I remember when I first saw Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I always liked Audrey Hepburn, and the movie was mildly entertaining… that is, until Mickey Rooney’s character showed up. I remember being completely shocked. How in the world did they get away with that? Rooney played an embarassingly exaggerated, insipid Japanese stereotype—complete with coke bottle eyeglasses, a rising sun kimono, and r’s for l’s. I remember looking at my mother wondering, “Does she think this is funny? Does she think this is okay?” She didn’t. But apparently a lot of her peers did. And perhaps they accepted it because of one thing: Pearl Harbor. Just like a lot of us don’t really balk at the terms “towel heads” or “camel jockeys” because of 9/11 (and the subsequent madness). So maybe I was being too sensitive. To me, Rooney’s character was like blackface minstrelsy of old—a white person, or sometimes black, painting his face black with big pink lips painted around his mouth, talking slow and stupid and eating watermelon and all that. Most people, white or black, that see blackface today do not find it funny. But this doesn’t mean we’re free from racial stereotypes.
Apparently some in the Hispanic community are accusing major media outlets, like Fox News, of propagating negative Latino stereotypes. Some of them are even calling for Obama to investigate it. According to a poll they conducted, a higher percentage of Fox News viewers believe in negative stereotypes of Hispanic people: for example, that they’re stealing jobs from Americans or that they refuse to learn English. Rep. Raul Grijalva from Arizona (yes, he’s a state representative… he’s very oppressed) said the Obama administration needs to offer:
Protection from the stimuli that is being promoted out there that is causing the correlation between violence, stereotyping and the increasing racism in this country against Latinos.
The stimuli that is being promoted that is causing the correlation? Well, they weren’t kidding about needing to learn English. Sorry. That was mean. Anyway, they’re committing the causal fallacy: It could be that people who already believe these things about Latinos like to watch Fox News. It’s not necessarily the case that Fox News caused them to believe these things. And how can you protect people from stimuli? Chain them up in a cave so all they can see are the images you project for them on a wall? I think I remember hearing about that from somewhere…
I think most people’s stereotypes of Latinos center on one group particularly: illegal immigrants. And this is not really a racial stereotype necessarily. Illegal immigration is, well, illegal. I’m pretty sure most Americans have negative stereotypes of criminals. I don’t see any major group trying to get Obama to protect their reputation. Just wait. I’m sure one will show up.
Unfortunately, racial stereotypes, like all generalizations (he says generally), are unavoidable. No matter how loving or open they may try to be, everyone creates and believes stereotypes, racial and otherwise. And resisting the formation or adoption of stereotypes in your own mind simply to try to remain “open-minded” is a little daft, mostly because it’s not possible. I don’t think it’s our job to protect any people group’s reputation. If Latinos, or black people or Asians or whoever else, are tired of being stereotyped a certain way, they should do everything they can within their own communities to make positive changes. Most of these communities would be offended by me saying this. (Uh oh, that’s a stereotype.) Just like the black community was offended by Bill Cosby saying it. (Another one…) But it’s true nonetheless.
And, unfortunately, even if they successfully effect positive changes within their communities, racism and racial stereotypes will still exist. And we all have to put up with the racist stragglers. The best thing is to ignore them though. Getting upset with them just feeds their fire. As they say, “Haters are going to hate.” (I see what you did there.)