Confused over Racism, Stereotyping, and Literature


*REPOST because I think this is worth discussing from all sides an angles.  Special thanks to Nephyo for being honest and well written in his answers.*


There is a new series on television called Legend of the Seeker.  It’s based on the book series called The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind.  I LOVE THIS SERIES, so you can imagine how excited I was to see that it was being turned into a television series.  I knew it would be partially butchered, but I sucked it up and started watching it anyway.  And it was while watching this series that a thought process set in.

I can admit I am prone to stereotyping people.  I don’t do it out of meaness -intentionally- ever.  However, in the course of a conversation I will tell you that all black people order chicken sandwiches with “orange drink” from McDonald’s and say “Have a Blessed Day” on their answering machine while being total chicken shits about haunted houses and scary movies.  I will tell you ALL Mexicans listen to Mexican polka even outside of a restaurant, live with thirty people in their homes, and can fit more of themselves into a car than clowns at the circus.  I will tell you all white Southern males go deer hunting, spit chewing tobacco, and think cowboy boots are really called “shit-kickers”, and let’s not forget all the women are barefoot and pregnant.  I am am equal opportunity stereotyper.

Now, I am not going to lie and say you would never hear these things come out of my mouth because you will.  I’m a hypocrite to an extent because I HATE labels defining people, yet, I do stereotype.  However, I am not racist.  I would never say any of those things in an attempt to hurt someone emotionally.  I’ve been hurt by those kinds of labels myself.  I would prefer that people can look at some of those stereotypes and laugh at themselves a bit.  If Carlos Mencia can do it and get rich off of it, then we should all be able to do it.

But then…then this odd defining moment happened while I was watching this television series.  One of the characters was dark skinned.  I want to say he is black, but I don’t think he fully is, and when I saw him my jaw hit the ground.  I was in denial…CHASE?!  Chase is not black?!  What in the hell happened there?!

I’ll tell you what happened.  I actually stopped and tried to decide if I was being racist because I assumed he was white.  The author (to my immediate recollection) didn’t specifically say he was anything other than white, so I assumed he was.  I actually sat around and pondered this for some time.  I quizzed my roomie and she does the same thing.  Now, I KNOW coming from her it is not a racial issue because she is in a interacial relationship, has been for years, and they are stupid for each other…or just stupid in general but I digress…HA! (Tammy and Jason, you know I love you and I am teasing!!!)  I quizzed Jason and he said he assumes they are white because most major figures in literature and television are white.  I quizzed a buddy from Scotland and he said he doesn’t do either one, but goes completely on the author’s description.

Then I finally came to a conclusion.  I blame one of two things on this line of thought.  1.  Terry Goodkind for not describing a major character well enough and 2.  Terry Goodkind for not throughly describing the character enough that I remembered it if he did.

Since, I quizzed everyone else in my life, now it’s your turn.  When you read a book do you picture the main characters like you if the author does not give a vivid description?  If so, do you consider that a form of racisim or just your way to identify with the characters?

Author: Jill Stewart

I am a 37 -year-old woman from Arkansas who is happily married to a Scottish immigrant aka “the hubby” “the hubs” or if I am calling him directly “YO YOU!” We’ve been married for 3 years and it’s been a crazy ride, and unfortunately our finances have been beat to death in the last few years. We have two dogs and a cat, no kids. The Blog- What’ll you find: Financial Information as we try to become debt free My attempts at working and trying to maintain a home to the standards I like My adventures in learning how to sew Arts and craft projects Funny tidbits from my life including living with a Scottish person, the dogs, and other oddball things that happen to me. What you won’t find: Much on children. I don’t have kids and I can’t have kids. Recipes- I don’t mind cooking, but unless it’s something really special, don’t come here looking for the weekly recipe! You won’t find it- unless you ask my husband. If you’re interested in what you see, please follow me on Facebook or sign up for emails! Most of all, leave a comment or ask a question! I am always happy to hear from you!

13 thoughts on “Confused over Racism, Stereotyping, and Literature

  1. Well…When I usually read a novel, I try my best to understand each character, and that understanding does not exclude their looks. I always welcome a vivid description more than an undernourished one, obviously, since the vivid description is helpful in understanding a character’s persona. I don’t consider it a form of racism or even discrimination, unless the vivid description is like “Oh, he was black and dangerous”. In the latter case, I would consider the example description racist. Most authors nowadays try not to make their character descriptions racist.

