At JPM, I am the other brown woman. And that’s hilarious, but the joke’s on you

I get mistaken for another woman of Indian descent at a pre-J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference reception and the gentleman who is in error does himself no favors.


In the pictures above, the one to the right is me, as in Arundhati Parmar, editor-in-chief of MedCity News. And the lovely woman to the left is Anisha Sood, Partner, at Echo Health Ventures.

We don’t look anything alike — other than our skin tone and the color of our hair. And oh yeah, we both apparently wear black eye-liner, at least in this picture.

But there apparently was cause for confusion at the Echo Health Ventures cocktail reception Sunday evening in advance of the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. In a matter of an hour two men had approached me, one from behind and one from the front, who were convinced I was Sood.

The first was an older Caucasian gentleman who put his arm on my shoulder from behind and when I turned around, he did a double take.

He was looking for Sood and he was sure that with the long black hair, I was her. Her hair is shoulder length while mine is several inches longer. I laughed out loud, saying, “I am the other brown woman.” He didn’t show any reaction. Darn, I thought, that should have elicited at least a grin.

Standing next to me was Jessica Zeaske, the recently-named partner at Echo Health Ventures, resplendent in a blood-orange tunic (I am slightly color blind so it could have been just red). She leaned over toward the gentleman and repeated what I had said, adding that I wasn’t going to let him go so easy.

The poor man said that made sense. He initially thought I had said, “I am the other blonde woman.”

Yikes, I thought. That would make me wildly delusional. He apologized and went and found Sood. Jessica and I got chatting. Later, he brought Sood over, who I was meeting for the first time. He said, “You guys look alike.” I looked over at Sood and said, “We look nothing alike.”

To which she agreed and we all had a good laugh. To which, the gentleman, whose identity shall remain unknown said, “Is this helping or am I digging myself in deeper?”

Zeaske helpfully pointed out he was doing himself no favors and that we should switch to a new topic.

Soon after the gentleman left. Sood incredulously told me that she had breakfast with him just Sunday morning [or was it Saturday but, either ways, very recently] and she couldn’t imagine how he could have been so mistaken.

Roughly 20 minutes later, another gentleman — this time younger — confidently walked up toward me, hovering only slightly as I was talking with another gentleman. He was waiting as I acknowledged his presence. For a moment, I thought he was really looking for the editor of MedCity News.

But by the time he had realized I wasn’t the brown woman he was looking for, it was too late. He tried to retreat with his outstretched hand as I shook it and asked him, “You aren’t looking for me right? You are looking for Anisha?” To which he nodded apologetically and I pointed him across the room where Sood stood. He said sorry and left.

Before someone jumps to the conclusion that I am insinuating that white folks cannot tell faces apart or that all people of color look the same to them and how offensive this is, let me point out one inconvenient truth. I have been mistaken for some other brown woman by a black woman too once before.

Could it be a race thing where we are able to tell our own kind apart but find others similar? It’s possible. I have made the same mistake with two white men.

But at an industry event — JPM — that has been known to skew heavily to white men named Michael, perhaps the last thing any man of any race wants to tell two women, whether white or not, is that they look alike. And thereby somehow responsible for that confusion.

I will always laugh at such moments of mistaken identity where a simple “I’m sorry” will suffice. We all make mistakes. But if you look for reasons for that error, somehow to mitigate the initial slight, I will still laugh, but that’s because you are embarrassing yourself, dear sir.

Photo: Courtesy of Echo Health Ventures’ website