What you see isn't always what you get. People make assumptions all the time about others based on external factors. For example, at my salsa class I have come up with nicknames for many of the regulars: Softhands, a nice, soft-spoken young man with -- you got it -- soft hands; Swivel Hips, another nice young man who is a funky dancer; BT2, a woman blessed (?) with big tits and big teeth who can't seem to find T-shirts that fit her; Paul the Pillock, enough said; Big Mustache and Small Mustache, two jolly guys with, um, mustaches, though Big Mustache doesn't go anymore and Small Mustache seems to have ditched his wife; Smelly Man, who fortunately doesn't go anymore; Curvy Girl, who likes to shake that booty.
I don't know much about these people beyond twirling around, with, and among them for an hour once a week or so. Softhands could be a right bastard; Paul the Pillock could be a saint. I have made assumptions and judgments based on these assumptions.
I'm not alone. Others have done the same to me, particularly after I moved to the UK. I became The American, with all the connotations -- negative and positive -- that might have. I am also Blonde. I am also a Stay-At-Home Mother. Put all those together, and you might have a very negative view of me indeed.
Even people who have known me for quite a few years can't seem to get beyond these labels. Such as -- dare I mention their name -- the Frenemies. Yes, I should dump them, but it's difficult because our kids are friends and I actually like two out of the five couples. One couple I'm neutral about, and two I can't stand. Anyway, we were having dinner at the home of one of the couples I like on Saturday. Frenemy's husband and the fat, balding know-it-all wanker of a husband of another one were talking about George Chakiris, he of West Side Story fame. I piped up that he had been in White Christmas. Frenemy's husband and Fat Wanker scoffed at me. They fancy themselves Trivia Kings because they've actually been on TV quiz shows. But I know my White Christmas and I held my ground. Fat Wanker said he couldn't possibly have been because White Christmas came out in the 40s. No, I replied, it came out in 1954 or 1956 (you can tell from the clothes and hairstyles). Fat Wanker and I made a £10 wager. Fat Wanker's wife looked it up on her Blackberry on the internet. Guess who won? Guess who didn't get her £10?
They made assumptions and judgments about me and were wrong. In that case, at least.
It's occurred to me that this has happened to Barack Obama his whole life. Assumptions have been made about the color of his skin, his name, his parentage, where he's lived. And yet look at what a cool person he is. No chips on his shoulders.
We label people because that makes it easier to categorize them in our brains. And we humans generally like to categorize. It helps us cope with the unknown, probably a throwback to Neanderthal Man. But we must remember to look outside the assumptions and judgments. These can be wrong. Just ask Fat Wanker.