So there's this thing in society where people of the same race get upset if others claim they all look the same. Apparently, it's racist. I know a lot of people don't really understand that -- because, as we all know, racism is about feeling one race is superior to the other, so saying that two people look similar to each other and/or confusing their very similar features cannot be racist in its true definition alone.
I also don't believe it's always necessarily the evil act that many think. For example, if you confused me for Beyoncé, I guarantee you would hear no complaints from me. I would not call you racist. I would enthusiastically embrace your miniscule blunder, tell everyone about it, and love you forever.
Having said that, when I was about nine, I had a classmate who was a short, chubby Indian girl. I hated when a teacher called me her name, because surely everyone could see that I couldn't possibly be her, because I was so beautiful (according to my dad). I used to complain to my friends how I was being unfairly likened to another girl just because of skin colour. But, in reality, we were almost identical in appearance; eyes, hair, skin colour, height, and fine, I'll admit it, chubbiness.
It's an easy mistake to make, confusing people who look similar. I've done it with Benicio Del Toro and Javier Bardem (similar hair and eyes, names with one letter not pronounced as it reads in English). And I've done it with the two Japanese women who work at my hairdresser (tiny statures, similar hair and eyes, huge smiles, similar ages, names that start with the same letter). So why do people take such offence when these mistakes are made? Why are they not dismissed as merely a faux pas?
Because while the intention is usually not openly racist, it is very often lazy. It implies that you didn't care enough to take the time to really look at someone as an individual. And that is a very real problem for people of colour all over the world, as it often leads to dangerous acts of racial stereotyping and profiling.
I think the fact that it's never deemed 'racist' when white people are confused for each other is very telling as to how this is truly a problem for people of colour. Susan Sarandon recently revealed that she's often mistaken for Sigourney Weaver. Earlier this year, Helen Hunt had "Jody" for Jodie Foster written on her Starbucks beverage. The internet found both revelations hilarious. No one involved took it as a personal affront.
So why would there be an outcry if this happened to two people of colour? Could it be that because people with white skin, in general, have not had to fight for respect, rights and recognition in the same way people of colour have? Yes. Is this why people of colour are offended when someone hasn't taken the time to see them as an individual, with unique attributes and qualities to offer the world? Because historically, as a group they have been dismissed? Yes. And so the 'mistake" becomes an act of casual, or direct, racism.
If this seems like a double-standard to you, it's because it is one. You see, people of colour have been living with double-standards applied to them because of their skin colour for centuries. As a minority in countries such as Australia and the United States, they have had to fight the hardest for society's standards to be applied equally to them. So it very much matters to them that they are seen and heard as individuals.
I know it's an easy mistake to make when people have similar features and you don't know them well. But maybe in future, we need to consider how that may make someone feel, and think before we speak.
But, by all means, go ahead and call me Beyoncé.