Stereotypes are so heavily ingrained in our society that it is almost impossible to escape them and often even harder to avoid perpetuating them. Some of us unconsciously promote negative opinions or feelings towards the people with different genders,sexual orientations, or other races without attempting to actively do so. Most stereotypes were created as a way to dehumanize or humiliate certain aspects about specific groups of people, and while we are able to realize the error in this, somehow we have still allowed these negative depictions to live and thrive throughout several generations.
How do we do it?
Okay, so we know why they exist- but they how isn’t as clear. How have we managed to take these archetypal depictions and make them the society’s standard of what a person should be. What could be so powerful that it has the power to transcend human interaction and begin to shape our opinion and tell us everything we know about a person or group of people before we have even met them. Oh, well the media of course. Television, movies,music,books,social media all of it.A person in a foreign country, or even another part of your own country, can watch a movie and learn all there is to know about that place and those people.
Everyone in California is tan with blonde hair and a valley accent,I know because I’ve seen it on a movie. I’ve never been to Canada but I know all Canadians are nice and I don’t even have to think about traveling in Africa because they’re always fighting! (We could do an entire post about the stereotypes plaguing the countries in Africa- but I digress!)Now, we obviously know all of these things aren’t true but they are opinions that are held by large amounts of people whose only reasons for believing that they are genuine statements stems from what they are seeing in the media. Pop culture plays a huge roll in how we depict people. It’s there to fill in the gaps when we cannot do so ourselves. It’s there to entertain us and stretch truths in order to pull a laugh out of us. Sometimes we enjoy it, other times it deeply affects an entire community,making it difficult for society to see the reality beyond the stereotypes.
Most black women are familiar with the Sapphire’s and the Mammy’s. The over exaggerated and offensive depictions of black women. It seems when most writers create a work and decide to add people of color, specifically black women,they pick a go-to from a static list that continues to adapt along with the times. This token character is often more offensive than helpful and their omission would do more for the community and public perception than their inclusion.We see several ‘Mammy’ characters in The Help. Viola Davis is Aibileen Clark, a mild-mannered and loyal maid who works for a white woman half her age in the 1960’s,right in the midst of the civil right’s movement in Jackson,Mississippi. She spends her days quietly ‘Yes Ma’am-ing’,cooking, cleaning and caring for the young family’s toddler.Unmarried and still not over the death of her only child,she takes pride in her work and speaks about how she loves all of those babies she’s raised over several decades of her life.While her best friend, a short, fat, loud-mouthed woman known for her famous food with five children and an abusive husband, Minny, is clearly the exact opposite.
These depictions do nothing except draw out sympathy from an audience that should be tired of these narratives. The women suffer tragic lives and instead of being presented with a unique and interesting take on the regular people who lived and worked in the shadow of the CRM, we are watching them once again be rescued and enlightened by a white savior. Pamela ‘Pam’ James, portrayed by Tichina Arnold, one of the supporting characters on Martin is the perfect example of the Sapphire stereotype. Sure, it’s entertaining and funny watching the many fights she has with Martin and other characters, but it is also a negative depiction of black women and when you watch Martin make derogatory
comments about her hair or her skin it becomes a little harder to laugh. Most children begin to learn about the world through television and movies at a very young age. If the first images we see are inaccurate, exaggerated ones, it may become more difficult for us to discern the truth and work to stop perpetuating them later in our adult lives.
We are often left with distorted examples of other people. And we take those examples to be true without exploring reality.The issue is that we begin to judge a person, or an entire group of people, and determine who they are before we are given a chance to speak with them. The issue is that stereotyping leads to racial profiling and discrimination. It effectively drives wedges between different demographics which only leads to the cyclical pattern that the stereotypes follow.