I often say everybody can do what I do. What I’m doing is not rocket science. Everybody can walk up to a stranger and ask them to draw. However not everybody will get the same reactions as I do. No matter how open and willing to listen they are.
On the street first impressions are the difference between whether someone wants to listen to you or whether they immediately say ‘no’. Even before you started speaking. Those impressions are based upon the way you look: your physique, your clothes, the size of your backpack, your gender, your posture, mood and energy. A lot of it comes down to stereotypes.
Luckily, I have the perfect body for my work: It’s white, female and I don’t look like a supermodel. The stereotypes which are attached to a non thin white woman are friendly, kind, accessible. The color of my skin is an advantage. The advantage might not that big in every city or country, but it’s definitely here in the US. The stereotypes for black people aren’t as positive as they are for white people. A friend of mine in Texas is a pediatrician with amazing people skills. Open, kind and a good listener. Everything you want from a person approaching you. But when people see him for the first time. They see a muscled black man, not someone they immediately trust.. The thought that my friend won’t have the same reactions on the street is infuriating.
Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York said once his first priority when approaching people is to make sure he doesn’t come across as a treat. For him this is an issue because he’s male. Until I heard him talking about being a treat it never crossed my mind I could be seen as one. But I’m female and don’t look trained, so people regard me as harmless. Nevertheless we both use the same techniques to make sure someone trusts us. For example, we both make sure we’re on eye level or lower when we talk to someone. Only I phrase it as ‘being open’.
Also in my clothing style I’m open. I don’t wear make-up or dress up. Because of that I come across as genuine and it makes it easier for people to trust me. It’s a big plus I don’t look like a super model.