30
Jul
09

Race and Stereotypes in America

So the arrest of the Harvard professor for breaking into his own house has certainly stirred up the race debate in this country again. And, while I often try to avoid race discussions with certain people in my life, the other day I got sucked into just such a conversation. My son and I were at a friend’s house having lunch and letting our kids play when the subject came up.

As we discussed the situation, I mentioned that sadly it sounded like the professors first thoughts were that he was being stereotyped, which from what I know of the situation probably isn’t what the officer was initially thinking. But, I said, it’s my understanding that if you’ve had to deal with stereotypes your whole life, it might be the first thing you think of.

My friend, who is white, responded by saying, “Well, the majority of the time the stereotypes are true.” I was a speechless at first but responded by saying that of course, the stereotype will apply to some people in the group, but I don’t think they apply to the group as a whole and that no one should be prejudged based on their looks.

I’m sure my friend doesn’t realize what she said. Because if the stereotype is true the majority of the time, that would mean the following:
* there more black men who are gang members than there are those who are not
* most blacks can dance and play basketball too
* most of the Latino people in America are illegal immigrants
* there are more nerdy Asians who are smart in math than there are those who are best at other subjects, and most know some form of martial art
* more people from the Middle East are terrorists than those who aren’t
* most blonds are ditzy
* most redheads have bad tempers
Of course, there are people in each of those groups who fit the stereotype. I mean, we’ve all know ditzy blonds and fiery redheads, right? But it’s sad that in 2009, people are still basing their thoughts about others on stereotypes.
When my son is older, will he be seen solely as the nerdy Asian? Or the tae kwon do black belt? In our society’s pop culture, Asains aren’t typically the leading men unless it’s a martial arts movie. In America, Asian men aren’t seen as the attractive, get-the-girl types.
Not that I want our son to be all about his looks. But it does bother me that if things don’t change, he may be seen more as a study partner than a life partner. That’s one reason we are introducing him to Korean pop culture–so he can see men who look like him who are seen as attractive, who are good hearted and successful in all areas of society. Hopefully our family’s world will also reflect these truths and he’ll have Asian mentors who have found their niche in all areas of society–public service, medical, sports, and technology.
It’s my hope that our society is slowly moving past these stereotypes. The fact is everyone deserves to be seen for WHO they really are. They deserve to be liked or disliked because of the person they are and/or the acts they’re responsible for. 

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