#Blogtops Challenge: Tackling Stereotypes
I know. I know.
I’ve been very neglectful of you, my loyal readers (all 10 of you 😛 ). However, I’m not a quitter—at least not when it comes to friends like my good pal, Dave. So, even though we’re almost 2 weeks late here’s my weekly #blogtop for the topic, Stereotypes.
One time, when I was working at the coffee shop, a gentleman came up to me, ordered, and then in an attempt to make small-talk asked me the question that I’ve been getting for as long as I can remember: “What are you?”
Having had to answer this question for many years, I knew what I meant and gave him the answer he was looking for, the one that would place me in a comfortable box in his head. “I’m Chinese and White.” Nodding, satisfied with my answer, he replied: “I love Chinese buffet.”
This is just one of countless examples of people thinking that it’s their business/privilege to be able to categorize me in their mind—almost as if the absence of stereotype scares people so much that they NEED it in order to form the basis of a relationship.
As someone whose racial background is mixed I’ve at different times in my life found myself being subject to different stereotypes based on my appearance. I’ve been hit on by guys who call me “native.” Living in China, I was immediately sized up and was often asked: “你是哪国人” , Ni shi na guo ren? or Where are you from? Living in Minnesota, where the dominant group is Caucasian and the largest Asian racial group is Hmong I never truly found belonging in either place. Within the small community of mainland Chinese folks, my brown (not black), curly (not straight) hair, and white mother immediately give me away as not Chinese enough. Thus, in that community, I am considered ‘White’. With my white friends, sometimes they find it cute to draw attention to my Asian-ness (talking about rice, or math, etc.) to which I’ll laugh and identify with to a certain extent, all the while thinking in my head, “You guys know that I’m white too, right?’
I often feel like I have to throw myself into one category or the other, rather than show the full extent of my identity as a biracial woman. Something that I often tell those close to me is: The problem with stereotypes isn’t that they aren’t true, but that they’re incomplete. Sure, it may feel easy to categorize people by what you view as their dominant characterization: “My gay friend” or “The fat guy” or what have you. But what we really do when we do this is put a barrier between ourselves and our deep and intimate understanding of that person.
I think, too, further damage by stereotypes is done by continually reflecting back a narrow view of a person, so much so that the person begins to view themselves in that same, narrow light. For instance, just recently I was talking with a friend about my desire for books that talked about being biracial. She asked me if I had read books about being Hapa. After 27 years of either being white or Chinese and very seldom fully understood as a mixture of both, I had no idea what that even meant and thought it referred to strictly Hawaiians.
While I’m still unsure if I’m willing to label myself as Hapa, the fact that I didn’t even know that referring to myself in that way was an option, while also showing my own ignorance, I think is also a testament to the world I see around me.
We’re seeing an increasing amount of media attention around stories that are similar to mine. A few weeks ago I posted this link, which depicts the Changing Face of America. Here are just a few:
A few months ago, the following Cheerios ad was met with equal parts celebration and controversy:
However, the fact that things like these become so sensationalized means that they aren’t truly being accepted as the norm. I remember when gay marriage was first legalized, a few friends indicated to me being excited for their first gay weddings, to which I replied: “Why don’t you just call them weddings?”
Despite the fact that we continually move toward greater and more complete understanding of all of the people who we intersect with, I still think there’s more work to be done in order to overcome the incomplete stereotypes that we bring to our interactions with one another.
The key, I think, is to focus on building relationships with all people that you meet. When you meet someone and have an impression or stereotype of them, I think it’s ok to acknowledge it, but don’t allow that to turn your ears off to their stories and experiences that are what make them a whole and complete person.
“BlogTops” are weekly blog posts that myself, my good friend Dave, and hopefully you will join us in discussing topics that we feel the majority of millennials are dealing with or have dealt with in their lives. To keep it creative we pick one specific word for the weekly topic and then we are letting our imagination and creative writing take our blogs in whatever direction we so choose. It could be anything from generalizing the topic, to specific memories, to something serious, or funny. It’s anything goes! If you want to join along tag your posts with BlogTop on Twitter, WordPress, Tumblr, etc. and we will be sure to promote your blogs on social media!