, I am sure many of you commenting and/or reading here assume, too.

  20. Thank you redcatbiker for pointing out that this post is weighted with classism -- I'm always trying to perceive that and other -isms in myself. But, I'm still not seeing it in the post. Where and how does the post itself say or imply that service workers are lesser people than others, or that they should be ashamed (?) of their jobs?

  21. Macon, you keep projecting attitudes onto me. to wit "why is that more interesting to you, and more worth sharing, than anything the post has to say?" This is not the first time you have responded so to one of my responses.

    Your post was quite expressive and the responses already made didn't need repeating by me. In fact I confirmed your post with my first sentence. By replying with my experience (and I was not the only white to do so) I was pointing out that there are other reasons besides color that people make these assumptions. I was not denying that many whites make assumptions based on color alone (nor defending them or trying to justify their actions). Sometimes that's the only reason (probably mostly), sometimes there are other subliminal reasons. Obviously, in my case, color was not the reason so by extension, color is not always the only reason it happens to poc. Sometimes the world is a little more complex.

  22. In response to Feminist Goth and redcatbiker,

    "I'm not sure how I'd feel if I were a service worker reading this."

    Speaking for myself-- I don't take offense to the post or comments as a former server, housekeeper, and sales clerk.

    Yes classism is real and it's inescapable when you are a service worker; people look down upon you and treat you in a condescending manner. Therefore if you are mistaken for a service worker you receive the same "down talking" as the actual service worker. IMO I think that's what the posters here are expressing in their comments.

    The treatment of actual service workers is a valid topic to explore especially its connection to classism and racism.

  23. ellen abbott, thank you for explaining that, and I'm glad to hear that you found this post (and apparently others) useful. I wasn't projecting an attitude on you; I was asking for some hint of where your response was coming from. This is because it reminds me of a common white response to explanations of particular forms of racism: "That happens to me too!"

    Do you know what "derailing" is? I don't know if you meant to "derail" the conversation here about a thing that white people often do, but your response above ("I, who am about as white as they get, am frequently mistaken for an employee of whatever store I am in and by poc as well as whites.") is certainly a common white one in conversations about race. That kind of "me too!" response can come across as a common white disinterest in the topic at hand, as well as an inability or refusal to actually engage with the matter at hand (and again, in the limited context of this comment thread, I don't know if that's your "attitude" or not). In case you're interested, here's an explanation of this particular form of "derailment."

  24. The commonality between assuming that a POC is a service worker and assuming that a white woman (Ellen et al) or a non-standard white man (inexpensively dressed, quiet, effeminate, foreign, or other characteristic) are service workers is.....the person making the assumption expect that that class of people exist primarily to serve him/her. POC face this all the time, whites occasionally to never (except for women in highly male-gendered occupations). The psychological effect is different and much more wearing for continual exposure than for occasional exposure.

    Now, I get mistaken occasionally as a retail clerk - no big deal - I shrug and tell the other person I don't have a clue where item X is located, I don't work there. Psychic impact: nil. Being continually ignored as not worth training (25 years ago, overwhelmingly male-gendered job classification) does take a toll on your self-confidence, eventually. The drip, drip, drip of putdowns eventually gets through the thickest skin and provokes some emotion. POC get the most frequent overt and subliminal messages of this kind.

  25. I get my fair share of being mistaken for a retail assistant or a valet. I hadn't taken notice of this until recently. I'd just assumed that it happened to everyone.

    The one incident that sticks out for me is when I got into a cab in a major American city. There was an emergency, and I needed to get to my office. On the short ride, the white male driver, asked me why I was going there at that hour. I explained that I was an engineer and something had come up. For the remainder of the trip, he kept saying over and over, that I was not an engineer, and that I must be a technician. He kept trying to get me to admit it. I was too shocked to be disgusted at the time. I was annoyed enough to not tip him, but I think about that incident, and wish I'd done more than let him have his way, and get paid for me to endure that.

    I also agree with what "lotus" had to say. I went on holiday to Sri Lanka, and stayed at one of the nicest hotels in Colombo. During my entire stay in that hotel, I was given looks or questioned about my whereabouts. I understand that they had a security situation in their country, but this went on even in open places like the hotel beach. The white guests would look at me as though I was in the wrong place, and so would the hotel staff.

    This post reminded of this article I'd read 6 years ago:

    Recently, I was at a Greek restaurant, waiting for the valet to bring my car. Two 50ish seeming men arrived in a Mercedes S class. I noticed that he was looking at me. I looked away. He got out of the car and said, "Are you going to take this or not?" I glanced over at him (my blood was boiling), and I said in the most calm voice I could manage, "No, find someone else. I'm busy." A few seconds later, the valet brought my car. There was something therapeutic about letting that man wallow in his confusion.

  26. I could post a long-winded commentary as I usually do, but I won't this time.

    White people mistaking non-White people for service workers etc is almost the same as them assuming, wrongly, that all Black people grew up in or come from the ghetto.

    It's the assumption of superiority that Black or non-White people are inferior to Whites.


