Thursday, May 27, 2010

Do you stereotype? Are you stereotyped?

In America, as a person of color whose self-identity was strongly connected with a naive high school idea that "I am white," I have had many lessons about how my skin color and physical features make me different. People have certain perceptions about me. People make assumptions and stereotypes about me.

My naive views about diversity were from the point of view of a teenager from white privilege. When talking and thinking about race- Be politically correct. Be color blind. Treat people as equals. Don't be prejudiced. Embrace the diversity of America without dividing it. Don't make stereotypes or assumptions. Ignore color. Clump everyone into the race of humankind.

Then because I physically look Chinese I grew up and realized people are not color blind. We make assumptions and stereotypes. We can say the right things but often internally we are thinking and feeling something quite different. It is hard to treat people as equals. The world divides itself based on race, on culture, on country, on gender, on sexuality, on religion, on class.

I was able to change my teenage white privileged point of view because I was forced to as a person of color, but if I had been a white American I probably would have held onto idealistic teenage views for a long time. What could have pushed me out of my American white majority privileged box?

Diversifying my friends? Reading books? Exposing myself to diverse films, music, and magazines? Talking to people?

Travel. Living in another country and becoming a minority could shake things up. One would realize how natural it is for people to make stereotypes and assumptions about people based on the color of your skin and based on the country you are from. People are not politically correct. People are prejudiced and treat people differently based on skin color.

In China, white Americans are assumed to be energetic, open and religious. They are yelled at in English on the street by strangers and are photographed like super stars by cell phone holding local paparazzi. They are invited to free alcohol and meals. They become a status symbol like owning a fancy expensive car. Skin color starts mattering. One realizes people are not color blind. People are not politically correct. One starts realizing you yourself are not color blind. You also return the stereotypes and assumptions right back to the culture you are living in.

In a country like America where diversity is a norm yet where many of the issues are swept under the rug, maybe more Americans need to travel and feel what it is like to be an American in another country.

Instead of ignoring, trying to be colorblind, and politically correct recognizing and acknowledging differences leads to understanding.

1 comment:

M said...

One day I read that something like 1/3 of US Senators don't even have a passport. I was shocked... Totally agree. Live it, compare it and understand it?
Yay for international kids!