Don’t judge my brother — he’s not a book!

(The Philippine Star) - August 18, 2013 - 12:00am

In 2003, former Miss International Melanie Marquez delivered one of her famous “Melapropisms” when she defiantly defended Joey Marquez against detractors, telling people, “Don’t judge my brother; he’s not a book!” 

Marquez actually gave an entertaining twist to the popular expression “Don’t judge a book by its cover” — meaning one should not make presumptions or snap judgments about something or someone based on external appearances alone.  The origin of this very familiar idiom though is not well known, with accounts claiming it first appeared in June 1867 in an Ohio newspaper called Piqua Democrat where a sentence supposedly went: “Don’t judge a book by its cover, see a man by his cloth, as there is often a good deal of solid worth and superior skill underneath a jacket and yaller pants.” Etymology scholars say “yaller” is 19th century slang for “high yellow” – a negative term for mixed-race people with light skin tone who are classified as black. 

In any case, the idiom aptly describes what happened recently when Oprah Winfrey went inside a high-end boutique in Zurich and pointed to a $38,000 crocodile leather bag, telling the saleslady she wanted to see it. The salesperson refused, telling Oprah “No-no-no-no-no — that one is too expensive,” handing over a less expensive bag instead and insisting, “This is what you want…” 

Oprah — who admitted she felt like doing a “Pretty Woman” moment by buying everything in the store and telling the woman “Big mistake!” — can definitely afford to buy hundreds of that bag with her net worth estimated at $2.8 billion. But the talk queen said she didn’t really want to make a big stink about it, declining to name the store during an interview with Larry King about racism. The interview has since gone viral, with many demanding an apology from the saleslady for discriminating against the popular media proprietor.   

It’s unfortunate that people can take on such a condescending attitude and misjudge others because he looks very ordinary, is not properly dressed, talks with a funny accent or does humble work – and then turns out to be actually more educated, more wealthy and even more “sosy” than some “feeling rich” snobs and social climbers!

Perhaps one of the biggest “misjudgments” we see today is Janet Lim Napoles who — unknown to many who thought she was just a businesswoman/trader — is actually the “Pork Queen” (as some people now call her) so influential that priests bring the Holy Nazarene image to her when she wants to pray according to whistleblower Benhur Luy.  People who knew Napoles didn’t realize that behind those ordinary looks lies a woman of massive wealth with 28 houses as well as properties in the US — allegedly making a fortune out of bogus foundations. As usual, the Filipino’s talent for sarcasm comes into play with jokes going around that Napoles owns the Upper House, the Lower House as well as the Malacañang guest house.

But levity aside, the Napoles-pork barrel scam is getting more obscene by the day, destroying the public image of lawmakers anew, with Filipinos wondering how much taxpayer money was siphoned out and how one person could amass such wealth in such a short time without being detected for so long. 

I remember an incident years ago about a wealthy Filipino who went to a car dealership at Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco planning to buy a Jaguar. The man however didn’t strike one as somebody who could afford such an expensive car, so the car salesman directed him to another place selling cheap used cars. Insulted, the man sought out the sales manager saying he wanted to buy two Jaguars – one black and one white. He whipped out his checkbook, saying he only had one condition before paying: That the salesman be kicked out. The manager readily agreed. It was a good deal after all — junking one employee for a profit of two. 

No doubt being prejudged for one’s looks or clothes can be such a dreadful experience. But then again, some people who are properly dressed turn out to be such crooks, like this wealthy looking lady who went to a jewelry store, and then ran off with the goods when the salesclerk’s attention was diverted. 

A few days ago, reports surfaced about “English-speaking, rich-looking” criminals targeting luxury car traders. One reportedly arrived in a 2013 Lexus with a Congressional license plate, saying he saw an online ad for a Range Rover. The guy gave a P2.5-million check deposit and left, returning hours later to test-drive the Rover. After driving around for a few minutes, the “buyer” — who was accompanied by an employee — stopped at a gas station, ordered the employee to buy coffee — and drove away when the employee got off the vehicle. Of course, the P2.5-million check deposit later bounced. 

But it happens — I myself was guilty of judging a person by his looks. It happened a long time ago when I was waiting for my flight back to Manila from Baguio. While waiting, I saw this sleek, gleaming brand new Lear jet parked on the tarmac. As I was looking around, peeping inside the aircraft, there was this shabbily dressed man standing by, and in Tagalog I asked him, “Kanino ‘to?”

The man — who obviously didn’t look like someone who owned a jet — quietly replied, “It’s mine.” Oops…  I just mumbled, “nice plane,” and then sheepishly left.

Moral of the story: Next time you meet someone, make sure you “don’t judge him by the cover — because he’s not a book.”

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Email: babeseyeview@yahoo.com

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