  27. I must disagree with some of you who regard being dismissed as a service worker as "petty crap." It's one more example of denying a person of color's humanity when this happens, no matter their class. Yes, I do believe that the nature of service work should be respected, and certainly in many, many cases better paid than it is in our society, but I'll be damned if I'm gonna shrug off that some white person who doesn't know me from Adam shouldn't be educated, sometimes in a hard way, about assuming every black person, Latino person, or Asian person is there to serve them exclusively. It's sickening, and after all of these years, you'd think people would get an effing clue about it. The reason why they don't is they don't WANT to acknowledge it. I appreciate MaconD's writing here because, at the very least, he gets how these behaviors are connected and often lead to what I call "meta" decisions, policies, and rhetoric that ultimately harm those subjected to this treatment, regardless of class standing.

    Think of it this way: One of the big issues during Obama's campaign was "Uppity Negro" paintbrush his detractors flaunted, including the virus Sarah Palin. Of course, this bi-racial man pressed ahead and succeeded, but my peers and I were livid that, once again, a brown person who strives for something beyond cooking, nannying, opening doors, or parking BMWs for whites is "dangerous." And yet you could also flip it and say this man is actually in the biggest "service" position afforded to anyone, which in my mind says something positive about him. I say this because I see his position through the context of virulent race-based attacks against him and his family, his inheritance of two mismanaged wars, a tanked economy, failing infrastructure, and a bunch of keystone kops playing lawmaker. (I certainly wouldn't want the job.)

    And I'm sure he's confronting the possibility of being a one-termer, given the quickness that some in the electorate are ready to tar and feather him for not turing eight years of hellfire muck around in eight months. I could dissect this and compare it to well-documented experiences of black executives who hit a wall, are pigeonholed, or lose their jobs faster than some of their less-experienced white counterparts, but that's another discussion.

    But I digress: Yes, service workers across all spectrums work hard, but you know, so have a whole lot of other people in other ways, and I don't think it's classist to say that. Once that diversity is acknowledged and respected, especially for people of color, perhaps glass ceilings will be a little more brittle, and more people can take advantage of opportunities that some whites take for granted. While I wasn't a W. fan in any way, his statement about the "soft bigotry of low expectations" resonates.

  28. I recently moved into a flat and was with OH signing the rental agreement with the estate agent when she loudly read out the word engineer looked at me incredulously and asked if I was. I stated she read had read it wrong that its was my dads occupation, shook her head, laughed and said she I couldn't possibly be an engineer. I laughed at the time, though my teeth were grinding. My OH was not so nice when we had gone outside after we'd finished. I really wished i had challenged her but i dont think it would have made any difference to her outlook in life in general, but still...

  29. genius post, thank you.

    i used to live in dublin, and they are the WORST for this. not sure if its the same name, but from, say 2000 to 2005 there were a lot of Chinese folks who immigrated to Ireland and got involved with the service industry, but still weren't very visible in other spheres/sectors.

    i'd be in pubs with other folks and sure enough the asian kids, no matter where they were from, would just get handed empty glasses while they were waiting at the bar to get another drink. or being given drinks orders apropos of nothing like they were servers. this one girl i knew would refuse to wear black when going out because she didn't want to give folks any help in "accidentally" being a dick to her.

  30. While this is obviously a racial thing, I think it's problematic to assume that it's just a racial thing, or that it's limited to whites. In short, it's how the human brain works--not just in regards to race, but in terms of all kinds of different visual shortcuts, most of them less harmful than this and some of them even beneficial. The human brain is set up to remember past experiences, identify patterns, and use them in their decoding of new experiences. It does this to minimize personal risk. Otherwise, every time we were confronted with a new experience, we'd have to spend many minutes interpreting the visual and sensory cues to determine if a person/thing in our environment is threatening, benevolent, or neutral . . . and by the time we figured it out, we'd probably be dead. (Hmmm, what's that orange, flickering thing? It's very hot. It appears that it's burning things. I wonder what happens if I stick my hand in it.) So the brain is wired to keep track of previous experiences and use them to inform new ones. If someone is used to seeing Asian men as delivery men (either in real life, or in TV/movies/etc.), their brain will subconsciously interpret Asian men who "look" like delivery men to be delivery men. But this won't be happening up in the rational, logical, thinking part of the brain--it happens deep down in the hippocampus and the other parts of the brain that deal with long-term memory foundation and interpretation.

    Unfortunately, that, of course, leads to some hurtful interactions between races, simply because the brain is processing past experiences faster than the person is aware of it. I'm not saying that these experiences aren't upsetting. I'm not saying that they don't deserve to be addressed. But they're also not something that anyone is immune from. And they're unlikely to go away, simply because the brain is designed to operate on that level (or, well, not "is designed" so much as "has evolved"). The best that anyone can do to combat it is to have people exposed to as many different types of people as possible (race-wise, class-wise, and otherwise), and to make people aware of the fact that their brain is prone to making those kind of logical leaps. It won't stop their brain from making those assumptions, but with any luck, it'll get them to pause before they stick their foot in their mouth.

  31. Sometimes I can try to ignore it. Like if I'm wearing a red shirt at Target. But if I'm, say, somewhere in a white dress and gold kitten heels, WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU THINK I'M WORKING HERE WHEN THE UNIFORM IS A BLUE BLAZER AND A PAPER HAT?!

