When we judge a book by its cover!

During a visit to a large library in Denver years ago, I happened across a section containing a comprehensive collection of books on gay and lesbian history and experiences in America. So out of interest in deepening my knowledge beyond the scant and mostly negative portrayals of gays in the media, I took a book off the shelf and stood browsing its contents. 

But when I overheard what I believe were obvious giggles from two passersby, I glanced over my shoulder at them and, beyond them, the rest of the crowded library when it dawned on me that I was the only person in the “gay section,” a fact that may explain why I was there alone.“Hum, I wonder if those seeing me in the gay section concluded that I’m gay,” I thought. 

Now although I’m heterosexual, I would not be ashamed if I was gay if that’s the way the good Lord created me. (Sorry folks but I’m not going to engage in the “dog chasing its tail” gay by choice or by birth debate). However, that avowal was immediately put to test when, worriedabout the association, I retreated with the book to another part of the library not wanting to be “seen” as gay. 

Though I didn’t realize it then but see it now, that retreat from the gay section was a pivotal onefor me in deepening my understanding of what it means to be gay, lesbian or bi-sexual and the struggle to not being found out as such.

Which brings me to a visual thought exercise, a segue into the “guilt by association” issue I’ll get to further down. 

There’s a book, “How to Be Less Stupid About Race,” I purposefully selected for this article. Now if you walked past me and saw it prominently on a table next to me, say in a coffee shop, I want you to respond to the questions below based on your racial background (black, white, Latino, Asian etc.), age and region of upbringing (North, South, East, West, outside the United States, etc.). Assume that you know me, thought you knew me or don’t know me as an AfricanAmerican. 1. What thoughts would likely run through your mind seeing me with that book?2. What assumptions, if any, would you then make about me? 3. How likely would you ask me about that book?4. What assumptions would you make about me had that book cover read “Make America Great Again,” or perhaps “Black Lives Matter”?

Now switching gears – no, books rather – assume that the last book you saw me reading in that place was the Bible. 1. How might your impressions about me change now after seeing the “How to Be Less Stupid About Race” book next to me this time? 2. How might your impressions of me change if the book on the now was the Koran?3. What might you think about me if you caught me suddenly hiding what I was just reading when you approached?

Guilt by Association

“Guilt by association” is a situation in which the perception of a person is colored by the company he/she keeps – or my case, the book he’s “caught” reading. The results are hastygeneralizations that appeal to emotions (fear, distrust, bias, etc.) on the part of the observer.

On the part of the person being observed, the result is that he/she may attempt to avoid the generalization, the stereotype threat, by hiding (or retreating to another section of the library!)

The danger is that without seeking to understand, observers may begin to distrust and distance themselves from the person they’ve observed and miss opportunities to become better informed. At the same time the person being observed wastes time trying not to make others uncomfortable.

They say that “you can’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, sometimes we all do just that.

And by the way, the “controversial” book shown here is actually pretty darn good!

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Echo World, Black Market.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com


5 thoughts on “When we judge a book by its cover!

  1. I do not read that good but thank u for sharing this article.this was vary interesting to me . I had had a job were people thought I was from the south but I grew up in a very diverse area played sports my entire life . Football boxing track wrestling. To me sports brakes all bearers. Respect and intergerty is earned. Any way thank u again

  2. I definitely wanted to type a quick comment in order to thank you for these magnificent items you are placing on this website. My particularly long internet lookup has at the end of the day been recognized with professional concept to write about with my family and friends. I would state that that many of us readers actually are undoubtedly fortunate to exist in a remarkable community with many perfect people with helpful points. I feel truly fortunate to have come across your web page and look forward to tons of more exciting moments reading here. Thanks again for all the details.

  3. I must convey my affection for your kindness giving support to individuals who really want help on that area of interest. Your personal commitment to getting the message up and down turned out to be particularly helpful and has enabled workers just like me to attain their ambitions. This important guideline implies so much to me and a whole lot more to my office workers. With thanks; from all of us.

  4. I’m also commenting to let you understand what a remarkable encounter my wife’s princess obtained studying the blog. She even learned so many details, which include how it is like to have a great coaching spirit to have many others quite simply have an understanding of chosen hard to do things. You truly did more than my desires. I appreciate you for distributing those great, healthy, educational and in addition unique thoughts on your topic to Sandra.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.