Stop assuming: looks define appearance, not race

Illustration by Aaron Logan

Many people in this world automatically judge someone by the color of their skin. Some admit it while others keep it to themselves. In this society, you will be judged if your skin color is different from the majority of the population.

Although many consider extreme racism to be on the decline in the United States, minor racial issues still arise. One of those issues is the assumption of people’s race based on the way they look. For example, many citizens of the U.S. automatically assume that if your skin is black, you are African-American. From a local standpoint, students at K-State automatically assume that if you are Asian, you are more likely than not a foreign student and that you’re probably not well-versed in the English language.

If you find yourself guilty of assuming either of these stereotypes, you might want to change — otherwise you could find yourself in an embarrassing or otherwise unfortunate situation.

It’s true that in many situations, you may be correct when you make an assumption based on another’s perceived race. However, if you are wrong, harmful consequences could follow that, in the end, might leave you looking stupid and naive.

When you assume that people have only one ethnicity or culture based on how they look, you invariably neglect a large chunk of who they are — other ethnicities they possess, other cultures they identify with, and other traditions they practice. Doing so makes you look uniformed and inconsiderate.

For example, let’s say you have an Asian-American male friend. You assume he is either Chinese or Japanese, when he is in fact Filipino. You assume since he’s from China or Japan, his religion is either Buddhism or Shintoism, when in fact he is Muslim. You have him over for dinner and you decide to serve a variety of pork dishes, such as glazed ham or pork roast. One of the Muslim practices is to abstain from eating pork. In this case, your friend is out of luck and can’t eat what you serve him, and you look as if you know nothing about his culture.

While the situation above may be rare, it shows how easy it can be to come off as impolite. These days you can’t know what race a person is just by looking at them. Interracial couples are more accepted now than they have ever been in the past, which has led to mixed children with complex cultural backgrounds.

By assuming a black person is African-American, you neglect other ethnicities the person might posses, ethnicities of which this person might be particularly proud. Many black people have Hispanic roots. Some might not be African-American at all. Some African-Americans aren’t black. You just never know.

Lastly, though this isn’t a huge problem in our society anymore, people still judge other races through stereotypes, attributing personal qualities to a person based on appearance.

Say you’ve been assigned a project with a group in which one member is Asian. Students on campus have been known to treat foreign students on campus differently because it can be difficult to communicate with them. Because he’s Asian, you assume he’s foreign and doesn’t know much English. You communicate with the rest of your group and leave him out because you assume it will be awkward to work with him.

You’re not giving this member a chance to get involved because of what you assume you know about him. You aren’t utilizing his strengths and resources because you aren’t collaborating with him on your project. Is it worth not reaching your group’s full potential just so you can avoid what you think will be an awkward situation?

I’m not saying that every single one of us is guilty of doing these things every day. However, I know that every single one of us has done this at some point. It might seem harmless, but it isn’t. It’s selfish. People don’t have the right to choose what someone else’s race is. We shouldn’t assume that we know one’s race simply because of the way they look.

Zaldy Doyungan is a junior in public relations. Please send comments to