  32. While mistakes like this can be annoying and even demeaning, try and see it from their point of view. I just got back from lunch at a restaurant where all the workers were Latino, and all but two of the customers were white. I could have instead chosen the Subway across the street run entirely by Indians.

    Meanwhile, here in my cushy software company, we have four black people of about one hundred and sixty---and two of them are receptionists.

    Maybe my company is run by a bunch of bigots. Maybe not. But the fact remains that in my world, assumptions like these are generally correct, even if it's just because it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. That doesn't mean I WANT things to be that way.

    Does this just sort of generally suck for non-white people? Absolutely. I sure think so. And while no, they're not to blame for people mistaking them as service workers or whatever, it's still within their power to take it well, laugh it off, and politely correct the mistake. As a white person guilty of these microaggressions (though never as embarrassing as these, ha), I can say that those experiences have been most effective in changing my (unconscious) racism.

    And it's a two-way street. When I lived in Korea, everyone started off speaking loud, slow English to me, even though I was fluent in Korean. It didn't faze me because I knew I was an exception to the rule that "white people don't speak Korean."

    Lighten up much?

  33. Do white people ever get mistaken for racists?

  34. @Daniel Bell
    Do white people ever get mistaken for racists?

    Only when they say things like "lighten up".

  35. I managed to do this to someone at Walgreen's just the other day and promptly felt horrible. It was compounded by the fact that the woman was wearing bland clothing and pulling things off a stocking cart where I'd seen a service worker earlier. But I'd be lying if I said her skin color didn't also factor in to my snap judgment when I was blindly looking around for help. I realized what I'd done immediately and wanted to apologize for being a racist idiot, but I was afraid that asking her to relieve my white guilt would just be adding insult to injury. Is there an appropriate response in such a situation that ISN'T offensive?

  36. I am white and I my friends are colors, shapes, and sizes. It astounds me that when I food shop with my Dominican girlfriend, people will approach us to ask her a question about supermarket stuff. She's carrying keys and a purse. NO, she does NOT work here! It's appalling.

  37. It's quite obvious that "being mistaken for the help" happens more often to POC than white folk.

    It's also clear that a lot of times when people jump in with a "But that happens to me too!" they're often trying to say "Therefore what happens to you isn't really about race and you're just deluded". And that's obviously bad.

    OTOH, "That happens to me too!" is a pretty normal method of expression and bonding between people... if one person describes something happening to them, others will naturally chime in with similar experiences, not because they want to make the situation All About Them, but because they want to both give and feel the happy sharing you-are-not-alone feeling. Sympathy.

    Really, it's the "but" that's key. The "but" is denying the first experience's validity. The other is just potentially a bit clueless.

    That said, and back to the original story, I find it interesting that people responded with "helpful" tips. Why do they think that's helpful? I mean, beyond the simple bit of it being the person making the assumption that's incorrect, not you... why do they think that it would be important enough to you to avoid being mislabeled that you should go out of your way to give the 'right' impression?

    Or are they actually trying to protect the identifier from the embarassment of getting it wrong?

  38. I have a confession to make.

    Sometimes, just to be mean, I go into Macy's and deliberately seek out a white shopper and ask them questions only the staff would know. And then I innocently claim that they looked like a sales attendant and feign shock and horror when they inform me that they are not.

    Okay, this is not entirely meanness on my part. I too have been mistaken for service personnel and it has to be the most insulting thing ever.

    Ever since that day I made it my mission that at least one white person per store experience what it's like to have a stranger ASSUME that they are the hired help.

    I must confess it is one of the funniest things I have ever done. Yes, just thinking about it now fills me with utmost glee.

  39. Great post and this reminds me of a story told by Vanessa Williams after she won Ms. America. She said she got invited to the White House to perform and they had a buffet and she went to the buffet in high heels,make-up,and fancy gown yet when she got her food a 50something white woman came and took her plate. As if she were there to serve dressed like a singing star lol! For those who say it's 'not about race' I'll bet if you had a hidden camera and taped every time this happened to a POC and very time it happened to a white person the numbers would NOT be even. But nice try looks like you proved my boy Macon's point.

  40. As someone who strives to be anti-racist, I am occasionally reminded how far I have yet to go. We hired landscapers this summer. Our crew included several Latinos and one white guy. I approached the white guy and began explaining where we would like the mulch placed. He looked at me, pointed to another guy, and said, "Don't tell me, he's in charge." I deserved all the embarrassment I felt.

  41. I had an awkward experience a couple of weeks ago that I am still mulling over. Before class, I and a few classmates were sitting around discussing what we were going to do with the rest of our summers. One guy, a Latino, stated he was going to San Diego for a few weeks. We excitedly discussed some of the funner places in the area to go to and after a few minutes of conversation, I asked him if he planned on going to Tijuana while he was in San Diego. I didn't ask this because he was Latino, I asked him because every time I go to San Diego, I always make a stop in Tijuana just for fun. He took it entirely the wrong way. He glared at me and said, "No, if I want to get in touch with my roots, I'll go visit my family." I had no idea how to respond, since my question had no overt racist intentions. I quickly realized he thought I was asking because of his race and I had no idea how to assure him that I wasn't. I didn't know what to say at all. Another classmate, a Persian, if that matters, tried to help me out by talking about his own experiences visiting Tijuana. I appreciated that he saw how horrified I was and I certainly appreciated his attempt to diffuse the situation, but my Latino classmate chose to remain offended. I wanted to apologize, but was afraid apologizing for a complete misunderstanding might just make the situation worse. So, I just ended the conversation completely and stared awkwardly down at my text book until class finally began. I can't get the incident out of my mind.

