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Can Stereotyping Be A Good Thing?

Is every form of stereotyping bad?  Oh sure, sure, we go through the past and see these often ridiculous and usually way over the top characteristics of maybe one or two individuals who fit the mold, and then see a new generation raised with this vision.  We can even witness, first hand, the moment when a stereotype becomes a cultural generalization, perhaps the only idea some children will ever have of the lumped-together group in question.  But is this always a negative?  Can these terrible images and ideas be used in any way for our benefit?

 

1Race: 

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A 1889 Puck magazine cartoon illustrating anti-Irish sentiments.

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I could go on forever showing off these racist pictures, some of these featured going all the way back to the early 19th century.  In each we see an image of both heroism and debasement (or one or the other), and a none-too-subtle message is made clear.  It is important to note that every race is targeted.  Some of the smugly anti-white messages, for example, were promoted by people claiming that minorities were incapable of being racist.  An interesting point made by one of the even more transparently racist provocateurs is that “Nazis are a minority too.  Why, then, are we racist?”  An obnoxious statement of course, but within the limited context framed around the argument, it is also a legitimate challenge.

 

No people are better than anybody else.  I am not stating this as one of those dense, liberal proclamations that claims we are all the same, either.  Of course individuals are superior to other individuals in various attributes.  Some are smarter, stronger, better looking, more agile, capable of doing things you might be terrified to try, while others are fools who die in stupid accidents you were wise enough to avoid.  What I really mean is that no one is that we all hate in pretty much the same way.  We take the easiest ways out.  We stereotype.  Generalize.  Class a whole group of people together as one and the same thing so we do not have to think about the person or people who inspired such irrational animus.  We do not have to consider the deeply-rooted self-doubt that inspires all those false memories of your never-was glory days, and prove to yourself just how much better you are than another.  White men have certainly done this for a very long time.  They are just a little more guilty of several millennia of crimes against humanity.  But this does not alleviate the guilt from all the other people of the earth.

 

Today it is so easy to trash the white man.  I will admit it–he certainly deserves it.  For far too long he has avoided his comeuppance simply because he ruled every corner of the world.  His racism and sexism was not so much a targeted hatred based upon fear and self-doubt, the way that it is today.  No, if there is one thing that the white man has historically been better than all other people at, it is world conquest.  The white man has always been great at building weapons and modes of transportation, things that have made the world both easier to access and much easier to destroy.  The convenience of so many of these brilliant innovations has made life far better and much worse.  It has inspired a great deal of greed and laziness.  And the ease that these inventions have allowed us has always made war a better option, far more deadly, and absolutely more decisive in its outcome.  Should we choose to turn this into a religious metaphor we could call the white man both the savior of mankind, and its angel of death, depending on how you have experienced his might throughout the ages.

 

But the white man, while not really changing much from the ideology of conquest from his bloody past, finds himself today in a far more competitive world, and he does not like it.  Didn’t I build all this stuff that everyone is using?  Aren’t these my ideas they are taking advantage of, he asks himself, not understanding the basic concept of what is meant by freedom (at least not in the way that slave-owners, abolitionists, and slaves themselves did.)  This is what happens when the germ of a good idea changes with the times, and then blows up to create a world that was never imagined.

 

The white man today is desperate, and he really wishes that some of his ideas were forgotten.  Yes, the white man has constantly been at war more with himself than with any other culture or race, because all of those great wars, ultimately, have been between himself.  Everyone and everything else has been collateral.  And yet today he finds that he is no longer quite such a strong majority, sees the opportunities he has placed before himself being snatched by women and other races.  He sees whole cultures of non-white people rising on both their own suppressed merits as well as by what they can take from the former master’s example.  This is not, in an way, an anti-white trend.  It is almost a public admiration for cultural movements that he has set into motion, that have subsequently passed out of his hands to be improved upon by modern innovators.

 

And yet this is a new thing for the white man, this feeling of being second-class.  Even in the days when women and minorities had their genius stolen or suppressed, the white man could convince himself that those ideas came about as a direct result of his benevolence.  Of course they deserved credit, they claimed, and were eligible for responsibility.  The white man needed to be thanked for everything he had done.

