Friday, September 12, 2008


From time to time we'll publish essays, fiction and other writing by students. All students are invited to submit their work to a teacher to be forwarded to the blog. This essay is by Harini Natarajan, class of 2011. She was one of many students and staff at HHS who read Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink over the summer. The question for Harini's class was: "How might one's physical appearance affect one's future? Much of Gladwell's book explores the implications of judgments based on physical appearance. Expand on this idea in your essay, using evidence from both Blink and your own experience."

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell emphasizes the way people think differently of a man versus a woman or a black person versus a white person. Gladwell says that people are subconsciously racist and sexist, even if they feel that everyone is equal consciously. In the past, people thought this way consciously. Now, though everyone claims they think of everyone equally, most are unknowingly racist or sexist.
If a person is tall and handsome and white, they have the biggest advantage. In the section of Blink about car salesmen, the white males were quoted the lowest price of everyone. People automatically assume that they can cheat a black person or a woman but not a white man. If you look poor, you are even more likely to be cheated. But a good car salesman would not make judgments based on appearance. It was also shown that most CEOs were tall, white men. There were few women, blacks, and shorter people as CEOs. People assume that tall, white men are better leaders. Again, nobody consciously think this is true but subconsciously they do. In the past, women rarely played in orchestras. It was especially rare for them to play an instrument that wasn’t a violin or a flute, which were more “feminine” instruments. After some time, screens were put up at auditions so that judges wouldn’t make biased decisions. This worked instantly. The conductors showed much better judgment afterward. Gladwell suggests the same be done in court so that there are no appearance-based decisions made in the courtroom. Their judgment would only be based on whether or not the person seemed guilty of this crime. This would make the United States justice system more fair.
People assume that if you are not American, you cannot speak proper English. Halfway through my fifth-grade year, my family moved from South Carolina to a new school farther north. They saw that I was Indian and immediately assumed I didn’t speak English well though I had told them I’d lived in the United States my whole life. They enrolled me in an ESL program and tested me to see if I could speak English. They seemed shocked that I could read and write in English perfectly well. Though they had been told I had lived here, they still made me read and write and take several tests before they took me out of the program and said I spoke sufficient English. I don’t think they meant to be racist, but they subconsciously were.
One of the lessons of Blink was that people subconsciously base many things off of physical appearance. An uglier person would probably not be thought of as well as a good-looking person. A darker-skinned person might be thought to be less intelligent than a lighter-skinned person or not as wealthy. People think that women and dark-skinned people are more associated with being a bad person. Women are thought of as being only suited for housework and raising children, but not to have a full-time career. People make so many subconscious assumptions based on appearance. A woman might even subconsciously feel that they are not meant to have full-time jobs even if they do have jobs. Dark-skinned people might consider themselves inferior, though they aren’t. Consciously, they may not feel this way, but unknowingly they do. White people unknowingly feel aversion to a black person, or feel that a woman can’t do a “man’s” job. That is one of the most important lessons of Blink.