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Can't We Discuss Stereotypes?

Stereotypes. As soon as this word is uttered or seen in print or the idea is implied, almost 100% of the politically correct crowd’s hackles go up and they are ready for a fight. This word is not just overused but also massively misunderstood. Anything that smacks of stereotypes, or even an allegation of a stereotype, is met with harsh criticism, and in some circles, vicious name-calling. “Stereotypes are ideas held about members of particular groups, based solely on membership in that group. They are often used in a negative or prejudicial sense and are frequently used to justify certain discriminatory behaviors.

More benignly, they may express sometimes-accurate folk wisdom about social reality.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotype) I may be wrong but this simplified definition seems to indicate that stereotyping might not be an entirely negative thing. It is when it is used prejudicially to judge the whole based on a few that you begin to get into trouble.

When one bases acts of discrimination upon a belief that might or might not be true, then one ventures into the mucky waters of bigotry. I have a friend who is in his late 60’s and is not particularly educated. He lives in Texas and holds some of the most bizzare ideas about Mexicans. Yet, I have seen him go out of his way to aid and assist Mexicans in his Texas town. I’ve also witnessed him going to a small town in Mexico and working with a mission group to build schools for Mexican children in villages that could not afford to do so. He holds these strange and sometimes disgusting stereotypes, but he will not allow them to push him into acts of discrimination against Mexicans. This friend, in my view, has the greatest chance of having his views about Mexicans changed because of his altruistic involvement with this group. Therefore, it is not the discussion, the believing, or the appropriate verbalizations of a specifically-held stereotype that is wrong. I mean, just how will someone deal with a negative stereotype of a group of people, like Mexicans, for example, if there is not an appropriate forum in which to discuss the issues? It is wrong when you engage and justify acts of bigotry toward a group or an individual because of a falsely-held belief about that group, is it not? Then, there are the benignly-held stereotypes that may actually express something accurate about a group of people. As the definition I quoted says, “More benignly, they may express sometimes-accurate folk wisdom about social reality.

” Something I’ve discovered, and which may be considered a stereotype of sorts, is that in both the American gringo population in the Mexican town in which I live, Guanajuato, and the Mexican population I encounter online, both resent, most vehemently, any sort of discussion of anything that remotely resembles stereotyping either group. The American gringos, who (and here goes a stereotype) hole up in residential enclaves, who have only bilingual Mexican friends because of their lack of linguistic skills, and who really cannot interact with the local Mexican community, resent any discussion of anything that might be negative about the Mexican town in which they are living. An example is the series of articles in my column with The American Chronicle in which I point out issues like getting shoved off of sidewalks, getting shoved out of the way at meat counters, being told we should walk on the outside of sidewalks because we are gringos. These are all events that have happened to us as well as to others we know. These gringos take offense when we mention these events. Nonsensically, these are gringos who drive everywhere, walk nowhere, shop at the large American-style supermarkets where they reach into a refrigerated bin to get their wrapped meats. Just how would they know about the events I write about? They do not interact with the local Mexicans in the local community, so just how do they know whether I am reporting accurately or not? The truth is that in Guanajuato, there are things within the culture that could be expressed as on-going daily behaviors that characterize a social reality about the citizens of Guanajuato as a whole. If one has an intermediate to high fluency in Spanish, all one has to do is ask a Guanajuato Mexican, “Why do women shove you out of the way at the carcineria (meat market) and shout their orders over yours when the butcher was obviously waiting on you first?” Here is the point of all those columns I’ve been writing: No one, and I mean not a soul, who writes expatriation guides about Mexico mentions anything remotely close to these cultural affectations. And I want to know, just why not? These are issues that will throw the American gringo into a culture shock tailspin faster than anything I can imagine. Is this negative stereotyping? Or is it is the reporting of issues within the culture that could be said to characterize the culture as a whole, a social reality? Most of the issues about which I’ve written have been Guanajuato-specific stereotypes.

Rather than report my assumptions of what I’ve witnessed, rather than make an interpretation through my gringo filters, I have asked Mexicans about these things which have thrown me for a loop before I wrote about them. The issues which I’ve reported in my writing, those things to which the gringos in my town have taken umbrage, I did not write until I got confirmation from other Mexicans living in Guanajuato. Here’s the thing about getting shoved off the sidewalk. They do this to one another. I’ve talked with Mexicans who have been shoved off the sidewalks, too. We’ve caught and prevented old Mexican ladies from falling who have been shoved off the sidewalks and had been at risk of receiving horrid injuries. We’ve talked to Guanajuatenses and Mexicans from other regions of the country who now live here about this issue. There are those who have an explanation for this horrible behavior and there are those Mexican who dismiss the citizens of Guanajuato as “antisocial.” There was a time, I believe, when political correctness did not possess the minds of Americans like a demon needing exorcising. There was a time when a writer could write without the fear of having to make disclaimers concerning his subject matter.

An example of this is when Princess Diana died. Most every television news commentator which I watched said something along the line, “All of London has shown up on the streets of the funeral procession to bid farewell to the Princess.” Now, let me ask you: Did these television commentators mean literally that “every person without exception was on the London streets to say good-bye to Princess Diana?” What about the old and infirm, the babies just born, the mentally ill or retarded—what about those? Did the commentators mean they were there, too? Or, was the use of a hyperbolic device employed in the commentary to convey an idea? The statement, if one examined it critically and with a modicum of logic, meant that “a great deal of people, maybe even the majority, of the good people of London, lined the streets in a show of respect toward their beloved Princess Diana.” There was a time when this would have been understood. But, it would seem, Americans have lost the ability to think. Is that a stereotype? Maybe. But if the fan mail I receive is any indication of how the American gringo population in Mexico thinks in my town of Guanajuato, and the town of San Miguel de Allende, then there is something seriously wrong. If in my rhetoric I said, “I think every Mexican, without exception, in Guanajuato is such-and-such…” then I would be guilty of false stereotyping. I’ve not done that.


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