I was recently in an all-you-can-eat sushi place.  While they served Japanese food, I noticed that all the servers were Chinese.

It seemed odd to my over sensitized West Coast up bringing; but then I realized most North Americans can’t tell the difference between Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese or Korean people.  They just know an East Asian when they see one.

We tend to group people into large assemblies, sometimes very heterogeneous ones.

While many people have prejudices about ethnic groups, it is surprising how poorly people can identify them.  Apparently it is not necessary to know anything about someone to dislike them.  Even if you can’t identify what they generally look like.

For example, many people seem puzzled that Sikhs are not somehow Arabs.  Maybe all they know is a head scarf when they see one.  We have many Sikhs living nearby, so we see them as a distinct ethnicity.

That’s what makes hating so irrational.  We can dislike national or ethnic groups, while totally liking individuals within these definitions.  Irrational?  Sure, but people identify the individuals differently.  You might hate gingers in general, but you like Bob because he is the friendly guy at the bank.  Oh yeah, hadn’t thought of Bob as a ginger, but I know him and he is a good guy…. for a ginger.

While it might be discriminatory for sushi bars to hire East Asian people as their servers, most customers would say it enhances the dining experience by creating some sense that the servers know the cuisine.  And there is some truth to that.  I was recently at a Mexican restaurant where the Anglo server couldn’t even pronounce the items on the menu in Spanish. I came away feeling I had a less than authentic meal.

We often use ethnic confusion about looks in our casting for commercials.  We love people who look ambiguous.  Here is a poster we did for a local attraction using kids that are of ambiguous origin (she is Chinese and European, he is native and European). You can see these kids as being almost any ethnicity you want to.  This way many groups can identify with them and feel they are welcome at our client’s attraction.

As a side note, I asked the owner of a sushi chain why they hired Chinese and he told me that there were few Japanese available, but lots of Chinese workers and his customers couldn’t tell the difference.  Shows you how invalid stereotype attitudes can be.

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