  42. Um... Probably the reason white acquaintances are offering advice on what you can DO to avoid being mistaken is that they themselves have already learned they must follow this advice, or else others will **GASP** see them as service workers.

    Yes, it's racist, but they are ignorant about that part (from the inside, I mean. That is, they only know their own perspectives). What they know a lot about is class.

    When I was in an Ivy League college, I cleaned hallways and bathrooms to help pay my way through. Certain of my friends actually assumed I was "just" the hired help, and completely failed to recognize me. Of course, they were demanding help or directions or whatever. I took it as a fine opportunity to mess with them: because roughly speaking, for them perceiving class was more important than perceiving friendship. After months of being angry at what felt like betrayals, I started to feel sorry for their handicap, and I also learned to spend more time on other friendships.

    So don't take it too hard when people give you advice on what you can DO. Those people are awful busy following their own advice already...

  43. I was 15 years old at the time shopping for a bra at an unnamed department store. (I am Black and obviously female)

    An old White lady thrust a bunch of old ladie panties in my face and barked orders at me. The moment I opened my mouth to respond that I wasn't an employee, she began to berate me still thrusting her old lady bloomers in my face. The old biddy wouldn't let me talk to say hey I do not work there. I had on a thick full length winter coat, thick winter hat and I think I even had mittens hanging out my jacket pocket.

    My mother sees the whole incident and comes storming there like a mama lion and lets the lady know "This is my child. She is 15 years old and she does not work here. You need to leave my child alone and look for an employee who has a name tag on just like all the other employees. How dare you yell at my child"

    The lady is mortified and blubbers she didnt know I wasn't an employee.

    My mother is glaring at her and fussing about you just assumed my child was an employee even though she has a thick winter coat on and is a child. You leave my child alone.

    My mother was so upset she was still talking about this.

    Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist,

    I actually noticed that in public places POC are more likely to ask other POC for directions or information. And usually no offense is taken by that. I've seen situations where POC feel safer talking to other POC. I would not have thought anything of your South Asian family asking me a question in an airport.

    And would have been fine with answering their questions unless of course they thrusted some old lady panties in my face in a store at the airport and started yelling at me. (Joke)


  44. WOW. Nothing like making a major belief system out of a few anecdotal examples. Your minority friends must be so proud of you.

  45. You know though, it's happened to me before, and I'm white. I think a lot of it comes from just not paying attention and not being observant. Some people only see what's right in front of them. I've also been asked if I work somewhere before while wearing my huge name tag. It's not just whites mistaking nonwhites for service workers, it's people mistaking people for service workers. I've even been asked if I work at so and so place while holding my purse. It's not one-sided, that's for sure.

    However, I think it would be more accurate to say that in a place of business, a white person would commonly mistake non-white employees to be lower on the totem pole, like at a restaurant, mistaking a Latino man for a dishwasher when he is the general manager.

    It is though, pretty ridiculous of that receptionist to ask if that man was delivering food, considering he didn't have food with him and was dressed professionally. Some people are simply unobservant.

    Some stores don't have their employees wear name tags or any kind of uniform, so I always ask someone when I need help if they work there. And I'll approach anyone who looks like they're busy working on a project or something. But in a place of work where employees wear name tags or uniforms, there is no excuse for going up to a stranger and asking them for help.

  46. Oh, and the whole "I don't see color!" crap annoys the hell out of me too. It's like saying "Oh, I don't think of you as a guy" or "I didn't notice that you were a woman!" It's insulting.

  47. Sometimes, just to be mean, I go into Macy's and deliberately seek out a white shopper and ask them questions only the staff would know. And then I innocently claim that they looked like a sales attendant and feign shock and horror when they inform me that they are not.

    Okay, this is not entirely meanness on my part. I too have been mistaken for service personnel and it has to be the most insulting thing ever.

    Ever since that day I made it my mission that at least one white person per store experience what it's like to have a stranger ASSUME that they are the hired help.

    I must confess it is one of the funniest things I have ever done. Yes, just thinking about it now fills me with utmost glee.


    It's stuff like this that makes me want to join the police!

  48. Something like this happened to me several years ago at a professional dinner.

    I am an academic, and on occasion, the department hosts faculty-student events. This event did not happen at our department's program, but one at a neighboring school.

    The class and race issues were more apparent, I believe. In my department, perhaps because he students know me, but in the others, there is no knowledge base, so we can see where this will go.

    The evening of the event, I (African American female) went to one with a few of my (white) colleagues.

    We sit at a table where there are two young students sitting, a young white woman and a young white man.

