Quoted: Resist Racism on Mistaken Identity

Excerpted by Latoya Peterson


A Chinese American journalist on an interview is assumed to be making a food delivery. Thomas Lee reported that he was wearing a dress shirt, black slacks and black dress shoes. When he later related this story to others, he was given advice about how to avoid being mistaken for the delivery guy:

    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.

If people can make excuses for why you were mistaken for somebody else, they can refuse to see racism. I’ve worn the jacket. I’ve worn the suit. I’ve carried the briefcase. And I’ve still had white people try to hand me their dirty dishes in a restaurant. I waited over an hour for a job interview because nobody thought I could possibly be the candidate. And if you read this thread, you’ll see that this is a common experience for people of color.

It doesn’t matter how you’re dressed, because your race is sometimes the only thing white people can see. Formal wear doesn’t even help the situation. A friend was at a big-deal dinner function (which I won’t name for the sake of his privacy) when he was asked when he was going to bring the beer in. Apparently a scheduled delivery of cases of bottled beer had not yet arrived.

It’s funny, you might have the experience of being mistaken for the Chinese food delivery guy. And it might just seem to be an incident in isolation. You have all those other experiences, and if you talk about them white people might try to tell you that it’s just you. Heck, even sometimes people of color will try to tell you this.

Because of course, most people don’t see race.

—”Mistaken Identity, Part 387,” Resistance, Resist Racism

(Image Credit: Mattox at stock.xchng)