Friday, June 26, 2009

Compounded Stereotypes

As a litmus test for racism, I often hear the question, "If you're walking down the sidewalk at night, and you see a black man walking towards you on the same side of the street, do you cross the street?" A yes-answer is supposed to indicate that you have an ingrained fear of blacks, as evidence of personal or societal racism. Have you ever noticed that they always use a black man in the example and not a black woman, though? I think that if they used a black woman in the question, then less people would say that they would cross the street. This question is meant to serve as a litmus test for racism but it also serves well as a litmus test for sexism.
The thing is, everyone is going to have at least two sets of stereotypes applied to them; one for their sex and one for their race. They could have more if they are, for example, gay or handicapped, but it seems that two would be the minimum that anyone would face. The problem with the "black man" stereotype is that there are a number of stereotypes about African Americans that are also stereotypes about men; notably, that they are more violent, more likely to commit a crime, more callous, and more preoccupied with showing dominance to those around them. I feel that, because there are two traits for which the same set of stereotypes are applied to black men, these stereotypes are compounded.

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