When the Black guy coming down the street with his pants sagging and his gold teeth shimmering, do you feel the need to lock your car door? When the white guy tells the nigger joke about not being able to say nigger, as a Black person do you get offended? When you see a Mexican, have you ever seen just ‘a’ Mexican? Does every short person with squinted eyes have to be Chinese or Japanese (is that the only Asian experience)? Are all female basketball players really lesbians? If a man doesn’t like sports does that mean he’s gay? Do you get uncomfortable when you are approached by a large group of the opposite (Opposite – as if there were only two) race? Do all New Yorkers have such a bad attitude? Do all Southerners have nothing better to do than populate? What really is Poor White Trash? Have you ever thought interracial dating as the ultimate evil?
I was in Wally World (Wal-Mart) one Mississippi hot night and saw an interracial couple standing in line ahead of me. They had a baby with them that seemed to be no older than maybe 6 months, I couldn’t help but stare at the child, it was gorgeous. It was wearing neutral colors and no bows or gender specific clothing, hence the reference as ‘it’. After what I believe was a minute or so, the father (who was black) gave the mother (who was white) an exasperated nudge and pointed at me. I could only laugh and turn away. For a second the father looked as though he wanted to approach me but decided against it after the mother dissuaded him. I wish she had let him come. I’m sure as an interracial couple in the south they are used to the stares and the grimaces, but for him to be agitated shows his insecurity at his situation. But everyone isn’t out to get them. I could careless about the two of them I was admiring the child.
The experience brought to my attention the issue of stereotypes and how they affect us. As independent as we would like to assume ourselves, are we really? Every action has a reaction even if we are not present to witness it. How many times had they been stared at or ridiculed for being with one another? And every new stare conceived a new resentment that leads to a final straw. Was my stare the final straw or did I just make it worse for the next person who gives them a cross eyed look? Guess I’ll never know, but why must they be in that position in the first place?.
I love to read and I love philosophy. Often people walk by my desk and see Plato or Nietzsche or (yes I dare say) Harry Potter or whatever I am reading that day and I am asked “Are you reading that for school?” No I am not. Once I answer and they realize this is just light reading for me, I get the look: the look of I-must-be-from-another-planet-because-who-would-read-that-stuff-for-fun? I would. Then comes the awkward silence and the eager escape. Its like they expect me to roll out the stone dais and recite Socrates’ Apology so they give me a grunt and run away. What changed between them knowing and not knowing what I like to read? The implication changed. As long as all they knew about me was what they could see, they had something to identify with. My skin color implied I was Black like us, a state of mind, not the color. When there became a catalyst to alter that identifying factor, I was no longer one of ‘us’ but one of ‘them’. And how do you find common ground with ‘them’? I already knew it was uncomfortable for most people to think or see outside their self-inflicted boxes, but why?
Why do we not accept people for who they are instead of who we need them to be in order to be comfortable with them (read it now, figure it out later)? Doesn’t that implicate not being comfortable with self? My mother does not understand why I have read the Book of Mormon or the Koran (for example) if I am – for the lack of a better classification – a Christian. My mother is an educated woman, just a narrow minded one. I use her as an example because she fits a general mind set for the point I am trying to make. To her, what she believes is enough. She does not need to see another side, there is no other side, but isn’t that limiting? Isn’t that how stereotypes are born?
History of the worlds is taught in school for a reason. The most validated reason being if you visit a country outside your own it is good to know their customs, traditions, language and general way of life. What means red here may mean blue somewhere else. In that case good listening is not enough, you also have to understand what is being meant, but whose responsibility is it to understand both sides? Ideally it is everyone’s; believing in your own set of rules and appreciating the rules of others would be a moral standard that would allow us to see others as people and not preconceived notions. That again would be ideal. Reality, on the other hand, supposes that believing in one thing means disbelieving in something else. It has too, otherwise I would actually have to have faith in something or respect the differences of others and actually accept my own differences. Because isn’t that what stereotypes and prejudices are about – differences?
Our culture is a lax one. If we really paid attention we would notice how much we actually do stereotype one another. I was in the Arby’s drive-thru listening to Nickelback and the cashier screamed at me that I should turn to the Rap channel. All Black people do not listen to rap (I’m not one of those Blacks) and those who do, don’t necessarily listen to only rap. While driving through the homeless district, I was at the light when two homeless men, looking straggly and worn came toward my car and before I thought about it I had locked the doors. They never even looked my way. While reading Harry Potter I was told I was going to hell for devil worshipping. When I replied ‘If I am going to hell its not because of HP but rather this triple 6 I have burned onto my back’ I don’t think they appreciated my acerbic wit, but I didn’t appreciate their stereotype.
Unfortuantely, I can only control what I do and say. All the examples above took place in the course of half an hour. How many lives have been affected by the steretypical mumbo jumbo that we write off as ‘just a joke’? Become conscious of who you are as well as what you say…