Unmasking Stereotypes

Last weekend, students had fun dressing up for the Halloween dance. Halloween is that single day of the year when we are very much encouraged to be something we are not. Many costumes, however, have the potential to raise controversy over their portrayal of certain racial groups, or individuals. For example, while looking for my own costume this year, I came across outfits that advertised themselves as “sexy geisha,” “sexy Indian” and even “Osama Bin Laden” costumes. There is a thin line between whether a costume is funny or politically incorrect and offensive. Dressing up as something we’re not has the potential to promote the stereotyping and generalization of races and cultures at Andover. If what we are dressing up as on Halloween is a mocking caricature of a race or culture, then we are very much guilty of misrepresenting and stereotyping that race or culture. This attitude does not surface only when we choose Halloween costumes. It is something that we do everyday. When we make casual, race-driven jokes, we are stereotyping, even though we may not be aware of the consequences behind our words. Respect is fundamental to fighting stereotypes and creating a safe environment for all in our diverse Andover community. It may seem cliché, but respect for the identity of others—in race, culture, religion and sexuality—is something that we often fail to express. Only when we begin to respect and seek to learn more from each other, rather than judging and generalizing, will we begin to make progress. We must also acknowledge that stereotypes exist. We can only tackle these issues related to culture and identity when we face them head on, as disregarding them leaves students ignorant of their underlying sources. I believe the entire Andover community would benefit from an extensive discussion of race and the roots of such stereotypes. Stereotypes often have a drop of truth to them, and turning a blind eye to this truth is unrealistic. At the same time, however, we cannot let stereotypes or generalizations cloud our view of individuals. As the multiracial daughter of an Australian father and a Japanese mother, I was uncertain about which “Race” box I should fill in while taking the PSATs this fall. Neither “Caucasian” nor “Asian American” seemed entirely true, while “Other” seemed impersonal and broad. This experience demonstrated to me, in some small part, the limits that racial categorization can impose upon individual identity and made me realize that the stereotypes which emerge from such categorization, when perpetuated through our jokes and costumes, implement a culture in which racial insensitivity is considered common and acceptable. At Andover, we need to talk about the nuances of race rather than overlook, underplay and trivialize them. Ethnic and cultural identity are valuable aspects of who we are as human beings, but when we do not demonstrate proper respect for the history of others, we sacrifice our ability to fully understand our peers. So long as insensitive stereotypes are tolerated, they retain the ability to influence our impression of our peers, and this is fundamentally wrong. Our public perception should be defined by our actions, convictions and achievements—not where the tip of our pencil lands when we fill in an SAT box.