    The young white man suddenly said to me, "I would like..." whatever it was, a glass of water and so forth.

    I looked at him with surprise--what on earth would make him think I worked there?

    I was not dressed as a service worker, I walked in with two colleagues and I sat down with them.

    Then he realized his mistake, that he was being racist...

    The irony is that the service workers were young white college students who were wearing uniforms--white shirts and black slacks...

  49. i,m a licensed aircraft mechanic and i call tell you about the times whites just knew i was a baggage handler.i was working for TWA and a pessenger went beserk and broke the intercom hand set.Me and another dark skinned brother went on the plane to replace the handset and ops check the system and a white flight attendent ran up to us and demanded to know where was her ice for the next flight.the lok on her face was priceless when we laughed in her face and told her we were there to fix the intercom

  50. While I know that this was not the intent of the article, both in the OP and the comments it feels as though you guys are crapping on service workers.

    Why is being mistaken for a service worker "the most insulting thing ever"? Why is it ok to say that? Do you really hate people who do service work that much?

    As someone who is still young, and who began work in various service-related jobs her very early teens, I hope that I never have, and never will have those of you who think that being mistaken for a service worker as the "most insulting thing ever" as customers, or clients. The idea that doing this kind of work somehow demeans a person or reduces their worth is a big part of why you probably feel so insulted, and rather then recognize and work on that snobbery (both in yourselves and among the individuals who think that all asians are there to deliver takeout, etc) you are perpetuating it vis-a-vis your horror.

    I could tell you stories of the customers who have refused to chat at the register, refused to look at me when I ask them if they'd like a bag, if they found everything they were looking for. Customers who refuse to hand me their payment when I hold out my hand and insist on pointedly placing it on the counter closest to their edge. Who count out the coins into a little row or smooth a bill out onto the counter so that i have to scrape it accross, and then complain that I'm taking too long. Customers from different cities who scream and rage and insist that I void out their purchase and re-ring them because surely I'm cheating them or double charging-who pull out their own calculators because they don't understand how high our sales tax is.

    This happens in a way that is statistically proportionate with the area where I live. And while only white people have asked me if I work in other stores, the distain for and dismissal of people who work such "lowly jobs" as cashier or customer service or receptionist, on down to house cleaning and more physical labor is just an equal opportunity market.

  51. This is one of the many reasons I am thankful for living in a Caribbean country in which 99.9% of people are non-white and 50% are black. Racism abounds, but this sort of discrimination would not happen to black people or east-Indians, mainly the Chinese immigrants in Trinidad have a hard time with this. The most interesting point you touched on here was that no matter whether the non-black people knew the person you talked about in the incident or not they defended them. This, on it's own is an example of this discrimination, a sort of 'othering' of POCs, as if there are two sides on this playing field of race, white and non-white, and any suggestion of racism by non-whites is tantamount to attacking their whole side...

  52. Why is being mistaken for a service worker "the most insulting thing ever"? Why is it ok to say that? Do you really hate people who do service work that much?

    Service work isn't demeaning. It's the idea that the only thing we are good for is servitude.

  53. In recent decades most of the immigrants to the US, who then take entry-level unskilled jobs, have been POC. Years ago the same workers were mainly white. So the perception that the current situation is based on POC being only good for servitude is innaccurate. There is enough racism around without seeing it where it's just about being treated as all new immigrants have been, including those from European countries.

  54. So, Isabel, when black people are mistaken for clerks and other service people, they're being mistaken for immigrants? I don't think so. It IS racism; why not face up to that?

    To those who see classism in the post, I think you're misunderstanding the problem pointed out in the post: again, racism. POC who get mistaken for service workers may get upset by being taken for someone/something they think is below them and/or their current station in life. If so, that's a different problem: classism. what I see the original post pointing out, and what I agree is the bigger problem in most such situations, is the racism in those people who assume that just because a person is not white, then they're a service worker.

    And yes, it does happen to white people too, but it's FAR LESS likely to happen to them. And when it does, then that's some other problem than the one brought up on this anti-racism blog and spelled out so well in this post: racism.

  55. I have been mistaken as an employee is stores before too. On occasion I believe it had to do with my attire and the similarity in color to the dress code of the actual employees. In other circumstances, perhaps I was merely familiar with the store in which I was shopping and portrayed a "confidence of knowledge" in where I was going. I simply told the inquirers, that I didn't work there but maybe I could help them anyway. It doesn't take a terrible amount of effort to help others.

    Ellen abbot...
    I sympathize with you about Macon's attitude. He quite often will attack those who relate their personal experiences, especially if they are white. Even though his bloggs are rife with personal experiences, from many different people, they only really have any weight or validity for his purposes if they are from PoC. If a white person relates similar experiences, from the "other side of the coin" he relegates them as anecdotal and therefore of no value.
    He's done this to me before as well and probably will about this post too. Apparently, "white privilege" means that no matter what we see, or hear, or feel, it is never as influential on us as it is on PoC.

    Mira8... A true disciple of Macon's anecdotal derision. Don't forget, you are made up of "anecdotal examples" I mean, life experiences, just like the rest of us.

