Or so it it seems; and it seems that way to a whole lot of "us's" when they look at even more "thems." It turns out this is true any time you have an "us" and a "them." It's called "out-group homogeneity," meaning you can tell your cousins apart a whole lot better than tourists from Micronesia can -- and vice-versa.
The Unwanted Blog was marvelling at the sameness of a bunch of Korean beauty-pageant contestants; on closer inspection they're really quite different to one another, or at least as different as any group of beauty pageant contestants ever is. Still, in the official photos they're been filtered multiple times for general First World standards of "beauty" (nice smile, glowing complexion, neither too thin nor too plump, straight teeth, cute noses, pretty hair, etc. etc.), applied the very standard makeup and then, for those of us who don't happen to be Korean, run smack up against the out-group homogeneity effect. Bingo, at first glance they're peas in a pod -- even though they're not.
It's interesting (or, if you happen to be doing business or swapping gossip across a social-cultural-political-racial gap of much significance, frustrating) and one bit of fallout is that it's also a lot harder to read out-group facial expressions and body language; time and familiarity will wear such barriers down but it's not fast.
Which leads to an interesting conclusion: "bussing" schoolkids for the express purpose of establishing "racial balance" in schools may've been social-engineering voodoo that ended up with a lot of kids attending schools miles away from home -- but giving little [stereotyped first name A], [stereotyped first name B] through [stereotyped first name Z] a chance to look one another in the eye and spend a some time tryin' to figure out what the kids from the far side of town were getting at was probably time well spent; as adults, they'll be that much less likely to mistake a joke for a threat -- or a threat for a joke.
And maybe "those people" won't seem quite so much alike. Might even have to start treatin' 'em as individuals.
(I've already had a couple of the "You don't know. Those people were/are dreadful," responses. A quick read of Tom Brown's School Days, set in early 19th-Century Britain and written within a few years of the setting with very little embellishment of reality -- or, for less-challenging fare, the "Flashman" novels, written in the 20th Cent., set in the 19th and featuring the chief bully from ...School Days with flashbacks, will show that children are all little savages, some a good deal less noble than others. While it would be nice if one could identify the worst of the lot by the set of their ears or the color of their skin, that's not how it works; and meantime, having gone to school with a student body including persons unlike yourself, you'll at least be all the better at identifying your tormentor in a police line-up. As for me "not knowing," my Junior High was one of two and my High School the one and only in a town of some 40,000 with a substantial nonwhite population and a history of segregation and lynchings; the most recent race riots at my high school were within two years of my delightful three years there. With over a thousand kids in each class, it was impossible to supervise closely. Imagine what a nice place it was to be shy, gawky, bookish and nearsighted. I'm not arguing that social engineering was necessarily a good idea, only that it was not without some individual benefit.)
2 weeks ago