Feb 12, 2012

White Women Don't Steal? Debunking 5 Stereotypes

Stereotypes are powerful. Once in place it is hard to break them, especially because every stereotype starts somewhere...there is almost always someone who fits the mold. What's troubling is when someone doesn't fit the stereotype, but is treated poorly because of it.

I came across this story by Jessica LaShawn in Chicago Now recently that got me thinking about stereotypes. Jessica was on her way to Las Vegas for the Miss America Pageant. She was asked by the flight attendant to put her new Versace coat in the overhead compartment. At the end of her flight when she stood to retrieve her coat, she saw a woman wearing one just like it. She reflected on the woman's good taste, waited for the aisle to clear, then went to get her coat. But her coat was gone...and she realized that the woman, who she'd thought had similar good taste to her own, had stolen her coat. When Jessica reported this incident to airline security, they didn't believe that her coat was stolen. Why? Because Jessica is black and the woman who left the plane in her coat was white. Apparently, white women don't steal...

Debunking Stereotypes

1. White Women Don't Steal
Image Credit: Flickr/Diamond Geyser
Someone needs to inform Winona Ryder of this fact. I am a huge fan of her work, but she is living proof that those airline security folks that Jessica LaShawn met with are 100% wrong. There are definitely white women who steal.

2. Asians Can't Drive
Charles Kwan via Wikipedia
Marchy Lee via Wikipedia
Image via http://brianwongmotorsports.com/

If that's true, then someone needs to tell these guys that they can't drive! Charles Kwan and Marchy Lee race primarily in Asia, but Brian Wong is a Chinese-American racer who lives in California. He is a NASCAR driver, proving that it is not just a sport for white men. Read more about Brian Wong on the Angry Asian Man blog.

3. Black Musicians only play R&B or Hip Hop
Someone better tell Iowa native Simon Estes that he needs to quit singing opera and try to get his groove on by singing some neo-soul or something... And then go on and tell Anthony McGill, the principal clarinetist at the Metropolitan Opera that he can't play any classical music because black folks don't do classical. Morris Robinson will need to figure out a new path for his life, since his bass singing with symphonies world-wide doesn't fit that stereotype. (Read and listen to more about some current black musicians in the field of classical music here in a podcast and post from WQXR classical radio in New Jersey.)
Image Credit: Flickr/Luther College Photos
Image Credit:Flickr/bo mackison
Image via http://www.morrisrobinson.com/
4. Latina Women are all Maids
Check out the groundbreaking work of scholar Gloria E. AnzaldĂșa, expert on cultural and social marginalization who wrote poems, books, and changed the academic landscape with her work. She greatly influenced my own thinking when her book This Bridge Called My Back was part of my assigned reading in college. Read about Linda Chavez-Thompson, Vice Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Learn about New Mexico's current governor, Susana Martinez. These women  most definitely are not maids. They are scholars, politicians, and world-changers...and there are many more Latinas like them across the country.

Gloria AnzaldĂșa via Wikipedia
Linda Chavez-Thompson via Wikipedia
Susana Martinez via Wikipedia

5. Muslims are Terrorists
Tell that to the children who go to school with my own children every day!

My neighborhood has never experienced an act of terrorism. My Muslim neighbors hand out candy on Halloween, take their children to the pool in the summertime, shovel their driveways on snowy days, and attend our school's family nights just like my family and I do. They go to work every day, and take their kids to the same before school program I take my kids to. There has never been an act of terrorism in my Iowa town. Our neighborhood school has never suffered from an act of terrorism. This stereotype is simply not true.

If all Muslims are terrorists, someone also better tell this lady about Dr. Oz...He is a Muslim born in Cleveland, Ohio...look out! His stethoscope must be doing something evil just because he's Muslim, right?
Image via Flickr/nayrb7

Sure, there are definitely white women who don't steal the way Winona Ryder did, and the way the thief who stole Jessica LaShawn's Versace coat did. And there are Asians who don't drive well, Black people who sing R&B, Latinas who are maids, and a very small number of Muslims who are terrorists. Stereotypes start because of a reality. BUT problems begin when people assume that stereotypes are true of ALL people who meet a particular description. 

Not all white women steal just because Winona Ryder does. But we can't assume that all white women are innocent of stealing. Not all Asians are bad drivers just because you've seen one or two who fit the description. Black people don't only perform R&B just because that's all you see on MTV. Latinas can be scholars and governors, despite the fact that the media seems to pigeon-hole them into being maids and nannies. And most Muslims are regular people, raising their kids, just like you and me.


  1. What a wonderful and enlightening post. 

  2. Great post Jen!  I work in a huge office and we have all races and genders there.  It is crazy the things I hear sometimes.  Stereo types are so deeply rooted in some people it is hard to make them see the light.  I hope one day those who judge everyone they meet based on color and gender will wake up!

  3. Love this posting! I can't stand stereotypes.

  4. Excellent!  As a black man in Mississippi, I've dealt with my share of stereotypes.  Unfortunately, for me, these stereotypes are showcased every day on reality TV.  It's like fighting a losing battle at times.

  5. This is why I wasn't a fan of The Help. It glorified the "Mammy" and "strong Black woman" stereotypes that are so easy for other races to feel "okay" about these people who are lost behind the stereotyping. 

  6. Great article, and so sad what happened to Jessica. I hope she was still able to file a police report. Totally not fair!

  7. Thanks, Tara! Isn't it hard to work with people who hold such narrow views? Since your office is filled with such a diverse group, you'd think they'd realize that not everyone comes from the same mold! Keep praying and talking to them...someday they'll see the light!

  8. Thanks, Eliss! Stereotypes are so irritating. Wish everyone could see people as indviduals.

  9. Keep fighting the fight, though! You are changing the world just by being you and defying those stereotypes! 

  10. Jasmine, I haven't read the book or seen the movie. It causes an internal struggle for me every time I consider it. Everyone says it's a good story, but seems like it's a story that's been told over and over again by the wrong narrator. Maybe when a black woman writes the story of her life as a maid I'll read it. Something tells me that narrative would be a little different.

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  12. Man, that is pretty screwed about Jessica LaShawn. What's interesting about that story and others like it, is that we are finally seeing the reverse of "black people steal" to "white people don't steal." I posted this video on my FB page recently, it's worth a watch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhRZjnF5uJk&feature=youtu.be It shows a white guy who is blatantly stealing a bike, and nobody turns him in, but when a black guy behaves the same, everyone is up in arms.

  13. I started reading The Help and by the time I got to the end of the first page, I was completely disgusted. The fact that this book and movie got such critical acclaim shows that we are nowhere near understanding our racist history.

  14. Holy cow, Martha--That video is whack! I've seen a couple episodes of that show and it is mind boggling to see how blatantly racist some people are. Thanks for posting it...I may have to do a follow-up post on "White Men Don't Steal"...


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