All X People Look Alike ™ is the psychological phenomenon whereby most or all members of other ethnic and racial groups appear to look similar. This mindset is fairly common in heterogeneous nations such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, but can also be found in more homogeneous societies. When displayed in conversation, it is one of the most commonly used racist remarks. This comment has the uncanny effect of making my arms prickle with annoyance, every single time I hear it. Some who make the comment seem to be unaware that it is, in fact, ignorant and racist, but most seem to understand its implications.
But why is this frame of mind racist? In case it’s not clear, it’s because All X People Look Alike™ seeks to discriminate (i.e. distinguish) based on perceived race or ethnicity. In doing so, it disregards the individuality of others and keeps its possessor in ignorance.
Some hypothesize that All X People Look Alike™ results from assuming that people of other races look more similar than those of an individual’s perceived race. But research suggests that this mentality is a bit more complex than that.
Daniel Levin, a cognitive psychologist at Kent State University conducted research designed to test the hypothesis that people can distinguish between individuals of races that are not their own. It’s simply that they choose to place emphasis on racial categories, disregarding individual differences.
Levin tested this theory in a series of experiments involving facial recognition of averaged and real white faces and black faces. He found that participants in his study were better at recognizing faces of members of their own racial groups, than those of others. Yet they could accurately distinguish the subtle differences in faces which were of the same racial group. He explains this phenomenon with the example, “When a white person looks at another white person’s nose, they’re likely to think to themselves, ‘That’s John’s nose.’ When they look at a black person’s nose, they’re likely to think, ‘That’s a black nose.’” White participants were more likely to have difficulty in telling apart faces of other race groups.
The truth is that there is no group of people who all basically look alike. All Asians do not look alike. All white people do not look alike. And most certainly, all black people do not look alike. The same goes for the various ethnic groups — all Mexicans do not look alike, nor do all Finns. If you’re one of those who tend to believe “all [insert racial/ethnic group] look alike”, it would be helpful for you to take a closer look and recognize the nearly infinite range of phenotypes beyond your stereotypical racial categorizations.
- Why do ‘they all look alike’? — Dr. Levin’s findings