Passion trumps attendance in march against racial stereotypes

Wednesday, April 15, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
From left, JaNay Woolridge, Lana Mims and Alyssa Hollins participate in the March Against Racial Stereotypes on Tuesday. The three are members of Community About Raising Excellence, also known as CARE, an organization for minority athletes that focuses on community service.


These words flowed across the front of a large poster held by Lana Mims, one of five Community About Raising Excellence members who participated in a march against racial stereotypes on Tuesday.

CARE, which began at MU in the fall, is composed of minority athletes who participate in community service opportunities to help out around Columbia.

The march "is personal. (Stereotyping) is obviously still a problem," said Terry Dennis, an MU football player and member of CARE.

The march, organized by president Jason Miller, was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. But the start was delayed to give more people the chance to show up.

The five members of CARE in attendance — Miller, Dennis, track and field athletes JáNay Woolridge and Mims and basketball player Alyssa Hollins — formed a joint effort to recruit more marchers via text-messaging and phone calls. CARE member and basketball player J.T. Tiller stopped by to show his support but was unable to participate in the march.

The group waited patiently until about 2:30 p.m. Though no one else arrived, they grabbed their signs with smiles on their faces and began their march through MU, beginning at the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center and heading through Lowry Mall to Jesse Hall.

The small group turned heads as they laughed and held signs with colorfully crafted messages, such as "Free minds" and "I am not my skin," all while trying to recruit others for the march along the way.

Stereotyping "is something I see in everyday life and with people in general, not just African-Americans," Mims said. “Being a black athlete, I get off-comment jokes about not being smart, but only a couple of times, I’ve met people who prejudged me on my skin color.”

Mims said that once, while going door-to-door collecting canned goods for the Missouri Food Bank, she was subjected to being stereotyped. A woman who answered the door at one home commented that Mims should not have to collect cans of food anymore because President Barack Obama was in office. She refused to donate any cans, Mims said.

“I was tempted to say, 'They aren’t going to me!'” Mims said.

As the five CARE members marched up Hitt Street toward Lowry Mall, MU students who were passing by threw side-glances in the group's direction. Some smiled as they passed. Others kept their eyes forward, not acknowledging the group's display.

The marchers stopped by the statue of Thomas Jefferson next to MU’s Francis Quadrangle so that Miller could speak. One passerby paused to remove his headphones as he walked past but didn't stop.

“Forty-six years ago, a man stood on the steps of Lincoln Memorial and said ‘I have a dream,’" Miller said. "That dream is not realized when Muslims are being labeled terrorists. That dream is not realized when blacks are disappearing around campuses and Native Americans are practically non-existent. We are here because something is still wrong in America.”

The march ended with a group hug and goodbyes among the participants.

“Overall, I felt (the march) was a success," Miller said. "Anytime you can get any number of people together, whether it's one or 1,000, for a cause is a success. I’m very proud of my group and what they did. I am very pleased.”

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Ray Shapiro April 15, 2009 | 1:20 a.m.

("Stereotyping "is something I see in everyday life and with people in general, not just African-Americans," Mims said. “Being a black athlete, I get off-comment jokes about not being smart, but only a couple of times, I’ve met people who prejudged me on my skin color.”)

What about prejudice and stereotyping? Going to the word's Latin root, to pre-judge simply means: making decisions on the basis of incomplete information. Here's an example. Suppose leaving your workplace you see a full-grown tiger standing outside the door. Most people would endeavor to leave the area in great dispatch. That prediction isn't all that interesting but the question why is. Is your decision to run based on any detailed information about that particular tiger or is it be based on tiger folklore and how you've seen other tigers behaving? It's probably the latter. You simply pre-judge that tiger; you stereotype him. If you didn't pre-judge and stereotype that tiger, you'd endeavor to obtain more information, like petting him on the head and doing other friendly things to determine whether he's dangerous. Most people quickly calculate that the likely cost of an additional unit of information about the tiger exceeded any benefit and wouldn't bother to seek additional information. In other words, all they need to know is he's a tiger.

Similarly, sometimes it makes sense to use sex and race stereotypes. If I'm face with choosing among people who could become soldiers and succeed in a 20-mile forced march carrying 60 pounds of equipment, I'd assign a higher likelihood that men would succeed more so than women. Or, choosing among the general population who is more likely to be able to slam-dunk a basketball, I'd choose a black over a white and surely men over women. If I were guessing the race of an American most likely to win a Nobel Prize in science, I'd select a Jew over any other ethnic group. In none of these cases, is there necessarily a causal relationship but there's surely an associative one. Moreover, pre-judging and stereotyping doesn't necessarily make one a sexist or racist.
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Scott Parsons April 15, 2009 | 9:19 a.m.


Your reply, on the face of it, seems to make a lot of sense. In an evolutionary sense, being able to pre-judge a tiger by relating it to all other tigers you've seen is a helpful strategy. People who didn't follow this would be quickly killed off, while those who did would live on to teach their children, "Treat every tiger you see as though it will tear you to shreds."

However, there is a significant difference between doing that to a tiger and doing that to a person. Often, it's done with few facts backing it up. Many men (and some women even) would say, "Women are such terrible drivers--way worse than men," without actually knowing if that seems to be statistically true. It's folk knowledge. Additionally, pre-judging has very frequently been used to oppress people. For example, we look at the conflict in Sudan, and we see one group pre-judging all members of another group as inferior (and vice versa), and then they infer that that gives them the right to oppress and/or kill the members of the other group. If the historical use of pre-judging as an oppression mechanism doesn't give you pause, you need to take a long, hard look at your worldview. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, pre-judging dehumanizes people. Sure, it's okay to do that to a wild tiger, but when we do that to a black person ("I'm going to cross the street because I might get mugged") we treat them just like they are a tiger, denying that there is any difference between them and an animal. People are so much more complex than animals--ignoring that takes away their dignity and their humanity.

(Report Comment)
King Diamond April 15, 2009 | 10:44 a.m.

Did Ray Shapiro just equate black people and primal animals?

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