 

The world has gone in quite the opposite direction today, however.  It is not just about giving credit to the women and minorities who deserve it, but there is a new rush to disregard everything the ‘old white men’ may have ever done as purely the product of racism and oppression.  This is an incredibly naive view of the world, and, as with every trend of the past, forced assimilation will always cause social chaos and destruction.  White men, realizing for perhaps the first time in their existence that they are not innately superior to everyone else, do not benefit by this being pointed out to them every moment of their miserable existences.  The result becomes one of two things: they either become virulent racists and sexists, hating everything about the world, and seeking anyone to blame for not having been born into their ideal time, or the exact opposite.  There can be, and frequently is, a learned self-loathing and cultural guilt that is passed down to those modern infants who, while they may have benefited, were not in existence to be blamed for their culture.  These are the people you see and you laugh at–stoned white kids in college with dreadlocks, banging their heads to last year’s hip-hop hits, speaking in an affected urban lilt despite this not being their native tongue, like an American moving to England for six months and returning with a Yorkshire accent.  It is a transformed version of that usual phoniness so many people in their defiant, liberal years force onto their surroundings.  There is a stroke of daring, a threat to offend their parents.  But even this childhood stage has been consumed by racial and gender politics.

 

The men (most, let us admit, believing that somehow this will help them get laid) find themselves converted into a cult of revolutionaries, seeking to entirely upturn the daily order.  This is the cause, ultimately, of the rise in transgender identity.  In the past, plenty of males with feminine inclinations existed, but only very few of them believed themselves born into the wrong bodies.  And yes–I will outright state this: it is a deeply felt sexual urge, and not the cover-story so often used to battle against this that it is someone being their true selves.  They are their true selves regardless of what surgery they undertake to justify their self-image.  The only lie they are living is the one that they keep telling themselves.  And when I say ‘sexual,’ I will challenge anyone who disagrees with this aspect of a larger whole to admit that their gender identity has nothing to do with a masturbatory fixation, much like those who enjoy being bound and whipped do; much like women who dream in different colors.  To question this point: how is such a surgery more or less valid than a white person or black person insisting on racial reassignment surgery?  Is this something to truly validate?  Because, you know, plenty of white people would much rather be black (or so they tell themselves), and numerous black folks wish they were white (with similar self-deception).  And there is a reason I am lumping both gender and race together.  Here.  Look:

 

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Again, I could continue this slideshow until next year, and this does not include several of the other dominate categories of how different people are stereotyped.  Were I to included the anti-gay images on file, this essay could literally go on forever, and that does not even consider the uncountable volume of anti-religious ideas.  But the point I am making here I believe is crucial.

 

Look over these gender-images again.  Follow the flow of your reactions, from the grim, offended head shaking, to the horror, through the cruel laughter and down to the final either confusion or indifference.  Or, perhaps, let us reverse that flow, should you be of a different mind.  Which group of images portrays women badly?  Which men?  Should they all be taken seriously?  Or is there a limit to our sympathy and consideration?  Is the last one, clearly with such a staged picture, meant to undermine the cruelty of the cheerful violence that is promoted in those ads from the 1950s, or does it highlight a very real issue?

 

And this is how I will get back to the idea of stereotypes.  When we stereotype someone–anyone–we can see them as only the oppressors or the victims.  All of them.  All the women are beaten.  All the white men are monsters.  All minorities are oppressed in one way or another.  And while this is certainly not a fundamental truth, it still draws attention to a reality that modern times seem to wish to segregate into either moments from the discarded past, or issues that need to be constantly challenged.  Stereotypes give us an insight into our modern prejudices.  If we see the trends of stereotyping, we can watch the white man go from the monster he has certainly always been, enslaving, slaughtering, raping, brutalizing, and watch him transform into this cartoon image of weakness, someone everyone has something over.  We see him become the ideal of the thing most worthy of being looked down upon.

 

Looking at stereotypes we can uncover where we are as a society, and who it is that we wish to be and who we believe is worthy of our hatred.  This is not meant as a judgment of our worthiness, or whether anyone deserves the foul images lumped upon them.  I have no doubt that there are cases we could make to justify anything.  Nor, I hope, do I wish this to somehow come across as a defense of the white man (I mean, fuck that guy, after all.)  I am defending nothing.  It is my job to point these things out.  Cultural trends are often very subtle and, as with all notions of prejudice, they become nearly impossible to consider objectively.  Perhaps, if we can look beyond our own prejudices regarding prejudice, we might discover something beneath the bottomless pit of our cold hatred.

 

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