Chapter 15 of Waking Up White: and finding myself in the story of RACE by Debbie Irving
What have you filed away? Create a column that contains these labels: African-Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, Jews, Latinos, Muslims, Whites. Next to each, quickly write at least five stereotypes that come to mind for each. Do not pause, censor, or correct; rather, let emerge what will. Now look at what you’ve written. Does it surprise you? If you are white, do you have any stereotypes for whites? Why do you think this is?
African-Americans: black, kinky hair, baggy pants, big busts and big butts, bad grammar, hip-hop, loud
Asian Americans: smart, well-behaved kids, over-achievers, slant-eyes, straight black hair, value education
Native Americans: quiet, reserved, simple living, earth-friendly, turquoise jewelry
Jews: rich, know-it-all, pushy, precise, big noses, cliquish
Latinos: Hispanic, immigrants, talk with an accent, good gardeners, tamales, tacos, enchiladas
Muslims: head-coverings, skull caps, pray 5 times a day, immigrants, value education
Whites: patriarchal, superior, tentative, intolerant, emotionally cold
I’m not particularly proud of the stereotypes I carry, but I hope I’m beginning to notice when I hear myself thinking them. Big Al and I were watching a cute little movie on Netflix the other evening about a budding gymnast who was injured in a car accident. During her recovery she became friends with her physical therapist who had a hip-hop group that she danced with in the evenings. She invited the gymnast to come a teach the kids in the dance troop some new moves. I think the name of the movie was Full Out. Anyway, my first thought when she walked into the dance studio with all the street kids of color was that they wouldn’t appreciate her, and she would be uncomfortable as the only white person with a lot (10 or 12) of blacks. There was one Hispanic boy, and one Asian girl, but other than that everyone else was African-American. I admit that I lost track of the story for a while as I worried about the racial implications, but I was apparently the only one who noticed. Eventually the gymnast invited her friends from the gym to meet with the hip-hop crew, and any conflict was only between the competing interests and some sophomoric love triangles, not between the races. I’m still wondering about my reaction to the movie – I guess I have a way to go in studying my own racial assumptions and stereotypes.
If you would like to join me as I blog about my experiences with race, please read the book. It was life changing for me.