A Story

“Does your school have a band you can play in?” asked my unsuspecting drum teacher. I’ve been taking drum lessons for nearly a year now (though I’ve been drumming for much longer). “I don’t go to school.” My specialty is to give cryptic yet truthful answers. It drives most people nuts.

“Are you going to be on school break soon?” he asked another time. I started blankly back – my special powers failing to grant me the mysteriously subtle response I’m usually armed with – though this lasted half a second. “Oh, that’s right, I forgot!” he slapped his forehead, “you’re homeschooled!”

This is the story of how my drum teacher thinks I’m a 14 year old boy. This is the story of how he continues to think that, despite me not giving any evidence for or against this notion. This is the story of how everybody makes assumptions.

An Analogy

Give someone a couple of bricks, and they’ll build a house. Give someone a few pieces of information, and they’ll construct their own story of who and what you are. What’s the glue that holds this together? Assumptions. When you need to fill in a large hole, and you can’t find the right piece? Make a bigger assumption. When one piece falls out and doesn’t fit anymore? Make another assumption on top of it, and put it back in. What’s left is a shaky foundation of crumpling bricks, oozing with slippery goopy glue. The glue is invisible, but present. There can be more glue than substance! But the cement eventually dries out, and it becomes necessary to tear the whole structure down with a hammer and chisel in order to start over, to rebuild the foundation from the ground up.

In this world, the first 3 things someone will take note of about a person are: gender, age, and race (by which I mean skin color, not ethnicity). On top this they pile on class, sexual orientation, dis/ability, profession, family status, personality, community, interests, and tons more. These are all made “at a glance,” often using only visual cues. An unconscious, automatic assessment that defines your entire self in a matter of microseconds.

A Lesson

Everybody makes assumptions given the pieces of information they have, and the ones they don’t have. Put on your glasses, and try to “see” both.

17 thoughts on “Assumptions

  1. Ha, this makes me think of the time (when I was about 25) that I was substitute teaching in a 5th grade class and I was kicking a football around with a group of boys from other classes on the playground. (The kids were having recess and I got bored standing around with the other teachers!) One boy standing near me watched me for a bit and then came up and said “Hey, are you going out for soccer this year?” He didn’t realize I was a teacher – just thought I was one of his peers, one of the 5th grade boys. I just said “No, I don’t think so.” It seemed too strange to correct him.

    1. Kids always stare at me (uncensored manners). Even though they are very confused, most of them just know that while I look like them, I’m not one of them.

      I’ve asked a few teenagers about this, and they say it’s “the way I carry myself.” I look like a 15 year old, but act like an adult. Guess they can smell it or something.

    1. Yes, although in retrospect my analogy might be kinda cheezy 😛

      But at the end of my talks someone always asks “How can we be better allies?” or “What is one thing we can take away from this?” and I say: “Assumptions. Don’t make any.”

    1. Sigh. The other day my drum teacher told me how “when you are an adult, sometimes you have to choose between practicing (the drums, etc) or getting groceries and doing laundry.” I don’t know if this was him catching on and fishing for details on me, or just general banter (he does talk a lot). I just kept nodding as if this was news to me.

      1. blerg. this kind of thing can be super ‘larious, but it can also be super boring. like, “blahblahblahblah let’s not actually converse– let’s just make assumptions about each other.”

        lulz. “super ‘larious.” superlarious! it’s a word!

  2. I once (when I was about 25) had a woman threaten to call the authorities on me because every morning she saw me in front of the same building with a messenger bag full of books and a coffee in my hand NOT going to school. What actually happened was I just got a job in a new town at a new office and I hadn’t been cut a key yet. It was a strange experience because at the same period of time I had several groups of kids approach me and ask me what school I went to (being new in the neighborhood), what grade I was in, and what my parents did. I never imagined I looked that young.

    1. Haha, I can picture this perfectly!

      Yes, I don’t think I look 14, more like 16-17 nor do I think there is anything that would indicate I’m a girl, but people somehow see otherwise.

  3. Just a sidenote: “In this world, the first 3 things someone will take note of about a person are: gender, age, and race (by which I mean skin color, not ethnicity). ”
    Didn’t you want to write sex instead on gender? Gender is hardly written on people (though yeah people can make assumption based on the presentation and sex).

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