    In closing, do I see the validity that these "service employee assumptions" are committed by whites more than PoC? Sure. Do I believe that some of them are intentionally degrading? Sure. There are jerks in all walks of life. Do I believe that people "don't see color?" Absolutely not. We all see color. But more than that, we see differences. Wether it is a PoC, or a nerd, or a suit, or an overbearing jock, or a Goth, we see differences, and it is human nature to focus on differences. Doesn't always mean "racist". These "micro-aggressions" are inflicted on everyone. Remember all the cliques back in school? Throughout our lives, we will experience "micro-aggressions" from all types of people. Question is, are you strong enough to accept it as a part of life, universal to all? Or are you going to give them that power over you and curl up and whine about it.

  56. E,

    POC and blacks are being used interchangeably here. It is far more common for service workers to be POC now than in the past. As someone else pointed out, it doesn't mean the offenders think POC are only good for service jobs. What I'm saying is even though the US is less racist than 50 years ago, new immigrants, esp. Latinos are far more likely to be in service positions that were held by whites 50 yrs ago. This doesn't mean whites are looking for brown people to do these jobs, and that this is evidence of racism.

  57. This was a good post. It's happened to me countless times (black male), the latest at Target when I was dressed in jeans, a t-shirt (not red) and a hat. But my dress doesn't seem to matter, whether I'm casual, business casual or dressed to the nines it has happened.

    I don't really get the accusations of classicism, I'm a software engineer but I did all kind of work, from McDonalds, security etc to pay my way through college. It has more to do with why the assumption is made than the actual service job.

    I think the point here is that there is an understandable anger at having one's accomplishments dismissed. The being mistaken for a service person essentially tells us that we are only good for one thing, serving whites.

    Some of my experiences have been subtle, and some so in your face as to be laughable. And yes, it is very frustrating to explain it to some of my white friends and get the 'but it happens to me too' or tips on how to avoid it.

  58. I wanted to jump back in and say that the story I shared about the old lady and her bloomers is hilarious. I was dressed like Russell from Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (any 1970s/1980s childhood people here?) and this old White lady was yelling at me to ring up her panties. Hah!

    It was so clear to me she was responding to my color and her own assumption that sales clerks were buddled up as if they were in a snowstorm.

    My White friends, my Black friends and family members and I laughed ourselves to stitches about this.

    The look on her face when she realized how rude obnoxious and racist she was being was priceless.

    And maybe when she looks for a service worker, she now looks for the ones in uniforms with the name tags that are often spread throughout that particular department store. (And of course none of them are dressed like Russell in a perpetual Fat Albert cartoon winter)

    Maybe, just maybe she learned to be courteous to store employees that day.

  59. "As I've noted before, white people often feel a need to explain away racist incidents, to argue that they're not racist. This common denial of a non-white person's point of view -- which tends to be an informed and experienced point of view -- is itself another racial microaggression."

    Quite right. I've gone over a few scenarios in my mind about what would happen if I were accused of being racist. Instead of offering some lame excuses like "oh, I have black friends" or "I work with black people" or "I've dated a black girl", all of which are beside the point, the only thing I could say was "I'm not racist. Accept it or don't, but I'm not going to stand here defending against something which I know I don't represent."

  60. Excellent post! I feel like I probably started nodding to myself within the first couple sentences. As a white person who is always trying to unpack my privilege, I try to be very aware of my assumptions of servitude of those around me.

    I know that I have two different ways of approaching people whether or not they are in a uniform, and I try to be aware (not avoidant, but aware) of who I am approaching. In stores, I often (though maybe this is my own privilege?) find myself asking other people that I assume to also be shoppers about stuff. Why? Because I don't go shopping much, and if someone looks confident there I hope that they might know more than me, plus service workers are often busy. I hope that my tone in these situations clearly indicates that I know I'm impinging on the other person's time, but that I'm curious and assume them to be more knowledgeable.

    Which is definitely not to say that it is appropriate to be rude to service workers. Just that I feel a little more comfortable asserting my questions.

    I don't know, I guess, reading this blog, I'm wondering if any other commenters have experience or advice. I'd like to think that my queries (some of which, I'm sure I direct at PoC) come across as the friendly co-shopper questions they're meant to be. (This sounds very: "Hi, I'm not like those other white people") But at the same time, I know that after a full day of them, perhaps mine feel like just one more person assuming that ze is there for my luxury.

    Additionally (and unrelated) @ Turner, I'm new to this blog (linked from Shakesville), but seeing as how oppressions are linked, I wonder if you'd be interested in examining the use of "lame" as meaning "pathetic", when in fact people who actually describe themselves as lame do exist and feel stigmatized by that usage.

  61. This happened to me twice!

    I was dressed in a full navy suit in Target. For some reason this older whit lady assumed I worked there and started asking me about lotions and such. It didn't really bother me that much. Other white people around seemed just as suprised/shocked that she assumed I worked there.

    However, being asked if I was dropping of luggage at a Hotel did make me mad. I was dressed business casual and had a small bag for a one night stay and the first thing I hear when walking up to the counter is: "Dropping of luggage?"

  62. What I'm saying is even though the US is less racist than 50 years ago, new immigrants, esp. Latinos are far more likely to be in service positions that were held by whites 50 yrs ago. This doesn't mean whites are looking for brown people to do these jobs, and that this is evidence of racism.

