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Posts tagged ‘stereotypes’

From NWA to Trayvon Martin: How Assumptions Can Kill

In class, we discussed the moral panic surrounding rap groups such as NWA in the 80′s and early 90′s. Older black and white people, and many middle class moms were disgusted by what they assumed was violent, vitriolic, gang-related, and purposeless music. They assumed the message was “kill the pigs”, and that it had no purpose beyond inciting violence in young black youth. Of course, as anyone who has listened to the classic, “Fuck the Police”, knows, these songs were political statements and testaments of the conditions these young man had been forced into. However, many people in the US looked at the music through a racially charged lens. Black men are scary. Black men yelling “Fuck the Police” are terrifying. It makes no difference whether or not their families are being torn apart by police violence; they are scary and dangerous, and they are the enemy. This belief, held by a large segment of the population, led to the message of the song being lost in the shuffle for a lot of people.

Unfortunately, here we are 20 years later, and these types of stereotypical beliefs are still causing problems. They aren’t leading to the banning of rap songs anymore, they are leading to the deaths of young black males. Some people in this country still fear the black male, regardless of where they are or what they’re doing. That fear led George Zimmerman to shoot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager walking back to his dad’s house. Zimmerman has not been arrested, and this has led to protests around the country, especially since the release of the 911 tapes show that Zimmerman may have had a racial bias when it came to his suspicion of Trayvon. Stereotypes and assumptions are bad enough when they lead to moral panics over rap music, but when they lead to the death of a teenager, they’re inexcusable.

 

NWA’s classic “Fuck The Police”

“The Snowy Day”

In 1962, prior to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” and in the midst of the civil rights movement, a unique children’s book was published. The name of the book was “The Snowy Day”, and it was written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats. The book deals with the adventures of a young boy named Peter, as he explores the winter wonderland around his neighborhood that results from the previous night’s snowfall. What separates this book from the multitude of other children’s books written about similar situations is that Peter, the story’s protagonist, is black. Perhaps even more distinguishing about this book is that while other stories attempt to highlight the child’s race or make it a central figure in the story, “The Snowy Day” does not. Peter is portrayed, quite simply, as a child. His race is irrelevant for the purposes of the story, because the plot focuses more on the beauty of the snow, the simplicity of his experiences, the carefree quality of his happiness- experiences that all children can relate to. Thus by doing so, “The Snowy Day” breaks down the barriers of race by producing a timeless story enjoyed by children of all shapes, sizes and colors, rather than targeting their story specifically towards black people (which would, by alienating other etnicities, almost constitute a form of racial segregation in itself).

Today marks fifty years since the award winning “The Snowy Day” was published, but it is worth noting that the world of children’s literature has not changed dramatically since then. According to a 1995 study by the CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center)

In 1995, the CCBC found that out of 4,500 total books published, only 100 books written by African Americans, and 167 written about (without taking into account any probable overlap). (page 2 of article I used to write this post)

An even more troubling trend, according to Michelle Ann Abate in her book “Raising Your Kids Right”, is that:

Books for young readers reinforce racial, ethnic, and cultural hierarchies. (page 8, second paragraph)

Even when books are published for black, hispanic, asian or children of other ethnic backgrounds, the race of the child is highlighted. It is almost like a “for us, by us” stamp is attached to the literature, and the mere presence of this psychological stamp causes the very segregation that those seeking equality and integration vehemently oppose.

In chapter two (“Looking to Get Paid”) of Robin D.G. Kelly’s book “Yo’ Mama’s Disfunktional!”, there is mention of children seeking to use the avenue of professional sports (specifically basketball) towards success because they feel that their options are limited (page 415, course packet). I found this passage about Brian Collier, an award winning artist/illustrator, (page 2,”The Snowy Day” article on the Christian Science Monitor) particularly relevant to this situation:

“I don’t know what it was (‘The Snowy Day’,” Collier said, “but when I saw that boy Peter, he looked like me. I was like, Wow!” Growing up as the youngest of six during the often snowy winters of Maryland, Collier said he knew exactly how Peter felt watching the ”big boys” having their snow ball fights. The Snowy Day had subconsciously planted a seed inside of him, Collier said. For 10 years that seed waited, while Collier dreamed of playing professional basketball like the great Dr. J. But one day the 15-year old hoops fan stumbled into a freshman art class, and the seed was finally ignited. “It was an impact, it was visceral. You just feel it,” he said.”Just like the feeling of that first art class, Collier said America felt a bit of a spark with the publishing of the landmark picture book. “I think it put so much greatness into the world, a sense of diversity,” he said. “It unveiled something that was always there. The jolt was that the rest of the world, the publishing world, didn’t get it. They didn’t really get it until they saw it.”

