Stereotypes hurt Everyone

Posted in Opinion by yliza on May 1, 2008

People of Color have to deal every day with negative stereotypes and those who seek to use them to define us. Popular culture is awash with them, like Latino men as macho gang members and African Americans as drug-dealing criminals.

But it’s goes much deeper. American pop culture loves its stereotypes, and no one is safe.

Consider common depictions in the media of rural White folks. If I were to use Hollywood as a guide, I’d believe that all rural White people marry their cousins at an early age, have visible gaps in their teeth by the time they’re 30, can barely read and don’t care, and drink moonshine out of clay jugs marked XXX. While some people might actually fit this description, it’s not representative of most rural White people.

Consider also the way “nerds” are depicted. Just thinking about it evokes images of Red Bull, Mom’s basement, and Hot Pockets. They’re usually male and White, and they have trouble meeting/talking to people of the opposite sex. I haven’t just met nerds, I AM one, always have been. And I married one, too. We only occasionally drink Red Bull, and we think Hot Pockets are crap. Oh, yeah, and I’m not a White male (although I suspect you knew that).

These stereotypes may not be as harmful, but they’re just as wrong.

Years ago, I dated a Japanese man. We were both in grad school at the time, and one day he complained to me about how difficult it was to deal with the Asian stereotype of over-achievement. I’m ashamed to admit that I was mean to him at first, as I was dealing with the stereotypes of dishonesty, laziness and promiscuity, and I WISHED the expectation for me was over-achieving. That was wrong of me, because even that more positive stereotype was harmful. It put immense pressure on my boyfriend and almost drove him out of school.

Much of Hollywood is lazy. They knock out movies and TV shows that aspire to diversity but make little or no effort to actually research what they’re trying to depict. To them, diversity means White-centric, with a couple people of color here and there. Yes, there are exceptions, but those exceptions prove the rule.

I suppose we can’t expect much improvement until our media isn’t corporate, and what gets shown on TV and in movie theatres isn’t decided by rich White men.