3.03.2007

Racial Stereotypes

In my family blog, "Huang Kid Khronicles," I recently posted about how
adding a second child exponentially increases the number of
combinations I have to worry about. In other words, when it was just
me and my wife, our relationship with each other was the only
immediate family relationship we had to worry about. Adding our
daughter meant I had to now concern myself with my connection to her
and my wife's connection to her. And now adding our son blows the
whole thing up even more.

I think this is why people gravitate so easily to racial stereotypes.
Let me explain. For most people, life is complicated enough in their
own little world. As a result, any effort to understand the
perspectives of others whose racial worldview is different from theirs
is going to be minimal. Many majority folks, for example, pat
themselves on the back if they can feel as if they're in the know when
it comes to the black experience in America.

But race in America is much, much more complex than black-white.
Let's keep things relatively simple and throw in just the Asian and
Latino populations, setting to the side other, smaller ethnic groups
whose experiences, while not as widespread, are equally distinct and
equally important to the flavor of our country. Just adding two more
ethnic groupings to the mix increases our linkages from one
(black-white) to six: black-white, black-Asian, black-Latino,
white-Asian, white-Latino, and Asian-Latino.

Let's further mix it up by stating the obvious: there is no homogenous
white, black, Asian, or Latino experience. I mean that in two ways.
First, there are marriages, families, and communities that include two
or more of those groupings. Second, even within those groupings,
there are a myriad of experiences and perspectives, separated by
length of time in this country, languages, and education and income
level.

This mash-up of perspectives is one of the things - some might argue
"the" thing - that makes America great. Only most people don't want
to take the time to understand and appreciate the nuances. Life's
complicated enough - why introduce such complexity? So we stereotype.
We simplify race in America to a level that is palatable to us. We
ignore or discount the opinions of some, marginalize others, and label
still others. And in doing so, we smooth over the intricate
variations in our experiences, the very variations that make life in
America so potentially interesting.

It's a crying shame that if you walk into any sort of ethnic studies
classroom on any college campus in America, it is likely that you will
find that the high majority of the students in that classroom will be
of the same ethnicity as the subject matter of the class. And it's a
crying shame that that same disinterest in the historical and cultural
experiences of others different from us is generally true of the
American populace.

Of course my wife and I are going to make every effort to be on top of
every permutation in our family, because together those one-on-one
linkages form the context for the health of our family as a whole.
Would that we all have that perspective about our American family:
300 million strong, wildly diverse, and waiting to be explored in all
its flavorfulness.

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