My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

You’re Not Helping the Stereotype

We live in a predominately black neighborhood in the rural south. True, I have not lived here that long, but it has been long enough to see that some people really seem to relish living up to certain stereotypes. Whether is it the people with large trucks with the word “Redneck” plastered across the back or the mid-twentyish mother, adorned with “bling” being trailed by 6 poorly dressed kids as she talks to someone on her cell phone, these people really do exist.

What I currently find interesting is the dynamic between the Old South and the New South. The Old South had clearly defines roles that people played into. Whereas, this New South harbors those same stereotypes and then overcompensates in the opposite direction. Case in point, there are two people living on our street that fit the exact New South/Old South stereotypes.

One is an older gentleman named John (all the names have been changed because they know where I live). John is black, approaching 60 hard-lived years of age, and can tell you stories about picking cotton and the Klan. Mitchell is a young black man in his late 20’s who drives a very nice car, speaks in a forced Midwestern Weatherman accent, and only tends to talk to white people. He attends a white church, votes Republican, and works very hard in a menial job to maintain a lifestyle far outside of his reach. Both of these individuals live on the same street, have about the same financial situation, and are related in some way that I have yet to figure out. The thing that separates them is where they believe that they belong.

My mother loves to tell a story about John, who, after being paid for some yard work, did a little dance and proclaimed with all honest and excitement, “I’m going to get me some chicken feet!” Embarrassing as that was, Mitchell does the same every day when he lives the New South stereotypes. I expect to see him sitting on his front porch in black socks and sandals reading a Jane Austen novel.

John grew up in an environment where he was put in his place. Revolution is hard, especially when you are outnumbered. Mitchell grew up seeing people like John as an example of their own past and rebelled by creating a contradictory stereotype.

It was only after seeing these two people that I realized that we all can all fall victim of creating our own bad stereotype when we try to compensate for who we are most afraid of becoming. For example, have you ever wondered why the middle or lower class (strictly financially speaking) would ever vote Republican? I mean, it doesn’t take much common sense to realize that the Republicans are only going to cut taxes for individuals making over $250,000 a year. Those making less than that will end up paying the difference (there is an equal argument against certain people voting Democrat, but the Republican is a much easier example for what I’m trying to prove).

The Democrats out there immediately think that the person making under $250,000 AND voting Republican is dumb. They are an idiot who does not understand politics and is falling on the sword for people who wouldn’t even talk to them if they met them on the street. This is a huge misnomer that Democrats make (again, there is a similar argument for Democrats) about Republicans. What they fail to realize is that people vote who they think that they are or who they want to be.

Let me repeat that because it is important. These individuals, who only stand to be hurt by their actions, do so because they see it as an investment in a group that they will some day be a part of, or mistakenly think that they are a part of now. A fair number of these people live in places where have never been exposed to, or have only seen rare glimpses of, their target group of individuals.

Just like the people who vote who they think they are or want to be, the redneck compensates with his truck so that there is no question that he is indeed rural and not urban, the woman with the kids wants to appear to be young, virile, and not over-the-hill, and the two gentlemen from my street want to be seen as not belonging to the same shared history. We are all guilty of wanting to be perceived in certain ways, but we cannot let those desires turn us into stereotypes.

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