Please try to stop jumping to conclusions.
Never judge a book by its cover. Whilst first impressions matter, it only gives you a positive or negative impression. The conversation or social interaction afterwards with the person will make your mind up.
Prejudice against people who look different comes naturally. Your brain learns what makes you feel safe and comfortable from birth. Whether it's simple things like clothes or shoes, hair, make-up, build, or skin. Things are less threatening when you are familiar with them.
People jump to conclusions, and cognitive biases are a part of life. Prejudice against people from different backgrounds is hard to avoid. No matter who you are, all humans are wired to jump to conclusions. It has helped us survive since the dark ages. Times have changed, however.
Social media and the fast pace of modern life encourage us to make quick, split-second decisions. No longer can you avoid jumping to conclusions. Are you for or against it? Do you like it or not like it? Is this correct or wrong? Whose side do you choose?
Sometimes the consequence is harmless, but increasingly jumping to conclusions has a real-life impact on a person, their environment, livelihood, life and mental health. Judgments based on quick observations and limited reasoning are now, at times, dangerous.
The importance of context is considerable.
Context matters. You often learn the hard way to make context critical to your decision-making. It helps you judge the importance of something. You make assumptions and give meaning to the situation within a context. Nothing is black and white.
You can have three people in the same position, but each might draw different conclusions depending on their social, historical, economic and cultural backgrounds. Context is everything.
Here are a couple of examples that, to this day, bother me, probably because I am not sure what people expect from me in that situation. I am often baffled, too stunned for words. I am still looking for that perfect reaction that educates and combats ignorance… with style. The one with the 'drop the mike' effect.
I thought your kind was submissive.
Yes, I am an Indian woman. I do not look my age. I look harmless. I am friendly, and I am kind. Inherently, there is an assumption that I am docile.
So here's the thing: I don't lack confidence and am not a pushover. I don't fear confrontation as I come from a family of strong women. My body language is never threatening. It always surprises people the first time I push back.
Imagine you, as the head of a department, are called into a meeting with your boss. In the meeting, your boss says: Don't give your assistant a (well-deserved) promotion as I don't like her. I don't like her attitude.
I get it. Only some bosses are good managers. Let's face it, not many have had the proper training, and there are not many natural leaders.
And then there is this. Subtle, toxic, a clear case of someone looking down at you. For nothing else but the colour of your skin, your perceived race.
Imagine arguing your case and the boss saying: I cannot believe you are not listening to me. I thought your kind was submissive. Your kind? Hmm...
Years after I left, I found out from my former team members that my successor was precisely what the boss wanted. She was young, inexperienced, and not up to the job but a pleaser. Ironically, she was white.
Go back to where you came from
Joining the queue by the bus stop, this brown girl smiled at her fellow passengers and said: good morning! Isn't it cold this morning? Some people smiled and nodded, and some said good morning back.
One person said: Well, go back to where you come from! I raised my eyebrows and shook my head. I'd like to know what I did to get the response. I also wish it was the only time it happened.
The context? The first time it happened was in the Netherlands. I was born and raised as a Dutch citizen. Now I live in the UK, and I am an immigrant. I, however, do not come from a hot, lovely weather country. Which was the intent, I assume?
Am I being dramatic? Am I overreacting? I am still trying to figure it out. The thing is that rudeness and ignorance wear you down over time.
These days, it bugs me more that there is no one in the crowd, a Caucasian person, that stands up for you. I have realised over the years that it is not only my responsibility but a collective responsibility to fight ignorance and prejudice and promote an open mind. We are all human, after all.