  2. You’re right. It’s an interesting thought. And being black I’ve thought about this a lot. I sometimes made myself imagine various characters who aren’t described very well as having different visual characteristics, but for the most part most of the time I assume characters are white too. And a part of me when I was a kid used to wonder if this was disloyal of me. And I used to think about how unfair it was that everyone seemed to just accept that people would assume characters skin colors were white unless explicitly stated otherwise. But it’s not so much prejudice or racism but how we’ve been indoctrinated as a culture. It’s very much unbalanced. My Mom has talked about this to me ever since when I was little growing up. And not just about race. Conceptions of what are considered physically beautiful human characteristics are similarly culturally construed as my Mom would often explain to me. There are such a thing a subtle subconscious biases that we all have and which often lead to unintentional stereotyping and unjust behavior. It’s only when this is taken to the extreme that it becomes racism.  This doesn’t mean we are bad people. It’s just how we are affected by our environment. But in any case it will take many generations for us to fully overcome these ingrained expectations and really treat everyone as if we were the same.Oh and I had no idea they’d made a show out of the Sword of Truth series.  I’ve read all of those books and although I liked them at first I came to hate them quite a lot by the end of the series so I won’t be checking out that TV series. But enjoy it. I hope they make my George RR Martin books into a series next! ^_^

  3. @nephyo – A very interesting comment! I wanted to write when you are white you imagine white people and when you are black you imagine black people. Then I read what you had typed and it kinda surprised me.

  4. @nattata – indeed it’s what you are familiar with not what you are that makes the difference. I strongly suspect if someone grew up in African and didn’t expereince much external television and media that person would imagine black people. But most black people living in the US will probably not imagine black people most of the time unless they are willing themselves to do so.

  5. @sortingandforting – Why would you consider that a racist remark if someone was “black and dangerous” if that is part of the author’s description?  Would you consider it the same if any other race was listed?@nephyo – Thank you for your very well thought out response.  In all truthfullness, the more I think about this issue, the more I think it is not a racist thing at all, but in all seriousness a lack a good writing on the part of the author, as well as people just going to what they individually know best, or perhaps even what we “expect” from our view of the world and how we fit into it. I do have to disagree with you on the descriptions of characteristics and what is construed as beautiful.  You see, personally, for all of the cultural differences in the world, I am one of the first people who could name a ton of people from other races who I find absolutely physically stunning.  In a sense, for me, actually noting the differences in people is what I normally find beautiful.  For example, black people seem to NEVER age upon reaching adulthood and have the most beautiful complexions.  I’m jealous of that!  I am also very jealous that black women only have to have their hair done once a week…although “sleeping pretty” is not really worth it to me!!! ;)I enjoy and celebrate the pyhsical differences between cultures, and it is one of the things that kind of bothered me about the books not describing that character properly.  I’m a visual person, and to me reading is like watching a movie in my head.  Not having that description was a failure in writing in my opinion!I also feel racisim is not the same thing as stereotyping.  To me racism is intentionally hurting someone because they are different than you.  A child using the dreaded “N” word is NOT the same thing as an adult using it.  It’s ignorance on the part of the child, whereas an adult would do it to be malicious…not that the child is not being raised to think that is ok….grrrr.Treating everyone the same.  That’s kind of hard to do isn’t it when ALL cultures point out their own differences.  For example, and I am just using these for examples because they are most prevalent in my mind.  Why are these things necessary:BETMs. Black AmericaBlack History MonthThe Spanish ChannelNow, I am not by any means saying these things are wrong.  However, are black actors and actresses not allowed on other television channels?  Sure they are, yet if there was a WET (heh) it would be cast as racist?  Ms. Black America?!  What is just wrong with being Ms. America.  Why does there need to be a seperation?  Black history month, while it is a wonderful thing should be included in EVERYDAY history lessons in school etc.  The failing by schools there is that we don’t get to much history in this century while in school.  We start during the creation of the U.S. and generally, the school year is over by WWI.  If we spent less time memorizing Civil War Battles, we would get to the modern history includng desegration and the fight Black American had to overcome to get where they are today.  This would encompass a HUGE part of American history that very few schools teach and would encompass a ton of American history.  Do you have any idea what the Korean War was about?  I don’t…never got there in school.Furthermore, in pointing out our differences is not just a race issue.  That stems to everything from race, to gender, to sexual preferences.  The real question to me is what causes the people in this country to point out our differences in a negative light?  What makes it the “norm” for someone to be lesser than others because of race, gender, or sexual preferences?

  6. I wonder about this as well. Why is Barack Obama, our new President Elect (yay!) an “African-American?” And I DO NOT mean that with any disrespect whatsoever. As far as I am concerned, he is AN AMERICAN, plain and simple. Same goes for any other person born on US soil, born to American parents or people who have gained their US citizenship, regardless of their ancestry. I am not an Italian-American or an Irish-American. And please, I really do not mean to diminish the pain and suffering that has occurred. In my mind, and maybe I am missing something here, but terms like “African-American” or “Mexican-American”  seem to only perpetuate our  differences in skin tone as something that is negative. Our differences in skin color are a wonderful and beautiful thing. We are all Americans despite our hair, eye or skin color.

  7. @Southernlass – Well, maybe it necessarily wouldn’t be racist, but it would be a horrible generalization. Not all black people are dangerous and involved in criminal acts.If any other race were given the same treatment, then I would be equally pissed off. No racial group can be cubby-holed into one single generalization, because everyone within that group is different.