    But many people, including myself and others who have posted here, have had experiences where our attire and our actions could not have even implied, "I work here; can I help you?" A perfect example of this are the stories Robert L. Johnson, founder of BET, told The New Yourk Times:

    I own a farm in Middleburg, Va., where I have a stable with about 16 horses. One morning, I called down to the grooms to say that I wanted to ride that day, and I walked down from the house to the stables, wearing jeans, boots and a polo shirt. That morning, a plumber was working on the water system for the stables. He was a white man who I would estimate was in his 40's.

    Next to the plumber was a yellow bucket and a mop, of the sort you might see in an office building when the janitors are cleaning up after hours. The plumber saw me coming, gestured to the bucket and said, ''If you're here to mop the stables, you'd better get moving now before I have to shut off the water.''

    That's the racial divide to me: Here is a white American who never could have imagined that a black man could own this property. It just didn't compute in his mind. He wasn't trying to be racist; he was trying to be helpful, as if to say, ''You've got a job to do, and I've got a job to do, and I don't want my work to get in the way of yours.''...


    This sort of thing happens to African-American professionals often. I was once leaving the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, dressed in a blue blazer, white shirt and gray slacks. My Jaguar had been brought up from the garage. As I walked out to it, an elderly white woman followed me, and as I opened the front door, she opened the back door, thinking that I was her chauffeur! She had probably asked the front desk to call for a car and then saw me and thought: black man, blue jacket, gray pants -- must be my driver. Like the plumber, she didn't mean to be racist, but the assumptions were just there.

    What came out in these people -- the plumber, the elderly white woman -- was a latent definition of what a black person is, a definition that bubbles up and overtakes everything else. It doesn't matter how much a black American achieves; to many white Americans you will only be seen for your skin color. This is a racial divide that a white American will never see and one that I don't think you can ever close.

  63. I know this feeling. When I was about 16 my Mom ordered me to do one of my semi-annual heavy duty room cleans, a necessity b/c I'm a slob. Anyway, I was cleaning and taking out lots of trash and stuff and some man stopped me and asked who I was cleaning house for. I was STUNNED. Yes this was a predominatly white overall affluent suburb, and I am black but my section was much more regular middle class and even kind of "poor" compared to the half-million dollar 4-5 bedroom houses of my classmates (and this was the late 80's so that was a lot more $ back then) b/c it was mostly condos and townhouses and the people were not rich where I was. I had lived there since I was 5 YEARS OLD and that man had lived there for awhile. I rode my bike out there, ran, jumped and played around the lake behind the townhouses, and in the parking lot out front, had practiced field hockey, soccer and other sports. SHoot I even took out the trash a few times a week, and walked past his townhouse twice a day everyday during the school year to go the school bus. But he thought I was a maid. At the time we were the only black folks living there, so we weren't hard to notice. I told him I was cleaning for myself, and I lived there. He didn't seem embarrased at all and my white friends asked me what I was wearing. I had on shorts a t-shirt and sneaks, not a maid uniform. I was so upset. I coudln't stand that old man after that. Making me feel bad in my own neighborhood that was really the only neighborhood I remembered of my childhood.

  64. People who claim to not see colour are liars, and they usually say it in hopes that their racist tendencies can be explained away by something else.

    It is also pretty appalling that some people will take the side of some random racist jerk over their friends, I guess that shows where their real sympathies lie...

    However, you say that this is a "common white tendency", and I'm not too sure that that's true. There are a lot of white people in the world, in Australia, Canada, US, Europe, Russia, Africa and they have rather different levels of interaction with non-whites so their assumptions about them are probably different too. And if you are willing to paint all or most white people with the same brush based on the actions and attitudes of some that you see or hear commonly, isn't that similar to what they are doing?

    Again, just to be really explicit, I'm not trying to justify those people you mention, they are definitely racists (or at least have strong tendencies) and should not be defended, and I'm glad that you are bringing these things to up so hopefully more people will know what to watch out for

  65. Love this post, very enlightning!

  66. Why is it do we never hear of Black people who are racist? Hmmm? I tell you one thing, it is not because there are not any out there. There are, and it seems that the person writing this blog is one of them. Look in the mirror.

  67. N, why do you assume that the author of this blog (me) is black instead of white? Hmmm?

    I have looked in the mirror, and what I see is a man with common white tendencies who should do what he can to get over them. It's pretty clear that you too should take such a look in the mirror.

  68. awww Macon... while online, people have assumed that I'm white and/or black... but funnily enough... very rarely, almost never Asian.

  69. Goobly, I must admit, I was one of them. I think it was because some of your comments threw me for a loop! All is well.

    I can see what you are saying. It's as though many reference any Asian as the "silent minority/person of color" who never has an opinion (despite the contrary) and just smiles while accepting poor treatment because they are grateful for their lot in life. Of course, I don't believe that "model minority" bull. But, I can see why the assumptions could be there for some.

  70. @honeybrown1976 - awww thanks! all is good now :)


    This fml, plus the comments beneath, basically prove the point here.

