Chapter 16: Logos and Stereotypes
The author discusses symbols, subconscious sorting, and snap judgments – the tools our brains use to order and interpret our world. As an example of how this works with systemic racism, she notes that when someone says “slave,” she automatically thinks of a big, strong, black man. (I found that weird at first. The Romans took slaves from among conquered peoples. Biblical salves were similar. American slaves included Native Americans. But I guess if your main source of info on slavery effectively begins, visually, with Gone With the Wind and Roots – then this would be exactly the visual you had been taught.)
Of white people, she notes “no label is needed because it’s a given.” She goes on to recount how she automatically adds descriptions when speaking of non-white people (for example, “I spoke to a black man named Tom” vs “I met a girl named Debby.’).
The only times I can remember referring to someone’s race are either in physical descriptions (used similarly to “you know – David, the carpenter. The tall red-haired guy that you met at the pub.” “George, who lived next door to us when I was in high school. The Chimney sweep, with the really dark black skin.”).
The idea of referring to George in general conversation that way – “The mailman was late again. I talked to my black next door neighbor about it and he said the same thing” – seems ridiculous and unnatural. But then, I come from the west coast. When I visited my mother’s family on the east coast, closer to where the author grew up, I remember one house that still had a “black jockey” statue out in front of it. So maybe it really is a way people talk in that part of the country?
The author discusses how we “file away” racial stereotypes , and tells the story of a black man who use to smile at people as he walked down the street – and one day came to the realization that many of those white passers-by found him terrifying. He began to whistle classical music, and found that this somehow made them more relaxed. (I guess a black man who knows highbrow music is perceived as somehow “civilized” and less threatening….)
But here was my real lesson in this chapter.
I’ve learned that people of color do in fact see me as white.
In a meeting a year or two ago, I made the comment that “I really have to make an active effort to remember that I’m the boss.” The person I was talking to was aghast – she interpreted that as an assertion of power/control.
Fortunately, I saw that in her reaction and was able to immediately continue – to explain to her that as the Director of a technical group – I often find myself discussing technical problems, and have to remember that, although it may feel to me like ‘a group of techs around the table trying to figure something out,’ the team can never wholly forget that I am their supervisor, not their peer. If I argue for a position – it becomes a command and stifles discussion. It’s not that I have to remember that I am “in charge” but that I have to remember that to them I am never “one of the techs.”
The author here pointed out to me that no matter how it feels to me – to people of color in the room, I am always “a white person.”
The Study Question
What have you filed away? Create a column that for each of these labels. Next to each, 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 have written. Does it surprise you? If you are white, do you have any stereotypes for whites? Why do you think this is?
|African American||Asian American||Native American||Latinos||Whites|
|Gang bangers||Studious||Drunks||Gang bangers||Explorers/invaders|
|Welfare queens||Math/programming||Mystical earthwardens||Low-riders||White trash / rich snobs|
|Foods (fried chicken, watermelon, chitlins)||Martial Artists (Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan)||Reservations / hostile to outsiders||Catholic/big families||The Man|
|Musical||Zen/mysterious/ unknowable||craftsmen||Sexy dancers (salsa, flamenco)||No Rhythm|
|Athletic||Hierarchy/ formalized Respect||naturopaths||Conqueror- explorers / conquistadores||Christian (usually extremists /hypocrites)|
[Noted: The original instructions also included Jews and Muslims. These are not "races" but religions. I object to these things being conflated, as they often are in the name of hate. Since this blog challenge is based in racial awareness, I have chosen to omit them.]