This work inspired Collier to pursue a field many would have said someone of his race would find it hard to succeed in. The seed of hope implanted in him by the simplicity and beauty of “The Snowy Day”, however, resonated in his youthful mind, and eventually propelled him to success in the illustration and art communities.

In Elizabeth Chen’s book, “Purchasing Power: Black Kids and American Consumer Culture”, there is a section called “Ethnically Correct Dolls: Toying with the Race Industry” (page 358, course packet), in which she points out that (following the inspection and subsequent refuting of claims that Shani dolls’ butts were larger than Barbie dolls’)

These ethnically correct dolls demonstrate one of the abiding aspects of racism: that a stolid belief in racial difference can shape people’s perceptions so profoundly that they will find difference and make something of it, no matter how imperceptible or irrelevant its physical manifestation might be. (page 366, course packet)

It is my belief that this “stolid belief in racial difference” is exacerbated by the fact that the Shani dolls were produced specifically for black children. I believe that if those dolls had been released under the Barbie name and not under a demeaning, racially condescending subsidiary, those differences would not have been highlighted. In sharp contrast to the release of the Shani dolls was the manner in which “The Snowy Day” was presented. Rather than target the book towards black consumers, it was written as a non-racially binded children’s book. It was a book that all children could relate and identify to, regardless of the skin color of the protagonist. That to me is an extremely progressive idea, and an appropriate step in the right direction in regards to the dismantling of racist stigmas. Through the concept of understanding, of kinship readers felt towards Peter, they could learn that black children are not so different from themselves. Basic childhood experiences- laughter, wonder, excitement- are common ground that every child shares. And common ground is a huge step towards an ideology of equality in place of segregation.

Perhaps the greatest message “The Snowy Day” has left us with was summarized by the late Deborah Pope:

“As anyone who’s ever brought home a snowball could tell you, ultimately there is no color to put on children’s experience of snow.”

Cover of "The Snowy Day", courtesy of ChristianScienceMonitor.com

No more victim-blaming!

According to a news report from The Guardian, more than a month has passed since the killing of 17 year old Trayvon Martin occurred in a gated, middle-class community near Miami, Florida.

Trayvon Martin was walking back to his father’s girlfriend’s house, when he was shot and killed by volunteer neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman. Under the claim of self-defense, Zimmerman was released from questioning and has yet to be arrested. This is where the issue becomes problematic. Sanford Police argue to have released Zimmerman based on the Florida ”stand your ground” law, which allows Florida residents to employ deadly force against another person if they fear for their safety, and because of his supposedly “squeaky clean” record. However, Zimmerman had both a restraining order alleging domestic violence and a charge of assaulting a police officer, both in 2005. Furthermore, the 911 tapes show that Zimmerman followed Treyvon, despite being told not to by the Operator. This instance contradicts his claim of self-defense, for it puts Zimmerman in the position of the aggressor, not that of the victim. His claim is even further discredited when you consider that Trayvon was unarmed, was half the weight of Zimmerman, and was carrying nothing but a bag of Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea. How Zimmerman could have felt his life threatened by this young boy is beyond me.

Even more problematic, is how the media has handled this case. Fox News reporter, Geraldo Rivera said on “Fox and Friends”  that the hoodie is as much to blame for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was. He went on to urge black and Latino parents to not let their children go out wearing hoodies if they want to avoid racial profiling. Rivera argued that by wearing the hoodie, Trayvon was making himself look as a gangster, who are frequently perceived as criminals.

Much like the congressmen and individuals who spoke  at the 1994 Hip Hop Hearings, Rivera’s remarks seem to stem from a intergenerational divide. Both the speakers at the Hip Hop Hearings and Geraldo Rivera lived during the civil rights movement, a time when a lot of minorities practiced the “regulation of intra-community behaviors via the promotion of temperance, cleanliness of person and property, polite manners, and sexual purity” (AMS 310 Lecture, 2011). Minority communities used the politics of respectability in order to deter the stereotype that minorities are unruly and uncivilized people, and thus have their social reform movement taken more seriously. This might explain why Rivera, as well as the speakers at the Hip Hop Hearings, blamed the visible aspects of youth culture (style of clothing, music, etc.) for the problems that are currently affecting African and Latino Americans.

