How long does it usually take to make an assumption about someone's ethnicity? Yesterday, I was on the bus and there were three people sitting next to me, one guy and two girls. The bus hadn't left yet and they were bored, so they passed the time by talking about the people they could see through the window. And they used race to describe the people. I overheard one of the girls say, "that White guy is cute." It took her literally less than one second to conclude it was a White male. She looked at him and, a split-second later, she made that comment. It surprised me how fast she made an assumption about a stranger's ethnicity. It's a little disturbing that people can jump to conclusions so quickly when it comes to race.
Many people have four "preset" racial boxes in their heads: White, Asian, Black, Latino. And they throw people into the box that fits best (based on the person's appearance). If they can't fit them into one of those boxes, they just avoid the topic of ethnicity altogether. And I have noticed this too; when people try to describe a person whose ethnicity is unclear, they just don't mention it. If that guy standing outside the bus window looked mixed-race instead of White, that girl would have just said, "that guy is cute."
I hate to admit it, but this is why I wish I looked more mixed-race. It seems like people who don't look like a specific ethnicity are less likely to be labeled racially, and if they can't be labeled racially, doesn't that mean they're less likely to suffer from prejudice? Of course I'm not saying they're "immune," as I wrote more than a year ago.