Box It Up

I really had to think for a long time about how stereotypical threat has impacted my life, and I realize as a white man this type of threat is either so small I don’t notice it or I really don’t find it offensive. That being said white men are probably more screwed up than everyone else, but I really had to rack my brain for a time where a stereotype was applied to me. So the story I am about to tell is a real first world, white, male privilege story, and writing/thinking about this made me realize how lucky I am. I could think of two times where stereotypes really had an effect on my life. The first was being directly related to me and in the second case someone was assuming that I held the same (racist) stereotypical beliefs as they did.

To give some context to this first story, from when I was born to my freshman year of high school I grew up on the east coast. Then for high school and college, I lived in Texas and Oklahoma. I had a really big friend base back east and for the most part identified as an east coaster. I never really cared much for southern culture, and I will admit that I generally associate people from the south as being backward thinking and most likely somewhere on the racism spectrum (the irony is coming). On a few occasions in the south I was called a “Yankee” or some other names along those lines but I felt that was more like a badge of honor. It didn’t bother me in the slightest, however when the roles are reversed that’s a different story.  All that being said I would occasionally take a vacation back east to see my friends and hang out with my family. I was out one-night getting drinks with friends and friends of friends when I started talking with this girl. We were just making casual conversation about what we did, etc.  As soon as I told her I was doing a Masters in Oklahoma here entire attitude change.  It was apparent this Ivy-educated New Yorker had just put me into the box of less intelligent/racist or some combination of this.  She asked me “how could you live in a place like that”.  I just responded that it was a financial decision and that It was a great school. Shortly after our conversation ended.  All that being said I don’t think anything but an ivy league education and a wealthy family would have appeased this girl. It’s funny, I know many people from a similar background and are friends with them.  Just this interaction really made me realize that our preconceived notions about where people are from can be so far from the truth.  It’s a wild idea that depending on if you are born above or below the Mason-Dixon line people are going to assume you are a racist or not.  This whole interaction made me realize how contrasting our country is even after 150 years after slavery was abolished.  It also made me rethink the stereotype I held as partly true.  I think the funny thing about the whole ordeal and this is true of every type of stereotype/ racism is generally the people we have biases about are people we have never met or had any interaction with.

All that being said everyone makes an initial judgment based on people’s appearance, however, next time don’t try to put someone in a box so quickly.  Listen to what they have to say and how they act before you make a judgment about them.

4 thoughts on “Box It Up”

  1. Thanks for sharing! It’s always rewarding to step back and examine the shoes that we wear and also try to walk in the shoes of others. I know people tend to be very judgmental even if they have no clue about who you are as a person or your circumstances. It’s really unfortunate because so many people miss out on great relationships and experiences due to their rash judgments. Cheers to not boxing up! Let’s appreciate the beauty and richness that we each bring to the table.

  2. I know exactly what you mean! Growing up in Oklahoma myself, people even out here in Virginia give you looks when you say you are from Oklahoma. What’s even funnier is that a lot of people from Oklahoma will tell you that Oklahoma is not “in the south”. Also, not trying to call you out or bring you down, but aren’t you putting that girl in a box when you talk about her being from an ivy league school? It’s hard to get around biases and stereotypes, I know from personal experience.

  3. I did my master’s in Auburn, AL and I had to laugh when you said you wore your “Yankee” identity as a badge of honor. There were times while I was living in the South that I was very proud to be able to separate myself from the stereotypical Southerner.
    -SE

  4. It is funny to know that the girl made an assumption so fast. Well, the important thing is the experience I guess. I am sure it changed your perspective over the years about stereotypes.

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