| Testing my "A-dar"
Trying to pick out who is what
1 | INDEX
"See how you score," said the e-mail from an Asian American friend, who got it from a friend. "Go to AllLookSame.com." My first thought was this is some kind of bad joke.
On the site, there's a test where you're shown 18 pictures of people who are Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. You're supposed to pick out who is what. I was intrigued. This was going to be easy. No problem, I'm Chinese. I can spot Chinese people a mile away. I have the Asian sixth sense, an A-dar.
I failed miserably. I scored a six my first time. A few days later, the same (and I didn't memorize the photos). A few weeks later, some improvement: a seven.
Could it be true? Do we all look the same? It turns out, the site was a joke, at least initially, according to AllLookSame.com's creator. "I had no idea it would get that much reaction," said Dyske Suematsu, who conceived site.
AllLookSame has become somewhat of an Internet phenomenon. Suematsu said the test has been taken more than 200,000 times since August 2001, and there is a healthy discussion on the site's message board. He said he got the idea for AllLookSame.com after his girlfriend, who is white, said she could tell the difference between Asian ethnicities but could not pick out differences between white people. They thought a Web site to see if Asians do all look alike might be funny.
"Like I said, it wasn't anything serious. It was a joke," said Suematsu, who is creative director for a graphic design firm in New York. "The funny thing is, some Asians do actually take it seriously and take it personally."
For cultural and historical reasons, Chinese, Japanese and Koreans in the United States and Asia may not have a lot in common, although they may, in fact, look the same. "A lot of time just to be polite or politically correct, people go to a difficult long way to find out (what ethnicity or race you are)," Suematsu said. "It's almost like a whether-you're-gay-or-straight kind of thing. You could say it's irrelevant, but at the same time it's important to know when talking to that person."
It seems I'm not the only one who can't tell Asians apart. The average score for the AllLookSame test is seven (39 percent). The best at taking the test are people who said they were from Korea, who averaged about 45 percent, Suematsu said. That is only a little better than the average as a whole, but better than those who said they were from countries in Europe, who were down around 33 percent. Maybe this partially explains why at every place I have worked, someone in the office will mistake me for the other Asian guy, even if we look nothing alike outside of dark, straight hair.
Then again, I thought the AllLookSame scores among Asians would be better (I thought I would score higher, too. Don't ask me for stock tips). Before putting up the site, Suematsu didn't think there was some A-dar that Asians had for each other. Since the site has been up, his opinion has changed a little. "I think there is a truth to being able to tell," he said. "The more familiar you are, the more distinct your eyes." There is some scientific evidence that may back up this theory. Researchers at Stanford University found that the fusiform face area of the brain, which controls the ability to recognize faces, was more active when test groups of African Americans and European Americans were memorizing and recognizing the faces of people in their own race. (The test takers in the Stanford experiment got a chance to memorize the faces and attach names to them, which is different than the quiz on AllLookSame.com.)
Suematsu's "joke" has become more serious. "It's something I'd like to laugh off and not put too much effort into it," Suematsu said. The response to the site was too much to ignore, and Suematsu posted a lengthy explanation for building the site. He now posts regularly about race and culture, and the site’s columnist, "Ms. Wu," has raised a ruckus with her views on fashion and interracial dating.
Suematsu would like to think race is something that doesn't matter if we treat each other as human beings, and it's something that doesn't have to be talked about. However, we are human beings, and often we cannot seem to overcome differences.
When he moved to the United States from Japan in 1987, Suematsu had a taste of what it is like to be an outcast. He finished high school in Hacienda Heights, Calif., near Los Angeles. It was the peak of the 80s, "Sixteen Candles" was a hit movie and Long Duk Dong was one of the most well known Asians of the decade. "That (Long Duk Dong) was the typical image of Asians," Suematsu said. "What promoted that image were people like me, who came as first generation immigrants. The second and third generation (Asians) actually hated me. In school, nobody would talk to me."
Long Duk Dong is now the answer to an 80s trivia question, but his legacy lives on. In recent years, there has been backlash against Asian Americans for the campaign finance scandal, the Wen Ho Lee spy case and the spy plane incident in China. A poll conducted in March 2001 found that 25 percent of Americans have "strong negative attitudes" about Chinese Americans and would be uncomfortable voting for an Asian American presidential candidate.
So Suematsu's feeling of not belonging is something Asian Americans still experience. AllLookSame.com may be a joke, and it may even be funny. Many Asians do look alike, and Suematsu is right, race should not be that important. His test is one where it really doesn't matter if you flunk.
Testing my "A-dar"