Saturday, January 26, 2013

The 30-Second Racial Profiling Experiment

Act #26 :  Challenge your own assumptions.

I had just finished lunch and walked into  the continuation of a day-long board meeting where a guest speaker was scheduled to present.  I hadn't had a chance to look at the afternoon agenda, and I had no idea who this man sitting before me was, or what he'd be talking about.

He was a handsome man, who appeared to be in his mid-30's, with striking dark features and a kind smile.  He was most likely of Asian or Hispanic descent.  He wore a dapper, gray suit, probably from a place like Brooks Brothers, and a striped tie.  It would take me less than 30 seconds to formulate an entire opinion around him, so I decided to do just that - a little experiment to see just how quickly I could profile this total stranger based solely on what I saw before me.

Meet Mark.  He's not wearing a wedding band, but since he's so handsome, he must be gay, or divorced.  If he's the latter, he must have been a player.  If he's the former, he's not out to his parents, because no third-world immigrants would be able to handle that kind of news.  He is highly-educated, went to college somewhere like Princeton, or Swarthmore, or Vassar.  He was definitely in a fraternity.  He is of significant professional stature - maybe a high-level federal appointee or large financial supporter.  He works with complex numbers and statistics.  Although he has not yet uttered a word, he will have the perfect mid-western accent, because he's at least second, if not third, generation American.  He's sitting down, but I imagine he's about 5'7" or maybe 8.

Now meet the real "Mark".  Well, his name is actually Charles.  He speaks with a charming and distinct southern drawl that reminds me of Matthew McCaunaghey.  He's from Eastern Tennessee.  He serves in the Joint Force Headquarters, currently with the Kentucky National Guard.  He was active military for 23 years and served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  He spent most of his career creating programs to respond to sexual assault and rape in the military.  He knows more about sexual violence than I do.  A lot more.  He's a feminist who celebrates women serving in equal roles in the military.  At this point, his suit is probably not even from Brooks Brothers.

Whether or not we realize we are doing this, it really only takes seconds for us to paint a complete picture about someone based on what we think we know, what we've been told.

Try it, you'll be shocked at how the world around you has biased your views over your lifetime. 

Deviate from it, you'll be shocked at how the world around you will begin to look unexpectedly extraordinary.   When Charles got up to leave, I went to shake his hand and thank him for his presentation  The man was at least 6'3".

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