3.15 The “Oops, I Didn’t Know You Were…” Zone

The donor did not expect you to be a person of color; they never conceived that you were queer, or younger. The fact that you were threw the donor off for a moment. Don’t be surprised, all is well, you’ve simply entered into the “Oops, I didn’t know you were Black, Latino, Asian, Queer, Under Thirty, etc…” zone.

Perhaps your E.D. arranged a meeting with someone you never met or maybe your dialect misled the person on phone calls and in letters, or (my all-time favorite) maybe the donor wasn’t expecting someone other than the white male/female fundraiser they’ve always met with. We already know that it can be awkward for a fundraiser to meet a donor or funder for the first time, but it’s even more challenging and more awkward when you can see that they expected you to be someone or something different than who or what you are.

The look on their faces sometimes reminds me of an innocent little deer caught in the headlights of a fast moving car. When the unsuspecting person meets you for the first time and you see that deer-in-headlights look on their face, you know you have fallen into the “Oops Zone.”

I can tell right away when someone is surprised that I’m an African-American. I know the zone too well – I’ve been there as a fundraiser as well as a donor. Of course, I have had meetings that kind of felt like an “Oops Zone” moment for me at the time, but afterwards I thought maybe I was paranoid or just being sensitive. I recall my first encounter with the “Oops Zone” back in high school. I was naive and, given racial and cultural stereotypes at the time, it was typical. Unfortunately thirty years after my high school days, the “Oops Zone” is still prevalent.

Keep in mind, having an “Oops Zone” moment can be challenging to the progressive/liberal psyche. They try to hide their initial surprise, perhaps because they feel they’re supposed to be (or believe they are) progressive minded and having preconceived notions about a person’s color, age, or gender goes against the liberal’s basic rules of engagement.

We all make assumptions about people. Most times, the “Oops Zone” moment lasts only a second or two, then it’s gone. The “Oops Zone” that stands out most to me is the one where both you and the person you are meeting with are clearly aware that who you turned out to be, was not who they were expecting to see. In those moments you might see their body language shift, the tone of their voice may change or maybe the person unknowingly stares at you with a quirky smile, unsure of what to say.

When or if you find yourself in an “Oops, I didn’t know you were…” zone you have a couple of choices for dealing with it. Consider the deer-caught-in-headlights: you can slow down and hope the deer is smart enough or quick enough to avoid crashing into you. You could swerve and try to regain control of the situation and continue on. Another choice would be to plow right into the deer, but know that you may be compromising your own safety and the deer may be seriously wounded or killed.

How have you handled your own “Oops Zone” moments?