The amazing events in Cleveland, Ohio, this week have generated some discussion regarding race and stereotyping.
I’m really not sure why people choose to focus on race at a time when three women were rescued from a horrific decade of their lives. My lack of understanding has been categorized into “white privilege.” I’ve heard the phrase before and I do understand it. In essence, white people are not as impacted by stereotyping as people of other races.
I’m not sure I agree.
Let me stop here and say that I open my arms to people. All people. The color of skin, nationality, religion and/or sexuality identity of a person is really not important to me. I am more concerned with the character of those with whom I choose to interact and those I call my friends.
Here in Northeast Ohio, we are not exactly a land of inclusion. It’s sad. But, we are also not only now celebrating integrated proms as some schools in the South did this year (yes, really, 2013).
I was fortunate to grow up in a home where differences were good. We were taught to understand that people are different on the outside, but it’s the inside that makes a person. The school district I went to was somewhat diverse, but predominantly Eastern European heritage and Italian Catholics. I’ve lived in Indiana where seemingly 95% of the people are white (and some are very racist), but went to a fairly diverse college where people were judged on character. I’ve lived on the East Coast where there is a great amount of diversity, but also neighborhoods are segregated – often voluntarily.
Yes, it is my “privilege” as a Caucasian woman to not face people judging me as much based on my appearance. I don’t worry about being served in a bar. I don’t worry about being a minority at work. Most skin care products are somewhere in my skin tone range. People in most television shows also are Caucasian. People “like me” appear in most advertising.
However, stereotyping affects everyone. It’s not limited to certain groups of people.
I am not ignorant to the stereotyping around me, particularly now as a divorced, overweight woman in my 40s raising my children and working in Corporate America. I live in an area of Ohio that people equate to “wealth.” (I am not wealthy.) I grew up getting free lunches at school and buying groceries with food stamps, but I’m not on welfare now. (I paid my own way through college working two jobs and then paying off student loans.) I’ve been overlooked because I’m overweight. I have been passed by for promotions because I’ve always been a working mom. (Apparently working mom doesn’t equate to “performer” despite other work-related accolades.) I’ve travelled in Europe and have seen the “ugly American” first hand and did everything I could to distance myself from that. I lived in New Jersey where most of the residents hate that they are all portrayed as “JerseyShore” characters. I lived in Indiana where the KKK presence is still felt. (FYI – not all white people in Indiana are racist or have mullets, drive pick-up trucks and live on farms.) These are just a few of my personal experiences.
I’ve written about white trash TV shows and how they promote stereotypes. Likewise, not everyone living on Staten Island is part of the mafia. Not everyone in New Jersey is part of the mafia either or even Italian as you’d believe if you just watched TV all day. Not every person from West Virginia works in coal mines. California is more than just Los Angeles. Italian Americans do NOT slap each other upside the head during dinner constantly. All Polish people are not dumb.
Bringing this back around to the events here in Cleveland. Watching the news, I could surmise that we all live in small bungalows with chain link fences, have bad teeth and hair, tattoos and drive motorcycles. I could perpetuate the legend of Lake Erie being so polluted that the CuyahogaRiver caught on fire (40 years ago) and that Cleveland is nothing but a blue collar, steel town. Plain and simple, it’s not true.
I watch with pride the interviews with Charles Ramsey. His heart is wonderful. The fact is that he took a risk (with Angel Cordero) and helped rescue these girls. I’m in no way laughing AT Charles. I am smiling because I love his honesty. I love his heart. He is a great soul. Whether he joined the rescue of the women first or second, it doesn’t matter. He did a wonderful thing. I appreciate his delivery. And, I could say that I’m offended by his comment about white girls running into black men’s arms only if something is wrong. But I’m not.
Do I believe that some people are laughing at his delivery? Yes. Did I laugh at the Antoine autotuning from several years back? Yes. Do I think that either of them in any way is typical of every single person who looks like them? No, I really don’t. I am looking at them as individuals; not lumping them with every other person with their skin tone or in their neighborhoods.
We live in an entertainment driven society. Everything is instantly posted online. People with big personalities gain attention. That’s what is happening with Charles. He’s a great interview. If the rescuer was a vivacious white girl or funny white guy, even someone with a great accent, I would wager that they’d have received as much attention.
It is all within our own control how we view the world. Do we choose to focus on the positive? Do we choose to hold on to stereotypes? I would hope and I believe that people do look for the good in the vast majority of situations. We all are stereotyped in some way. Do we want to focus on that or look for ways we are similar?
In this instance with all of the emotions around this remarkable event, why are we looking for issues? If we continue to separate ourselves and look for issues, there will be more issues. I’m certainly not going to hold my daughters closer around every Puerto Rican man just because this happened. I continue to advise them to be careful of EVERYONE. This man who did this horrible thing was a neighbor, a friend’s father. An everyman.
If we continue to focus on our differences, our differences become more apparent. Let’s face it, we ALL are individuals who fit into MANY different categories. Do we want to put ourselves in one bucket, be defensive and build walls or do we want to put everyone into the same bucket and celebrate our commonalities? Division leads to more division. Let’s come together – all skin tones, all heritages, all sexual orientations, all religions, all shapes and sizes – and find what we have in common. We’d all be a lot happier and more peaceful.