Perhaps the most obvious unspoken reality about race relations in America is the double standard. I mean, when Don Imus gets excoriated by the press for using crude racial slang and is ultimately fired, while Jessee Jackson is overheard calling for Barack Obama’s castration and black youths casually call each other “niggas” without so much as a slap on the wrist, what other conclusion can be made?
Maybe that’s why I enjoy Stuff White People Like — no, not the stuff, the website. It’s a satirical compilation of all things uniquely Caucasian and something of a pop cultural phenomenon. Of course, it’s more about a specific demographic of white people — upper-middle, left-leaning, urbanites, with “indie ideals” and penchants for organic foods, specialty coffees, and vintage anything. It’s really pretty perceptive and nails the emerging stereotype of these new Bohemian hipsters. And it’s a good laugh. But that’s the rub.
Is it just me, or are we not supposed to laugh at racial stereotypes… unless they’re our own race’s?
Sure, some stereotypes are unflattering, comic, and embarrassing. That doesn’t mean they aren’t true. After all, the perpetuation of any stereotype is directly proportional to its proximity to the truth. It’s why the SWPL site works. I’ve joked with my kids about being one gene away from trailer trash. The most painful part of that statement, however, is not my potential proximity to said stereotype, but that that stereotype even exists. Fact is: There are poor white trailer trash.
Yes, I understand you can’t pidgeonhole everyone. People, no matter how poor or down-trodden, must be respected. Unique circumstances, dynamics, and choices have brought them to where they are. It’s wrong to paint entire groups with a broad brush and then deride the caricature. Nevertheless, legitimate categories and quantifiable quirks do exists within races and cultures. I can chafe at the trailer trash stereotype all I want. But I can’t deny that some people fit that profile.
Last year, Vogue Magazine was accused of perpetuating racial stereotypes with its LeBron James / Gisele Bundchen cover. Detractors likened the image to “King Kong and Fay Wray” — big, brutish, black man ensnaring fair, sultry, white woman. Now, the controversy did not concern the “supermodel stereotype” (you know, shallow, anorexic, blonde). The issue was with this caricature of the “black athlete”. Why must we always see the brawny, thuggish, tatooed, black man, they said, and not the cultured, intellectual one? It’s a legitimate question. But it’s also where this double-standard comes in. For if you’ve watched any sports or followed the rap / hip-hop culture in recent years, you’ll know that the “black thug” persona is alive and well. Like it or not, there is a significant swath of Americanized black youths that have bought into this inner-city, gangsta, Tupak-graphy. Whether it’s bling, tats, bad grammar or baggies, these punks reinforce the stereotypes their parents so frantically try to disassemble. So is it fair to characterize all black athletes, rappers,or inner-city kids as thugs? Uh, no. But isn’t it equally unfair to deny the stereotype has a basis in fact?
And that’s where we find ourselves today — indignantly refusing to concede stereotypes and tip-toeing around very real cultural, sociological, anthropological, distinctives. I say we need to get over it.
Of course, everybody’s unique. Of course, no stereotype can perfectly encapsulate every individual. Of course, we need to give people the benefit of the doubt. Of course, people are not robots and, often, defy classification. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is stuff white people like.