RANT: How Black People Act White – Part 1

According to Wikipedia, an Oreo is “a sandwich cookie consisting of two chocolate wafers with a cream filling in between.”[1] On the other hand, according to Urban Dictionary an Oreo refers to a person of colour who is “black on the outside and white on the inside.”[2] White on the inside “meaning anything from speaking proper English, achieving high grades in school, and having a diverse group of friends.” Just like that, a sandwich cookie has become a weapon used to belittle and discriminate an entire race of people.

Unfortunately, this term isn’t new to me. I’ve been called an Oreo many times in passing. When I switched schools to attend an art program in Caledon, Ontario I found myself in a predominantly white town. I’ll admit I was worried: difference isn’t comforting for a teen that simply wants to fit in. I was delighted to meet a girl named Avery though, in my math class, who I had a lot in common with. However, it seemed our common interests crossed a line when Avery caught me listening to the band, The Fray.

“Oh my God,” she said, “You’re so white.”

I thought maybe Isaac Slade’s beautiful voice was preventing me from hearing her correctly, so I removed my headphones and said, “Pardon me?”

“I said, “You’re so white,” she said, laughing.

I was so taken aback I became a mute. No one had ever said that to me before. What did that even mean? I mean, I knew what it meant, but how did that apply to me?

I gave her the silent treatment for as long as I could after that, but then I saw her again in science class in second semester. One day during independent study I was listening to music and Avery turned to me, frowned and said, “I didn’t think you’d like rap.”

I was so confused. Hadn’t she told me a week before that I was “so white” for listening to The Fray? Was I now not black enough to listen to rap? I didn’t know how to respond. I recall sitting on the bus wondering why some things were considered “black” and others considered “white?” Was it my job to know what actions suited my skin colour? Are white people not allowed to listen to rap because it’s “too black?” I didn’t understand what was happening then, but I definitely do now: I was being stereotyped.

Prejudice has many subcategories, many of which I’ve experienced myself. Where did they come from? What are there roles in society now? How will they affect my life? This essay does not promise to answer the perpetual list of questions that arise when speaking of prejudice, but rather with the use of personal experiences this essay will touch on racial and gender politics. As well as examine popular culture’s role in prejudice.

  1. Why do we stereotype?

There are three guiding principles that help us understand stereotypes: “(a) stereotypes are aids to explanations, (b) stereotypes are energy saving devices, and (c) stereotypes are shared group beliefs.”[3] More simply, stereotypes are tools lazy people use to when they want to understand a person without asking any questions— therefore not understanding at all. “It is an instantiation of categorization process” where people lump others into categories using minimal traits and/or characteristics.[4] Without even knowing you as a single being, the person claims to know you already based on silly classifications such as a love of fried chicken and rap music. Stereotypes become racism when their motives are self-enhancement. By “accentuation or magnifying differences on relevant dimensions may serve to underscore the positive features of some in-group [without] respect for out-group members, thereby contributing to a positive social identity.”[5] The issues with stereotypes arise when the aspect of cognitive categorization is accompanied by silly superficial patterns. In Stereotypes and Prejudice, Dr. Charles Stangor remarks,

“Discrimination leads to all sorts of curious patterns. As a traveler I may sit willingly next to a Jew and, if I am a Northerner, next to a Negro; but I may draw the line on living next door to either one. As an employer I may admit the Jew but not the Negro to my office; but at home I may welcome a Negro to work in my kitchen, but not a Jew. However, a Jew but not a Negro may sit in my parlor. At school I may welcome all groups, but try to prevent some from attending school dances.” (Strangor, 42)

In 2006 the ATF Gunwalking scandal brought Mexican cartels into the light the western world and romanticized the country’s drug scene on television. CSI: Miami depicted Latin-Americans as badass gang members from broken families and government welfare.[6] “Whether the portrayals are accurate or inaccurate, progressive or reactionary, liberating or subordinating, anti-essentialist or utterly stereotyped” is up for interpretation.[7] However, what is certain is the use of spaced repetition, “a technique that incorporates increasing intervals of time between learned materials” in an episodic pattern. There’s wonder why we remember types of characters and their action: The media does a great job at beating stereotype into us.

The media’s portrayal of certain cultures needs no more distortion and can simply be digested and registered as a “sense” making process. More simply, we stereotype to understand, however, we do so ineffectively. Our brains successfully pick up patterns, but the media helps to exploit that pattern by applying it to unknown variables–And Voila! A stereotype is born. As a result of this, people are labelled and degraded to the fullest extent. Thus, turning people into mere cans of soup.

[1] “Oreo.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Dec. 2014. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oreo&gt;

[2] “Urban Dictionary, November 1: Oreo.” Urban Dictionary. Web. 14 Nov. 2014. <http://www.urbandictionary.com/&gt;.

[3] McGarty, Craig. Stereotypes as Explanations the Formation of Meaningful Beliefs about Social Groups. London: Cambridge UP, 2002. 2. Print.

[4] McGarty, Stereotypes as Explanation. 2-3.

[5] McGarty, Stereotypes as Explanation. 7.

[6] Stein, Diane. “Latino Masculinities Under the Microscope: Stereotyping and Counterstereotyping On Five Seasons of CSI: Miami.” FIU Law Review, 2008. 395. Print.

[7] Ibid.

[8] McGarty, Stereotypes as Explanation. 92.

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