Everyone knows the word stereotype. Surely, most know what it means. One online dictionary defines it as: an oversimplified standardized image of a person or group. I thought that this one was pretty good; straight to the point, no BS.
I was really trying to figure out how the two words, “Stereo,” and “Type,” came together to mean, oversimplified standard image…. Type and typical are similar, so that makes sense. People who stereotype tend to group people by behaviors, speech style, skin tone, birthplace, etc.,
Notice I said “People who stereotype…..” Like I myself never have!? Sometimes I fall into the trap of mentally revising my own personal history to the point where, “I’ve always been above that.” “Who me?? Why, my wife is black. Of course I’d never…” Let’s just say here that that’s really not who I was before. We’ll leave it at that for now, come back to that some day, and try to stay focused here for just a tad longer.
Back in the day, “stereo” meant music and different sounds coming from each earpiece on my headphones, or from speakers on both sides of my shag-rug’d “bachelor pad.” It was wonderful, (and still relatively new then) to hear different instruments and parts of the music coming from left and right. I guess where I’m going with this is that even though each ear was hearing something different, the brain heard only the compiled version; the whole musical package– in “stereo.” So stereo, to us geezers anyway means 2. (Maybe 4 if you were fortunate enough to have a “quadrphonic” set-up. But that’s a Hi-Fi Retro-Techno blog for another time and place.)
Maybe they were going for double– or multiple– or…. I don’t know what. Sometimes I can think through and make head sense of certain words. Not every time obviously. Sorry to put you all through the way my brain works. But if any readers out there can shed light on this word, STEREOTYPE, and just what Mr. & Mrs. Webster (an IR couple I’m told) <just kidding> had in mind with it– please pass that along to us??
All this to preface a little discussion about something I saw this week while driving in & around my home town. I know after this great big build-up you’re gonna go, “That’s it!? He put us through that lengthy treatise on the English language for that!?” I apologize here and now if that’s your feeling after reading today’s post.
From my cell phone I bothered my wife Que at her work this week. Driving down one of our local stretches of suburban blacktop this week, all windows down on a perfectly gorgeous summer morning. Around 9:30 in the morning mind you– an African American woman pulled up next to me, (her windows down too) feverishly gnawing on a fried chicken drumstick! One greasy hand on her wheel, she never looked left to see me smiling a smug, “It’s true!” smile. My wife and I both got a little chuckle out of the chicken-lady drive-by and I began thinking more about stereotypes.
A few days later and a few miles from that sighting, I spied an African American teen in the backseat of his parents car smacking on some honey-barbeque wings. “How interesting’s that,” I thought to my pitiful self. (Pitiful because my brain really was trying to piece together some kind of connection between black people and chicken.) Hey– I’m only being honest here. I recognized (fairly) quickly my defective nature. But the stereotype thing– for that briefest of moments… I mean, if I hadn’t, like Saul (later Paul) had my eyes opened one day on “My road to Tarsus,” how easy it would have been for me just to let that stereotype flex and grow stronger.
It was a couple of people eating chicken. That’s it. Now granted, driving down the street, all windows open for all the world to see all the lip-smacking-goodness is hardly any way to beat down “the image;” that’s an individual choice, and not for me to judge. But let’s just go back to the dictionary definition of stereotype now…
“Oversimplified standard image….” “Black people love chicken.” That’s oversimplified alright. You know who I blame for stereotyping? I blame PEOPLE!! PEOPLE. People are to blame for taking the easy, quick, method of classifying and categorizing everything and everyone. We’re lazy sometimes, all of us. We’re all guilty sometimes and fall into that snare of trying to pigeon-hole other human beings. Really, when you boil it all away, (and in moments of clarity I’ve said this before) there’s really one type– it’s the human type. Someday, probably not in my lifetime, but someday– we’ll all understand this. Stereotyping will be a thing of the past.
Some fine day, ribs, chicken, and watermelon won’t define black people. Landscapers and lawn care guys won’t necessarily have to be Mexican. A male nurse or hairdresser won’t automatically be thought of as gay. Muslims won’t be instantly feared as bomb-carrying terrorists. There are so many more probably embedded in my own mind that, when I try I can’t even bring them up. Sad, because they’ll probably pop up sometime when I’m NOT mentally searching for one or two.
You probably have your own, am I right? Would it be wrong to ask you to bring them here? Maybe to drop them off and dump them here like the garbage they are? Bring me your stereotypes, your worn and overused, oversimplified images of other humans and groups of humans. Bring them here to the ZebraBlog and drop them off to stay forever. Let’s get them out into the open and expose them. Let’s talk about how & why they maybe started, then more important, stick the dagger in your own personal favorite stereotype right here, on our blog. What fun!
I want to say again, (because I’m feeling just a tad guilty… like the proverbial pot calling the kettle, uhm, black) I joke about stereotypes with my family. Trusting that the way I live my life– my actions and habits reflect my true feelings, I point out things like the chicken lady, or the Asian lady who can’t see over her steering wheel, etc. In some strange way, they’re fun to play with. But the seriousness of the issue is not. Stereotypes, taken to ignorant, hurtful extremes are a dangerous scourge. Let’s continue to do our parts to do away with them.