However, George Lipsitz argues that by blaming the hoodie or “gansta rap”, they are detaching the issues afflicting minority communities from their true socio-economic and political causes such as lack of jobs, lack of proper health-care, not enough funding for public education and social programs, etc (Course Packet, 395).  In a true democracy, people of every sex, ethnicity, and sexuality should have the freedom to wear whatever clothes they want and listen to whatever music they prefer, without having to fear for their lives or overall safety.

Are “Snacker” and “Lead Bottom” the real villains in Disney’s “Habit Heroes” exhibit?

Snacker, Lead Bottom, and Glutton of Disney's recently closed "Habit Heroes" exhibit

Last week yahoo posted an article in its news section addressing the recent closing of Disney’s “controversial fat fighting exhibit” entitled “Habit Heroes.” The exhibit was originally produced to raise awareness and “fight” childhood obesity. The exhibit included cleverly named super heroes “Will Power” and “Callie Stenics” to fight the not-so-cleverly named evil villains “Snacker,” “Lead Bottom” and “Glutton.” The yahoo article says that the criticism for this exhibits roots from its “potential to shame overweight children and misrepresent the causes of the global obesity crisis.”  The story uses the words of respected bariatric surgeon, Yoni Freedhoff, to argue that there is indeed a problem within the health realm of children but offensive games that bluntly make fun of and stereotype the personalities of overweight children is not the way to handle it and unfortunately it makes Disney the “schoolyard bully.” The article closes with health statistics for U.S children and the main causes addressing the closing of the exhibit, including a petition that was signed by 300 protestors before it’s closing that argued “the attraction and game feature negative stereotypical characters, traditionally used to torment overweight kids, and will potentially reinforce and strengthen a cycle of bullying, depression, disease, eating disorders and even suicidal thoughts.”

The lecture from Wednesday’s class addressed candy and sweets and how they get into the hands of children.  Clearly, the problem of overindulgence in sweets and unhealthy food in the current generation of children is a problem considering the many statistics outlining the rise in childhood obesity. I agree with the above yahoo news article that the problem should be addressed but Disney failed to do it in a respectable and considerate way. All in all, I don’t believe the bad diet of many children is their own fault so why should Disney encourage others to see overweight children as ugly, disgusting and lazy, much like “Snacker” and “Lead Bottom”? As discussed in class, the chances of children these days to spend their money on candy is a lot less likely and ironically, it was mentioned that the institutions, such as schools, that stress most about concerns of childhood obesity are the places in which children are most likely to receive unhealthy food. If big companies, such as Disney and Blue Cross, are willing to spend millions of dollars on exhibits and programs that stress childhood obesity then maybe they should am their arguments at the adults that provide children with unhealthy and be both considerate and aware of the effects in will have on current children struggling with obesity. I believe it to be a hard situation to handle but hope that big companies will be more considerate of their affects next time they decide to open such a controversial exhibit.

They have recently canceled the site where you could see and read all the characters of Disney’s “Habit Heroes” exhibit but check out the bottom of this linked blog, The Weight Loss Rollercoaster, to check out a couple of the villain characteristics.

 

Baking is for Girls

Easy-Bake Oven in the 90's from Website Children of the 90's

One of my most prized possessions throughout my childhood was my Easy-Bake Oven. I loved to spend all my time baking things and pretending I was a real chef. Easy-Bake Ovens were first came out in 1963 and are now manufactured by Hasbro. They first used a lightbulb to cook the products and now use an actual heating element to bake. The Easy-Bake Oven is created for girls to mix and bake cookies and cakes to decorate and eat. It is a small version of a real oven and is safe and easy to use for kids. There have been many different versions throughout the decades that it has been around and is still sold today. When you bought the oven it came with a few mixes and the result would be a very small cake, cookie, or brownie that you would eat. The price for an Easy-Bake Oven now can be anywhere from $40-15. In 2007 Hasbro had to recall over 900,000 Easy-Bake Ovens because kids could get their fingers caught and potentially burn their hands.

