I have a friend who refers to people by their racial characteristics. She does this frequently, sometimes after saying “I’m not racist, but…”
In many ways she is not racist. She has friends and romantic partners from various ethnic backgrounds, and she appreciates all their good personal qualities. Yet, she persists in identifying them by race and she stereotypes racial groups by particular characteristics. She will say things like “Filipinas put up with abusive husbands” and “I don’t care if Joe dates short skinny little Asian chicks.” Occasionally, this would not be so bad, but she says something of this sort several times a day. It makes me very uncomfortable.
This got me thinking about stereotyping in general, and wondering at what point it becomes a bad thing. Is it ok if it is a positive stereotype, or funny? Is stereotyping about race always racist?
I come from a multi-racial country, community, and family in which we try to identify people by their personal traits. What kind of work do they do? Are they smart, witty, artistic, scientific, friendly, or athletic? I go out of my way not to refer to a person’s age, weight, skin colour, or ethnic origin. Is this, in a back-handed sort of way, also offensive? By leaving some things out of my descriptions am I reaffirming the stereotypes?
I try not to make assumptions about abilities and I never expect particular characteristics of certain races. In fact, I have sometimes tried to help minorities to integrate into the predominantly white culture, but my point of view comes from the strength of the majority. As such it’s a kindly racism, which may be the worst kind.
Thoughtful and thought provoking, Anne.