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Koji's Column

We All Look Alike

Do all Asians look alike? Where does such a stereotype come from? I’ve recently spent a lot of time studying other Asian folks—especially Japanese people—to see if there are any similarities between them and me. Personally, I think I look pretty damn unique—and handsome. My mother always tells me so at least!

The other day I decided to look into this. A quick Google search brought me to a lot of sites. My favorite was a Yahoo Answers webpage where I found the following question:

    Why do Asian people get called "look alikes" or "same"?

A lot of people weighed in on this topic, but my favorite answer to this question has to be:

    Billions of Asians and they only have slight differences in facial appearances, and they're all the same size! Same skin color! Same hair color! Same eye color! Europeans have many different shades of white skin and different everything! E.g. height, eyes, skin, structure of both face and body, fat and skinny, the list goes on.

Is this racism? Ignorance? Or just a lack of exposure to Asian people? Probably all of the above. (I won’t mention the fact that I assume whoever wrote this is a dumbass with the global awareness of a goldfish, but I digress.) But what I really want to know is when non-Asian people look at me, do they confuse me with Yao Ming? I have to be real; that would be pretty cool. Even being thought of as Ken Watanabe (the actor) or Ichiro Suzuki (the baseball superstar) would be awesome. I’m only a quarter joking here. As much as I like Yao, he’s a freak of nature. Ken is way too old to be me, and Ichiro… well, I wouldn’t mind being him. He’s a good-looking guy, talented, and around my age. What more can you ask for?

I wonder if this whole “look alike” phenomenon is just an Asian thing. Do Caucasians look at an African American and think they all look the same? What about Latino people? Arabs? My wife thinks they do. I wonder if people of color do the same? When they look at APIs, do they think we all look alike? I have a feeling they do. Actually, I do know. They do.

I wonder, in China, do they think all Japanese people look alike? In Korea, do they think all Chinese people are identical twins? Probably not. But I guess it would be fairer to ask them if they think all white people look alike. To my family in Japan, they all do.

This morning, as I dropped off my dog at doggie day care, I studied the other dogs. I wondered if an owner of a black lab could tell the difference between his black lab and another equally sized black lab. I couldn’t. I wondered then if it’s all just a matter of familiarity because maybe familiarity breeds recognition. (On a side note, do you think dogs can tell the difference? I’ll have to ask my dog about that when he gets home.)

Anyway, this is just one more reason why there has to be more Asian Americans on TV and film and on the covers of magazines. I think seeing more of us on a regular basis would make a difference and help everyone distinguish one Asian American from another. Maybe then, we can be seen as distinct individuals instead of a mass of identical looking beings. But that’s a big maybe.

Or we could just all stop looking alike. I guess that’s another option. So, to my Asian American brothers, today I’m wearing a white dress shirt, black tie, black pants, black shoes, and doggie boxers…whatever you do, avoid that outfit. You have no excuses. You have been notified.

© 2009 Koji Steven Sakai

identity racism stereotypes

About this series

“Koji’s Column” is a column series contributed by Japanese American National Museum staff member, Koji Steven Sakai. His column explores Nikkei identity and culture from the standpoint of a second- and fourth-generation Japanese Americana American male from Southern California.