As a kid I never realized the implications this toy had for gender roles. It was a baking kit made for girls. Looking at this now it is funny to see how stereotypical this product is for women and their domestic role. In class we discussed the different ways toys and television shows can effect children and the Easy-Bake Oven is a good example of how girls might think it is their job to be the domestic one in the family. They later came out with a boy version in the early 2000’s but it focused on making gross looking food like mud cakes. This toy is promoting a clear separation of what girls and boys roles should be as kids. When I used this toy almost every weekend in the first grade I didn’t realize that it could have lasting impacts on my model of what a woman should do. Considering that I still love to bake now it could have had an impact on my life, but I don’t think it had any serious affects relating to my role as a woman.

 

Recess!

Recess! was an animated television series that told the stories of the lives of six elementary school children as they interacted with other children, teachers, and parents. TJ, Vince, Ashley, Gus, Gretchen, and Mikey, the six best friends that made up the base of the show, represented a wide variety of stereotypes. TJ was the typical All-American boy, Vince was the stereotyped super athletic African American kid, Ashley represented the punk look, Gus was the nerdy smart friend, Gretchen was the awkward gangly girl, and Mikey was the overweight but lovable funny kid. The show portrays the strict hierarchy and social order that exists in the whole 4th grade, including one child being “King Bob” and the stereotypical popular girls, “The Ashleys”. The first episode was aired in 1997 on ABC, and continued until 2001. After, reruns were played on the Disney Channel. I remember as an 8 year old waking up on Saturday mornings and hoping I wasn’t too late to watch my favorite Saturday morning cartoon, as we didn’t have cable and therefore didn’t have the Disney Channel to watch reruns on. In our course packet, Segel talks about the gender issues in childhood reading (67-78). Certain books are deemed “boy books” and others “girls books”. The same issue arises when children’s cartoons and TV shows lean too far towards one gender or the other. Kim Possible is a girl hero, so boys can’t like her! Recess mixed in an equal amount of gender roles into their show, making it a gender neutral production and good for acceptable sexes to like. However, it went further than that. Because the six main characters represented six vastly different stereotypes, a lot of kids could see themselves being like one of the main group (besides the gender differences). Usually a show wouldn’t focus around a normal African American boy who was really good at sports, but Recess had Vince in there to let to athletic kids feel a connection. The same stands for the rest of the characters. Recess didn’t show kids who had crazy superpowers or children who dealt with evil witches, it just had a group of normal fourth graders that every child could relate to. I believe it was so popular because every viewer could relate to their favorite character and the problems the group faced.

Recess Kids from Google Images

Comics: Not Just for Children

The article Comics: Justice League Fights Real World Hunger by Andrew Smith of the Seattle Times informs us that DC Entertainment has started the “We Can be Heroes” campaign to help the hunger crisis in the horn of Africa. DC Entertainment announced that through the characters of the Justice League they are trying to raise a goal of $2 million dollars and they will match the donations 100% up to $1 million dollars.  On their website they have quick interviews with people that have already donated, and they portray these people as “an unstoppable force for good… banding together.”

This is not the first time comics have been involved in public service projects. There have been anti-drug use promotions in the “Amazing Spider-Man,” and some comics encouraged children to grow victory gardens, recycle metal, etc during World War II. We talked in class about how comics often have an underlying meaning. Examples in class were the evils of the slave trade and the atomic bomb. We also talked about the stereotypes comic books encounter. I myself am guilty in judging comics to be all gory crime-fighting superhero thrillers. I also assumed them to be mainly for children. However, I was surprised in class to find how wrong I was.

We discussed in class how a lot of the comic books were a lot less child-like than we assumed. At the end of the Comics article above, Smith talks about how the accusations of too much violence and sex in these superhero comics for children have come back. However, the comics industry struggles with these accusations because they claim that most of their comics are not for children and clearly state for age 16 and above on their covers. The comics for children are clearly marked as well and do not contain the material that critics find unacceptable for children.

We also talked about how the comics were much more educational than we expected. Some of the comics taught about science and history. With this new campaign to stop hunger in Africa, comic readers and followers of the industry will be educated on the situation and given a chance to help.

Overall, there are much more to comic books than the stereotypes lead on. They can be educational, historical, charitable, etc.  We must learn to not judge a graphic novel by the cover and give them the credit they deserve for building such a sustainable industry that is able to endure all of the knocks society throw their way.