  72. when i handed my Creative Portfolio to the woman on the 9th floor of NYU Art School, applying to film school in 1998 (i got in, graduated with honors if it matters) she took it, thanked me, and then asked "do you need me to sign for this?" !!! i was totally baffled. actually had no idea what she meant. then she caught herself. "OH, i , nevermind, i thought—" etc.


  73. I just found out that my friend, who married a white guy and has a baby who is lighter than she is, is often assumed to be the nanny, lol.

  74. That's amazing. Is it so hard to look for the presence of a staff uniform or a name tag, before committing such a gaffe? The US is one weird place.

  75. This is a strange post. It seems there are people who are trying to one up each other on who has it worse in the wonderful world of racism. No on wins because it happens to every race and color. It really depends on where in the world you live. There are ignorant people everywhere of every race and instead of deciding on who has it worse lets decide how to make it stop completely.

  76. While visiting an upscale hotel outside of Chicago a white woman approached me and began to instruct me on how to clean her room. I told her to stop and asked her why she was telling me this.

    She replied 'Well dont you work here?' I said 'No, the people with badges and uniforms work here'

    She said "Well you LOOK like you work here, right? That's no an insult to YOU I just figured..well anyway, my daughter...."

    I told her now would be a great time to get the hell away from me.

  77. The assumption that POC = here to serve WP is what may drive white women to walk up to me out of the blue and ask if my biracial sons are mine. Of course black women can't biologically reproduce children! We exist merely to serve others - quite specifically, white women and their biracial children (duh!).

    I wonder how much of this is truly subconscious as opposed to a transparent desire to "level," i.e., "put" POC in their "place," which is firmly beneath WP, obvs.

    I went to a prestigious university where the white girls working at the libraries would always ask, after I requested a book from the restricted section, "Do you go here?" You couldn't get in there without being a student or faculty (I looked too young to be a prof/visiting lecturer) ... or the maintenance crew.* Didn't matter if I was wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the school name and a backpack. They'd ask each time. Every year. Every black student I knew experienced this. None of the white ones did. Hmm...

    These instances have almost invariably involved white women. Perhaps they have a vested interest in asserting the presumed inferiority of WOC in a way that white men do not?
    *Not saying maintenance workers are of less value than anyone else but in classist American society, janitors have lower social status than college students at snooty institutions.

  78. I know that it's been 4 years since you've written this post, but I still really appreciate you for writing it, macon d. It summarizes just how often these instances can happen to POC, and how often they are overlooked. The worst part is, white people aren't the only ones that participate in these subtle acts of racial degradation; POC do it as well.

    I am an Asian-American. (God, the hyphenation!) I am also a woman, if that helps. Anyway, there have been a few instances throughout my life in which I can clearly remember that I was mistaken as a worker. One was when I was just 9, shopping with my family at an Asian supermarket. Two black women came up to me. One of them asked me, "Excuse me, do you work here?" I slowly mustered out a slow, "Nooo...." I, being only a child who obviously wasn't even of LEGAL age to work at the time, had no idea of the racial implications of that incident.

    Another instance happened when I was 19, browsing an Asian general store in California with my family. All of of a sudden, I heard my then 17-year-old sister, who has Autism, loudly saying, "NO THANKS, NO THANKS!" I went over to the aisle that she was standing at to see what the problem was. It turns out that this tall, lanky white man was trying to ask her about information on one of the products written in Chinese. As soon as I saw that, I was pissed. I came up to him and asked, "What do you want?" The man then proceeded to turn to ME and ask the same questions! After I responded, "No, I don't understand that...", and after one of the ACTUAL employees quickly came to assist that idiot, I couldn't help feeling baffled. First of all, that white man ASSUMED that the both of us worked there, simply because we looked Asian and despite the fact that we were just wearing regular clothes. Secondly, he assumed that we understood how to read the language he was asking about, just because we looked Asian. (And how DARE HE kept pestering my disabled sister about it, despite the fact that, knowing her, she probably told him that she wanted to be left alone multiple times!) I mean, couldn't he had simply looked for people wearing uniforms or name badges INSTEAD of bothering EVERY Asian person he saw?

    Not too long after, a third incident happened at a Filipino-owned laundromat. I was wearing "lazy" clothes, hair tied in a ponytail. I was just about to move my newly-washed clothes out of the machine, when, out of nowhere, a black man came up to me and asked, "Excuse me, do you work here?" Before I had time to react, another person directed him to a woman who actually WAS working there. Later on, after my mother picked me up, I was feeling completely humiliated, baffled, and angry, on top of the crappy mood I was already in BEFORE I entered the laundromat. I would have thought that, being a black man and part of a race that is a victim of both discrimination AND micro-aggressions on a daily basis, he would exercise more caution. But, no-- he was simply another person who probably couldn't care less.

    To this day, those past 3 incidents carry a heavy burden on my mind. Not only does this burden damage my self-esteem, and open my eyes to hurtful racial dynamics, but it even causes me to wonder things like: Am I that unattractive? Is the image of the "lowly, faceless Asian worker" the FIRST thing that enters people's minds when they see me? Am I pretty much NOTHING but conglomerated stereotypes in the eyes of this society?


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