Is stereotyping or what may be called “profiling” racist or sexist? Everybody does it whether consciously or not. A distinction could possibly be made between the two. Stereotyping which is probably more common may be the unconscious function while profiling may be a more conscious act.
This question comes to mind due to a recent experience with the tenant of a family property that I maintain. A request came from a tenant who has been there for a while for some paint work to spruce things up a bit. Our tenant is a very good tenant who takes wonderful care of the premises so when you have that it’s always a pleasure to oblige simple requests. Since we are talking about stereotyping I have to give you a bit about our tenant. What very little I know. She is a middle age woman who happens to be black. I know absolutely nothing more about her what so ever, nor does she know any more about me outside the fact that I am a family member of the property owner. I had only seen her on one other occasion and we didn’t even really speak beyond greetings. As for myself I am a late middle age guy who happens to be white. Race generally isn’t important for any of my musings but we are going to touch on life experiences so it may play a roll. There’s the setup.
Arriving for our scheduled appointment to do the painting we went through and she showed me what she would like to have done. No problem, I got down to it. When working in someones home I try to be as invisible and quiet as possible. My being there is necessary but I try and disrupt someones life as little as possible. It was working. She went about her business all the while listening to music. I love music while I work and her taste in music was not far out of line with mine. Being raised in an upstate city in NY in the seventies my taste runs well into old school R&B, classic rock, and a bit of early southern rock. She seemed to lean toward R&B so I was enjoying it.
About two hours into my work she came to me and informed me that she had to step out for a while. Then she said “I put something on the radio that you can enjoy” and off she went. Well the hour she was gone was like torture. She had put on a country station. I’m not talking a contemporary country station (which I can find tolerable in small doses). I’m talking an Ozark mountain jug and washboard band sort of country station. WTH!!! That whole hour I could only wonder what the heck would lead her to believe that would be my preference in music. Then I could only wonder what else she thinks she knows about me that is probably wrong.
Like it or not we all stereotype people we don’t know all the time. When we are in the situation of interacting with or even deciding whether to interact with someone we don’t know we have to have something to go on. A good salesman is little more than a skilled profiler. Being able to read people from their experiences with other people that may have shared the same life experience or interest as the current subject. When a man is sitting at a bar and meets a woman for the first time his opening line is not “hey how about those Dallas Cowboys”. Of course if he met a man at a bar in Dallas that was wearing a Dallas Cowboy hat and cowboy boots there’s nothing else to say. That my friends is stereotyping and profiling whether we like it or not. It could also be very inaccurate. That woman in the bar could very well be a huge Cowboys fan. Her brother might play on the team. It’s just that the odds are better that he doesn’t. Just as well as the guy at the bar could be from Chicago and only wearing the hat because it was raining and it’s the only hat he could find. (I know. A stretch too far. Doesn’t matter how hard it’s raining.) But the odds are in favor of him being a Dallas fan and that’s all you can go with.
Getting back to the considerate tenant. My final thought would be to wonder what in her life experience would lead her to her stereotypical assumptions in my taste of music. Could she have lived in the south where that was the music of choice for most of the people she met like me? Is it possible that she has lived in the area all along but has limited her exposure to people like me to the point she wouldn’t know? Or the big question. Was it racist for her to assume that I liked country music? And if it is would it be due to just my skin color or would it be assumptions she made about my life experience because of my skin color? Like I said earlier. I know nothing about her so anything would be a guess. What I do know is that something in past experience lead her to believe something that couldn’t be farther from correct. Something in her experience lead her to believe that my taste in music couldn’t be anywhere near hers and I would find it so objectionable that she was compelled to change the station.
No harm no foul.
No harm no foul. In other words the assumptions weren’t malicious or damaging in any way. That can be the only test as proper or improper, racist or not. Thinking you know someones taste in music and being wrong hurts nobody. Something as weighty as fitness for a job or other life determining situation is too important for your life experience to weigh on someone else. You must put your notions aside and dig deeper. If you can’t do that yes you are wrong. You would also be called a bigot.
Stereotyping is a tool we all use in everyday life. It’s a product of our life experience. Nothing can be done about it. It can help make new friends as well as save your life. They say “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. There aren’t truer words but it’s the cover of the book that lets you know if you even want to open it. Have your first impressions but always give the opportunity and be willing and ready to find out how wrong you can be, Then add that to your life experience. Give it bearing on your next assumptions. It might help them be correct a little more often.
And with that I grant you The Midas Touch. Yea, it’s cheezy but I still like it.