Do brown people lie more?

person uses pen on book

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Part of my professional day is reading stories from all over the word. The writers don’t look like me or sound like me, checking the “White/Anglo/Caucasian” box. They’re East African, Bangladeshi, and Caribbean. They would get stopped for driving in certain neighborhoods in the US, or profiled at the airport.

I am not color blind.  When I meet someone who is a different color than me, whom I don’t know, I can I be tense. Not out of fear for my safety but more, “How should I act?” I know from experience that my actions have consequences and I’m nervous I’ll blow the relationship. Despite years of practice in environments where I’m a minority, I still need a moment to get over the “otherness” of the person in front of me.

“Well, that’s a start,” some would say. “At least you’re aware of your tendencies.”

I recently thought of a conversation I had about cross-cultural work, where I had a chance to make a difference and missed it. Partly because I was more interested in touting my own professional horn; partly, because I needed to ferret out a deep-seated assumption.  And that assumption was horrible and deadly: “Brown people lie more.”

How can you tell?

I was at a work conference where we talked about obtaining life-stories of people in other countries, for use in non-profit fund raising.  I stated that I was quite proud of my charity’s ability to obtain are stories from people who are from the country they’re writing about. The people interviewing and writing aren’t from places like the US but rather like Kenya, or the Philippines, or Guatemala.

“How do you know the stories are true, that they give you?” a person asked.  I chose to respond with tactical advice.

I answered with a swift bullet-point list about about fact-checking techniques, training modules, and professional experience helping discern when a story doesn’t ring true. The discussion moved on to other topics.

I missed the boat completely, in thought and deed.

What I should have thought — and said (but more diplomatically):

  1.  Why are we assuming that because they aren’t American, or Canadian, or European [read: White, even though that’s not necessarily a given], that they are more likely to lie?
  2. Why is this conversation assuming that someone like me would be more capable of discerning the truth more readily in a foreign culture, while working through a translator? And of writing the truth? How many completely false stories have I published because I had no idea how wrong I was?

Why oh why in this multicultural world am I still buying into these old thought patterns, without even blinking?

I’m still working on this.  I’ve been listening to a fascinating podcast called “You Are Not So Smart,” which regularly blows my mind about how human beings think. It’s helpful to know I’m not alone; most of us are clueless about our daily thought patterns.   I always find myself more aware of how I think after I listen to a new episode.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, to which I owe a large percentage of my daily sanity, taught I could change destructive thought patterns. How do I find — and check — blind acceptance of racist thinking?

At any rate, as multiple Sunday School teachers have  said about sin in our lives, “You don’t realize how many bugs are on the windshield until the sun comes up.” May the sun continue to blaze.

 

 

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