You know we all hate being stereotyped. We hate fitting into some mold or perception and then being judged before people even get to know us. Some of us push back against stereotypes so hard that it defines who we are. I tend to be one of those. When I drove a racecar I didn’t want to be judged as a tomboy, and just because I love shoes and purses I don’t want to be judged as frivolous or a shopaholic. I don’t want it to be assumed that I’m suburban or wealthy or republican just because I’m white. I don’t want anyone to assume I’m poor or a do-gooder or democratic or socialist just because I live and work in an urban setting. I know for a fact I’m not the only one that doesn’t want to be categorized, fit into a little box and dismissed.
The other day I met a woman who so closely fit the “angry black woman” stereotype that I felt like I was in a Tyler Perry movie. She didn’t exhibit any of the “strong black woman” characteristics that I love to see in girls and women in my neighborhood – only the anger and lack of self control and the need to demand respect while not showing any to others. And when she finally walked out of the room, she left behind a cloud of disbelief.
For a quick second everyone in the room had their jaw hanging open. Some of the people left behind in the room started to make references to “people like that” and “people in this neighborhood” and “so typical” and so on. Other parents came in, were perfectly polite, respectful, delightful, professional – and also mostly African American – but regardless of all the stereotype-shattering people who came in, people are still talking about the one who confirmed their pre-conceived notions.
This is powerful. I remember learning in college about the fact that no matter how often stereotypes are broken they persist. We remember the things that confirm what we already believe, and we discount anything that proves us wrong.
It saddens me, and it convinces me that our work is far from over. We are called to challenge the stereotypes until they don’t persist any longer. That means we’re in for the long haul. Will you join us?