All Look Same, Especially When You Don’t Know What You’re Looking For

You’ve heard it before: All Look Same. This isn’t just some racist joke kids taunt on playgrounds, pulling the corners of their eyes and putting on unmistakably Asian accent. It’s actually a psychological phenomena known as Out-of-Group Homogeneity, and paired with the Cross-Race Effect, it explains why folks struggle to differentiate people outside of their own race. Essentially, interracial interactions are based on features only, while intraracial interactions are holistic–you literally take the person at face value if they’re outside your race, but if they’re within your race you see them as a whole, individual person. So it’s not an inherently racist statement, and it leads us to consider the larger psychological basis for mixing up people of the same race or even racial profiling.

So you’re an average New Yorker wasting time on your phone when you get this emergency alert.

Via The Verge



Note that there was no photo attached, so New Yorkers needed to look up images on their own time. Images have flooded the media now, but initially, there weren’t too many photos available and so citizens were left with nothing but an Arab-sounding name and an age. (Fun fact, another result of the Cross-Race Effect is that people struggle to accurately guess the age of folks of different races! So the odds of someone accurately determining Rahami’s age based on a picture are somewhat slim.)

Various media outlets have already chimed in noting that this alert may have lead to citizens racially profiling their brown neighbors. Jessica Lachenal of The Mary Sue wrote that,

“By sending out an alert like this, which lacks critical context and information, people are left with only their imagination and previous biases to judge who “Ahmad Khan Rahami” might be. In a single moment, suddenly everybody who appears to be Muslim and/or Middle Eastern becomes a suspect.”

Lachenal cites the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, when Sunil Tripathi was mistaken for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The Daily Beast ran a story on his family in April of 2015, check it out here. People searched incessantly for Tripathi, who didn’t show up, primarily because he was dead. He’d killed himself a month before the bombings even happened.

Let’s be clear: police were able to apprehend Rahami because a citizen saw him and called for help. But when we consider the number of young black men stopped (and arrested or killed) because they matched the brief description of a suspect, we can understand why an emergency alert with a lack of details is concerning.

Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness

As ashamed as I am to admit this, when it comes to shootings in America, I’m suffering from serious compassion fatigue. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, compassion fatigue is the apathy that arises from repeated exposure to crises. It seems like every other day I see a breaking news alert on a shooting. Last week it was Boston, today it was Texas. So when I learned early Sunday morning that there was a shooting at an Orlando nightclub, I rolled over and went back to sleep. It was just another shooting, just another day.

I woke again to worried texts from my family, only to understand the magnitude of the situation. Hostages were taken and then killed in a gay night club on Latinx night. The body count was initially reported at 20, because the police didn’t discover the numerous others until later.  Over 100 people were killed or wounded, and doctors at Orlando Regional Medical Center say still more may succumb to their injuries.

Only hours before, my friends and I contemplated going to Machine, one of Boston’s gay clubs, where my close friend was bartending. We’d spent the day at Boston’s Pride Parade and the Back Bay Block Party, celebrating our remarkable community. At the block party, one lesbian said to me, “It’s my first time around this many queer women. I’ve never felt so loved.” Although it wasn’t my first Pride, I had to agree. I believed that here, we were home. Despite the religious protestors, hate would not flourish at this event. We would unapologetically be ourselves and we would do so in safety. Had we gone to Machine afterwards, I imagine it would’ve been packed to capacity with queer folks of all ages, colors and genders, while security attempted to keep the single narrow staircase clear for safety purposes.

I can only believe that the solidarity and safety I found at that block party, the queer community of Orlando found at Pulse. Omar Mateen attempted to take that from not only Orlando’s community, but from all of us. He perpetrated what we’re calling the nation’s deadliest mass shooting and intentionally targeted a hub of the queer community. How long will this massacre hold this title? A few weeks? Several months? How long will it take for our country to get divided by arguments on radical Islam, or gun control, or mental illness, and forget that people died? How long before we forget that an American man chose to kill based on hatred born and bred in America?

Every time we stall out on gun control laws, we fail these victims. When we slash funding for mental health care, we set the stage for another tragedy. When we ignore the facts and point to buzzwords like radical Islam, we foster the growth of hatred and fear. And when our pain is used to further a political career, we do more than let down everyone affected by this horrific violence: we insult them.

As a nation, we failed not only the victims in Orlando, but Mateen himself. We fueled his belief that pledging his life to ISIL in a 911 call would bring him infamy. We subsequently granted him said infamy when our politicians emphasize his links to international terror groups, all the while minimizing the queer identities of the victims. We refused to pass laws that would have prevented him from easily acquiring weapons. We argued over who can use a public restroom, demonizing trans* people and feeding into anti-queer bigotry. We created this and it is our responsibility to dismantle it. If not for the victims of Pulse or Charleston or Columbine, then for your own loved ones.

Remember that the answer to homophobia and transphobia is not Islamophobia, but the acceptance of diversity. Say the names of the victims. Honor their bravery and resiliency in the face of a world that seeks to eradicate people like us. Understand that darkness cannot drive out darkness and that for you, it is not too late to stand up and create a better world. Do not let their deaths be in vain.