In our effort to be efficient, we categorize things, lump them together and make sweeping assumptions. Call it stereotyping, call it confirmation bias. We generalize and intentionally or unintentionally–the result is the same–obscure nuances, differences, and essential facts about reality, about people and communities. Nothing is more irritating about how our culture refers to "Asians". Perhaps the most "othered" racial group. It is a rare instance when we are even mentioned in a poll, study, or legislative measure. Surprising, when there are 50% more Asians in LA than African Americans. The largest population of poor in NY City is Asian. That there are more Korean and Cambodian elderly without access to healthcare than any other racial/ethnic group in LA. Using these broad categories masks the enormous diversity within the diversity. "Homelessness", "People of Color", "Latinx" and "LGBTQ" are continents of populations that require understanding to even begin addressing the complex facets and microcosms of inequity and human suffering. More than anything CERTAINTY is our enemy. Propelled by a lack of curiosity and humility. An unwillingness to admit what we don't know. Words matter. Words reflect our thinking and then our actions. Doing the work of educating ourselves and others about the layers of diversity and of the needs within monolithic populations matters more. Disaggregating data to understand commonalities and real stark differences is not pursued often enough in academia and the halls of public policy makers. It is our individual laziness and reflexive speed to generalize that puts us in bubbles of ignorance. I know we understand this intellectually, but we have to audit ourselves and others–not as political correctness police but to open our beginner's minds and pursue the path of understanding each other.
I met a young woman for lunch who wanted to discuss "career stuff". We were walking from my office and I asked her to tell me about herself. She launched into a truly engaging story of her family's poverty, her strongly held views on inequality, racism and the need for opportunity for people of color. It was a beautifully articulated set of values. She was emotional and I got emotional too. I learned a lot about her in a few minutes.
I said, "Where do you want to eat?"
She quickly replied, "Anything but seafood."
"All seafood, shellfish? So you don't eat sushi?", I queried.
She said, "No seafood and no sushi–because all sushi is seafood."
My face dropped and I was aghast. I launched into a what I call a rantifesto. It was admittedly a bit theatrical.
"Are you a sushi bigot? Sounds like you are othering sushi. You seem to know everything about this innocent cuisine and yet your ignorance shows how prejudicial you are," I exclaimed.
She was taken aback. "What do you mean? Are you serious right now?, she timidly queried.
"You seem to be so certain about an entire group of food that you have no experience with. Isn't that true?", as I raised my voice slightly. "You know that sushi does not mean raw fish or even seafood? Sushi is diverse. You know there are a number of sushi that are made without seafood, right?"
"C'mon that's not true," she pleaded.
"I need you to open your mind and heart to the possibility that you are wrong that you do not know what you are talking about," I counter pleaded.
I started to list sushi made without fish–"Inarizushi, musubi, kappamaki, makisushi, tamago, nigiri….."
She held up her hand, "Is this true, really. I had no idea?", she wondered aloud. "Would you take me to have sushi like that sometime?"
The clouds parted and the light briefly danced off the downtown skyline. Certainty was obliterated for a brief moment. I nodded. "Sure love to.", I said with a wry smile.
Food for thought. 😉 Thanks for reading. John