How could I not know I had that stereotype inside of me? How did that happen? I wasn’t raised that way, I didn’t think that way, consciously, that is. Yet, the stereotype was there, hidden under everything I’d always patted myself on the back about, and when I saw it, I felt overwhelming shame. Not just for the stereotype itself, but for not knowing it was part of who I was, and how easy it is to fool yourself. This post is embarrassing, but I also think that growth doesn’t happen in a vacuum, there has to be an awareness to change. So, I’m sharing with you in hopes of sparking conversations here or elsewhere.
That moment when my racial stereotype showed its ugly face – is seared in my memory. I can see myself sitting in my car at the stoplight. I can see the intersection. I grew up in the area and understood the demographics well, rural, small town area that is predominantly white. What I can’t see is the date or even the year it happened. Best guess is that it was shortly after the tragedy that happened to Trayvon Martin, and then, the never-ending stream of discussion on black teens/men and hoodies.
It was late morning and I was on my way to see mom, sitting at the stop-light waiting for it to turn so I could continue on. Across the cross street on the right were two teens, black, and wearing sweatshirts with their hoodies up. And I felt fear. Irrational fear. Fear that I knew had no logical grounds to be based on, they were just two teen boys waiting for the green walk light so they could cross the street, probably heading either to the gas station or grocery store because that’s all that there. I checked myself and asked what if it had been two white teens wearing sweatshirts with their hoodies up, and I knew the answer was I wouldn’t have felt fear. That the irrational fear was only based on a racial stereotype that was prominent in the media, and thereby, society, us, me. It had lodged in my sub consciousness, despite the fact that I believed what happened to Trayvon Martin was wrong, the racial stereotype took hold, and I allowed it to.
After realizing how easy it was to have hidden stereotypes, I’ve thought about that day every time I go through that intersection. We all have stereotypes that play a large part in how we see things. Seeing them, admitting to them, working through and understanding how illogical they are, is needed. I needed that wake-up call. I’m trying to be more aware of how easy it is to a stereotype people, a group, community, even an entire race or nationality.
Race, racism, racial stereotypes need to be discussed more often in the adoption community as a whole. We need to sit and listen to the experts, i.e. those who have experienced racial stereotypes and have to live with the impact it has on them. We don’t get to tell them they are wrong, misunderstood what the person was saying, we don’t live it, we don’t know. Anything they offer to us to grow is a gift, treat it as such, don’t pushback, just listen, ask questions, think about the message, learn. When we stop learning we might as well just give up.