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FROM READERS: Modern culture aids subconscious racial stereotypes

Monday, April 21, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Renata Williams is a junior at Rock Bridge High School. This piece originally appeared in the Bearing News,  for which Williams is design editor.

When I was younger, I saw myself neither as black nor white, African-American nor Caucasian. I just saw myself as a little girl who happened to have a dark dad and a light mom.

I don’t really understand why race is so important to the identity of someone because I always thought that people saw me as just me.

The first time I took race into account was middle school, though it really hit me last year, sophomore year, when I realized people stereotyped me as “ghetto” because I’m mixed.

I gained this insight when a guy in my grade was talking to the people around me and as soon as he got to me, a dial turned in his head, and he changed the way he spoke. The guy made himself sound, in his eyes, presentable to me –or– “black.” In that moment, I was shocked and somewhat weirded out by the moment because I never thought I was seen as that stereotypical ghetto black girl. I honestly thought I was seen in an opposite way.

Since that incident sophomore year, I’ve noticed the little things that people do to “change” themselves around me. It’s almost like a switch clicks, and they decide a mixed or black person should get talked to in a certain way. It’s as if people think someone of the African-American race will only respond if they talk down to them.

In many incidents where my peers talk different to me or other African-Americans, people drop the N-word as if it’s just a normal phrase people throw around. It’s offensive.

Although, I have a problem not only with the N-word being used in any way, but also how other black peers let anyone use the word around them. The issue not only lies with the “users,” but also with those who let their peers use the word. It’s a derogatory term, and by letting anyone say it, it’s giving off the wrong signal that it’s OK for people to use this derogatory term to refer to the African-American race.

I think the word is seen as progression in the society if everyone can use it, but I don’t believe we’re there yet, nor do I believe we will ever get there if we can’t even break through other generalized stereotypes.

But when I think about it, I’m just as guilty as my peers. I find myself acting a certain type of way or speaking different whenever I’m around a different race, even when I don’t try. I’ve even started stereotyping my own two races, differentiating half of myself from the other half. I get offended by these people that stereotype me, but it’s hypocritical given the fact that I, myself, have stereotypes running through my mind as well. In order for people to see me as what I want them to see me as, I try to evade every black stereotype out there, stereotypes that I have let cloud up my mind.

It’s not that I’m ashamed to be mixed, but I am embarrassed for myself when people talk and act different around me. I feel like an outcast, as if I’m not good enough to be treated as an equal peer.

I don’t think my generation is trying to shun certain groups, but the intentions are clouded by mistakenly judging off of stereotypes. Just because our society claims “equality,” doesn’t mean we practice equality.

When we do these sometimes subtle changes around peer groups that feel different to what we’re used to, it’s like saying, “You’re different.” Not everyone is different, but some are going to feel cast away.

Which brings me to wonder why my generation is so obsessed with stereotyping people not only based off of what race they are, but also what they wear, how they talk or even how much they weigh.

According to dosomething.org, 44 percent of high school girls and 15 percent of high school boys are attempting to lose weight. If this generation is judging people so easily and turning a cheek to those who may not be what the outside shows, we’re not only hurting others, but we’re hurting ourselves.

Part of the problem lies in the way television portrays blacks and how my peers have interpreted it. On television, I’ll see an African-American yelling, fighting and living up to the common stereotypes that society holds. It makes me sad because that one African-American can have such a lasting impact on every other one, without even meaning to. The way they act makes America see blacks altogether as loud, obnoxious and “ghetto.”

A three-year study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Fordham University and the University of Michigan studied more than 200 African-American teens, ages 14-18, to further the understanding of racial identity. The study showed that, "older teens who had experienced more racial bias felt less positive about being Black. Teens who felt more racial discrimination were more likely to say that society viewed African Americans negatively."

It’s sad to me that the year is 2014 and there are African-Americans who still feel like being black is a negative thing. No one should feel as if they are lesser or not seen the same just because of something they have no control over.

And it sounds so cliché, but you really cannot judge a book by its cover. People are brought up from all different kinds of backgrounds that can seem so foreign to the naked eye. But giving someone who seems far-off from you a chance to express who they are could be the change our generation needs.

Black people don’t have to be ghetto, but if they are, who’s to say they aren’t a good person? I want to see my whole generation work on throwing out these stereotypes and getting to know one another as who each other is.

When people obsess about stereotypes it translates to how they are seen as a person, as well. If we just look at someone as a individual and get to know him or her we might soon take over the title of the “Greatest Generation.”

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's how. Supervising editor is Joy Mayer.


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