  8. I think it is natural to identify the characters as being similar to yourself if you are not given any other conflicting image.  Is it racial that white children tend to prefer white dolls, and black children tend to prefer black dolls?  No… they want to identify with their dolls so they pick one that looks like them.  If we didn’t naturally want what is similar to ourselves, children would prefer alien dolls

  9. @macphoto – these terms are self-defined. You absolutely can call yourself an Italian-American and I honestly don’t think anybody would care. And if you start a big group of Italian-Americans who gain enough political clout you will eventually see Italian-American as being a check box on forms where you put down your race.It’s ironic that you used Italian-American since there actually was a time where in certain places where the Italian immigrant community in the US was strong and very organized and very divided from the rest of the American culture.When do people stop calling themselves an X-American and start being just an American? I honestly don’t know. But to be sure right now black people feel significantly divided enough from the rest of American culture that they feel a need for the designator. A lot of that has to do with the history and a lot has to do with the present. The dual identity characteristic of living as a black person in America is a strong shared characteristic of most people sharing a brown skin color.  That’s why the designators continue to exist and I think that’s just a natural part of the way societies develop.Don’t forget the history of black oppression is HUGE. It’s a centuries long history. It’s not going to be something people forget right away.

  10. @Southernlass – Well pointing out our differences is a complex psychological phenomena that nobody fully understands. It’s not limited to or even particularly excessive in American culture.  People ALWAYS use differences in order to galvanize and motivate people. We define ourselves as a part of group X so that we feel better about ourselves, to stress our individuality and to fit in with the group. At the same time by defining our individual identity with the group we are also able to define everyone else as the “other” and use that to bolster our own self-esteem.I think it’s unrealistic to hope to eliminate perception and stressing of differences. People take too much pleasure in it and pride in it. And it’s not all bad. Pointing out difference variances are also how important traditions are passed down.  Many of those traditions are beautiful and unique and it’s sad when they disappear or are corrupted as a consequence of cultural merging. Then again other times traditions from different cultures can blend together to create even more beautiful and interesting results.Characteristic construed as beautiful is also a really complicated thing. There is CERTAINLY a genetic component that transcends race and culture. And that’s why people can certainly perceive beauty in members of every race if they are honest with themselves.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a social engineering component of perception of beauty too. Namely, how hollywood culture and the likes tends to stress certain perceptions of beauty. In women, thin, long hair, a certain height, and a lighter complexion. Generally. There are exceptions of course, but anyway this is not an argument I’m particularly well versed in. As I said it was a thing my mom used to argue.I’m actually not that visual so I’m ok with books not describing everything. And I like imagining things and putting my own stamp on a story. Often I get annoyed after I watch a movie based on a book and it takes over my perspective of the characters. I liked my imagination better!The short answer to why those TV stations, etc. exist is that there is demand. People DO like being reminded of their history and their culture and watching television shows populated by people who are “like” them. People always identify more easily with things that are like them. If there was demand for a WET network and someone made it, I honestly would not care. I don’t think it would automatically be considered racist. People always give that hypothetical argument about various “black” things. If there was a “white” X it would automatically be considered racist. I don’t think that’s true though. But it’s hard to test cuz there aren’t a lot of things described as “white” X and most of those that do exist really were started by objectively proovable racist groups explicitly to attack the promotion of black or other minority traditions One reason “white” stuff doesn’t pop up is because they are a really large, really broad and really diverse group. That’s not to say there isn’t a white racial identity, there is. It’s just that nobody has done a particularly good job of defining the constraints of that categorization and organizing people around it. And attempts to do so do create unease amongst blacks AND whites because it does remind people of a very negative and nasty history of race relations in the United States and world wide. I think it’s possible. I just think it’s hard to do. It’d be much easier to unify whites around individual national backgrounds. Italian, English, Dutch, Irish etc. etc.  But of course in the US so many white people are extremely mixed so that’s not easy to do.And that will happen in the long run of history for blacks too. We’re all going to be so mixed tht these groups distinctions will gain less traction and naturally ultimately disappear. And that’s just fine.  If you want these things to go away, best thing you can do is encourage people to date outside of their race and then just have patience.I agree that racism is not the same as stereotyping. And your child example is perfect. However, the terms are generally used very carelessly that I don’t often even bother trying to maintain the distinction. Lots of people “think” of them as the same even if strictly speaking they are different. I think the battle for proper language use is a losing one. The lines between racism, bias, prejudice, discrimination, etc. etc.  are too thin and vague to really be worth fighting for. I’d rather get at the core idea beneathe them which is differences between peoples.Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful reply! ^_^

  11. @nephyo – Yes, I agree with you. And, I so did not mean to diminish in any way the pain and suffering. My point was just that I hope someday we all feel we are Americans without feeling divided or segregated. There is, unfortunately, a long history of inequality (to say the least) and I do hope electing Obama is another step that brings us all closer together.

  12. People always read literature with their own cultural lens (which is why two people never really read the same book…or movie, or listen to the same song, see the same art, etc). And we have set in our minds what this means. Race is a social construct anyway and does not actually exist.

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