Life Pro Tip: Don’t Assume Demographics. Just Ask

A few weeks ago, I tried to sum up my bicultural experience on this blog. TL;DR – it’s tough to identify as Hispanic and American at the same time. It’s especially tough when you don’t look or sound like the media’s stereotypical portrayal of Hispanic. I look nothing like J.Lo, and I definitely do not sound “exotic” [eyeroll] 🙄 like Salma Hayek.

Well, I recently came across a real-life example of this experience … and because I am a true millennial who loves to overshare, I’m gonna give you guys the deets.

A few weeks ago, I ended up in urgent care because I was coughing and crying, and I did not feel like the delicate, fabulous mermaid I know myself to be.

Source: Giphy/SNL
Source: Giphy/NBC

I got there, and the place was pretty empty. A nurse called me to the exam room, and I waited to get treated. A very young and very curt doctor entered the room, talked to me for five minutes, prescribed me some steroids and sent me on my way. As I was walking back to the car with my boyf, I glanced down at my “clinical summary” and chuckled. Peep this, guys:


Okay, so they got my name, birthday and race right. Nice!

But the ethnicity? That is not correct.

Like, at no point during this visit did they ask me about my ethnicity. And the fact that it’s listed on this sheet means that it might have been crucial information for them to know. Ya know, in this particular case, it might have been important because U.S.-born Hispanics tend to have a higher prevalence of respiratory issues.

I don’t know if this information would have affected my interaction with the doctor and the treatment. In fact, I doubt it would have, but it rubbed me the wrong way that this healthcare facility did not take 3 seconds to ask a very simple question about my background. What else are they assuming people?

Do not assume; ask

I analyzed the situation with my cousin M, who is way smart + the director at a health-related NPO.

M told me how she constantly emphasizes to her interns how important it is that they ask their patients basic questions — no matter how silly they may seem. Their answers can determine the type of resources they receive from the organization.

If the interns are embarrassed to ask, M will tell them to say something along the lines of: “I’m sorry if these questions sound silly, but I have to ask in order to provide you with the best resources possible.” They never assume someone’s gender, ethnicity, orientation or sex assigned at-birth.

So, here is my plea. Marketing folks, healthcare professionals, everyone — do not assume the ethnicity or gender or background of your clients or patients. Do not base the service you provide on assumptions you make with your naked eye. It’s waaaay more beneficial to everyone involved if you just ask.

If you don’t make the effort to truly understand who you are serving, it will hurt your brand. People will notice that you aren’t doing a good job at connecting with them. And, you might even lose a segment of business by assuming a certain demographic of people aren’t interested in your product or service.

If you’re not client-facing, ask the questions in a survey (non-offensively, please) and let them tell you how they identify. (Need help on how to word stuff so people don’t end up hating your guts? Reach out to me. Seriously! I live for that shit.)

Trust me. It will pay off in more ways than one. 🙂

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