People, in general, tend to make a lot of assumptions.

When I was homeless, I heard, “I just wouldn’t expect someone like you to be in this kind of situation.”

Someone like you. What exactly is that supposed to mean? Young? Blonde? Healthy? Female? What exact mold was I expected to fill? Old and burnt out? Was I supposed to be a person of color? Was I supposed to be crippled, unhealthy or drug addled?

I was homeless due to bad decisions and circumstances. I could also go on and on about society, extreme poverty and the state of affordable housing in this country… but I’ll save that for another time. Homelessness could happen to anybody and the assumption that to be homeless I needed to fit certain criteria is more than slightly disturbing. The question that needs to be asked is, if as a young, healthy white woman I am not expected to be found homeless… what does the assumption say about those who are not young, healthy or white? Are those the ones we expect to be homeless? And if society expects that of people who may fit those criteria… what may they expect for themselves? That’s quite the ominous cloud to live under.

A girl came in to the tattoo parlor I was getting work done at. She obviously knew the artist, as she came right back and began talking to him. They joked and bantered with each other for quite a while, and I noticed she spoke quickly with a “valley girl” type accent. I however, as people who personally know me are already aware of, speak using vernacular (slang) and swear a lot.. like a whole lot. The tattoo artist joked to her, “Girl, you black, but you talk like you’re white. This girl right here whiter than hell, but she’s blacker than you!” They both laughed, but I got to thinking. What exactly does that mean?

If I think like a man, talk like I’m black, spend like I’m rich, live like I’m old, dress like I’m young…. where do I fit if I’m none of those things? Do I not have an identity? How exactly am I supposed to act, dress and speak like? What assumptions are made about me because of who people think I am?

It’s extremely limiting to think of yourself or of other people in that manner. When we assume, we are almost invariably inaccurate. When we try to squeeze ourselves into an assumed image, we spend valuable energy on something that doesn’t matter one iota. Furthermore, we limit ourselves to a sphere of expectation that wasn’t made for us.

Every man, woman and child that exists is unique. Not one is like another. Therefore, any assumptions a person may make based on the way another person looks, speaks, dresses or acts like are without merit. In fact, these things are harmful.

How many girls have never tried hard at mathematics because “girls aren’t good at math”? How many poor kids have not succeeded in school because “kids from that neighborhood never do well”? How many victims of abuse have perpetuated the cycle because it’s readily accepted that they will? How many people have given up because not much was expected from someone “like that”?

Assumptions are unreliable and harmful to so many. Those of us who are purported to be of open mind make a concerted effort to not judge other people in that we do not know what a person has been through in their life. To assume that we know who another person is is just as big a folly.

 

“Equality is not the empirical claim that all groups of humans are interchangeable; it is the moral principle that individuals should not be judged or constrained by the average properties of their group.”
Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

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