What a Cowboys Jacket Taught Me about Race and Judgment

Fri, Apr 5, 2024

I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan. 

If that repels you, good. It’ll mean this story will have an even greater impact. 

As a teenager, I had a Cowboys jacket that I wore to death. When I finally outgrew it, it went up into the back of my closet, awaiting the next scene in the story.

One day, my best friend came to my house to pick me up. We were going to a party, and he was my ride. Before we left, he asked if he could borrow a coat. He didn’t realize how cold it would be, and the party was outside. Out came the only spare I had: my old Cowboys jacket.

He wasn’t a football fan and knew nothing about the Cowboys. To him, it was just a borrowed coat—until we got to the party. If you don’t know, the thing about the Cowboys is this: You either love ‘em or you hate ‘em. And most people hate ‘em. He learned this the hard way. 

All night, everyone kept trying to talk to him about football. He kept having to explain that it wasn’t his coat and he didn’t know a thing about the sport. It was funny. But it also reminded me of something. 

Hopefully, you’re willing to stay with me here because I will take a giant leap.

My folks split when I was 7, and my mom raised me. But because of Punnett squares, I look way more like my dad. So, even though I was raised by a white, bible-thumping, 700 Club-watching, registered Republican, you’d be forgiven for thinking I had just stepped off the boat.  

As a kid, I knew zero about Pakistan. I have never been, I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t get to spend much time with my dad, and any time we spent together wasn’t done within the confines of anything resembling a cultural experience since he was super “Americanized.” 

If you had been to an Indian food restaurant, you would have known as much about “my culture” as I did. And yet, I was tall, brown, and obviously ethnic. I was wearing a borrowed Cowboys jacket assigned to me by God, which people always wanted to talk to me about.

I have no qualms about my Pakistani heritage. It’s a lovely culture with beautiful people I’ve learned more about as I’ve gotten older. I’m just saying that while I have no personal connection to it, others are quick to make broad assumptions based on my name and look. 

Please understand I’m not crying “racism.” I don’t think that’s what this is at all. We need to stop painting everything with the most extreme brush. I have caught myself on the wrong side of this assumption game many, many times. That’s my only point: We all do it all the time. 

It’s not easy to look at someone and assume. It’s a mechanism of survival. We had to do this in the not-so-distant past, or it cost us our lives. Back then, when tribes would annihilate each other with little to no provocation, different was bad. 

Judging is an evolutionary instinct. 

We have a natural and internal alert system that is triggered when someone is different. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s called novelty response, and it’s okay. 

However, it’s worth watching. 

Maybe we should just recognize when it’s triggered and pay attention to our assumptions.

Seeing how often my assumptions about people are completely off is so much fun when I start paying attention. The mountain of a man I knew would be an athlete is a hardcore D&D nerd, and the hot blonde I assumed would be a bimbo is the smartest person in the room.

What about you? What’s something people assume about you that’s not true?