Obviousness: The Unexpected Benefit of Phenotypic Dissimilarity
Ethnoraciality research consistently purports that phenotypic similarity to a reference majority benefits individual identification with a group; a notion reinforced by social identity theory. I present a counterpoint to this supposition. In-depth interviews with 101 white, black, Asian, Latino/a, and multiracial Jewish converts in three metropolitan areas show that converts who least resemble Jewish phenotypic stereotypes attain a sense of belonging within Jewishness most easily. Converts who are phenotypically similar to a Jewish prototype are tempted to pass as Jewish by birth, and those who engage in passing experience sustained anxiousness about being outsiders. Converts who are phenotypically dissimilar from the prototype do not see passing as an option, and thus bypass equivalently-sustained anxiousness and immediately work toward attaining a sense of belonging. Departing from the literature’s expectations, this case suggests that, when it releases pressure to fit a group prototype, obvious phenotypic dissimilarity can have a beneficial identificational effect.