WHITNEY CAIN, PHD

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Have We Met?

About 18 months ago I developed a new tic.  It makes everyone I meet look familiar.  Consequently, I say, “You look so familiar!  Do I look familiar to you?”  Then the person I’ve just met signals my tic is at work by searching my face for something recognizable, finally conceding there isn’t.  If we go on to explore how our paths might have crossed, we find we travel none of the same places, know none of the same people, and have never, ever, ever laid eyes on one another.

Last Saturday I met four new people at my son’s soccer game.  My tic framed them as long lost friends.  Since each heard me say “You look so familiar!” to the others, they swapped glances over their fair assumption that I am insane or stuck on delivering a lame line to new acquaintances.

A friend had a theory about my tic.  “Are all these familiar people white?  Like, white-white?  Like Anglo-Saxon, Scotch-Irish, Mayflower-white?” (Perhaps it’s helpful for you to know this friend is Black.)  “If so, there’s your answer.  They look familiar because they look the same.  Everybody knows white people look alike.” 

Certainly, she has something.  Search for an Anglo-Saxon/Scotch-Irish/Mayflower-white kid in a pool or a fair or some other crowded venue and they morph into a blonde of average height and build.  Examine a school carpool line and all the Anglo-Saxon/Scotch-Irish/Mayflower-white drivers look like young-ish, harried moms in Tahoes – even the couple of dads driving Prii (that’s plural for “Prius;” I looked it up). 

I thought it over.  Admittedly, my life is pretty segregated.  Probably most people I meet fit my friend’s Scotch-Irish description, but not all.  I can’t chalk my tic up to a decline in distinguishing within particular demographics.

Maybe something else is going on . . . . Maybe I see myself or my children or my friends or people I admire or want to know in these new faces.  Maybe I see connections not yet formed but ready for the taking.  Maybe people look familiar because we already know something of one another just by walking about in this same world.  Or maybe I need glasses.  Or maybe I’m a little crazy.  Anyway, just wondering . . .  have we met?

Whitney Cain