Chapter 02: How Are Stereotypes Changed? – Excerpt 5

Chapter 02: How are Stereotypes Changed?

I’ve started writing a book about Changing the Face of Christianity. I’ll post excerpts here as I go in order to get your feedback before the book is published. 

I mentioned in Chapter 1 about the experience I had driving through a black neighborhood with my grandmother. This is a perfect case in point. I was informally taught through family and culture that “blacks” weren’t to be trusted. They had a negative stereotype.

Thankfully, I was a typical kid who didn’t listen much to his parents or grandparents. I hadn’t become a teenager yet, but I already knew everything there was to know about life and other people. Not!

What I was being taught however, did influence me. I remember a regrettable situation in 7th grade. I went to a school that was predominantly white with only a few African Americans. I was a pretty scrawny kid, and there was a black girl in the class that probably could have drop-kicked me across the room. She was nice enough, but for some reason we just didn’t get along.

I was being a jerky class clown and I remember writing a note to a friend at a desk nearby that said something like, “I know why she’s black. It’s because she doesn’t take baths.” The teacher saw me passing the note and let’s just say I got in BIG trouble with both my parents, the school, and the girl. She threatened me to a fight after school. You know…“bike racks, 3:30. Be there unless you’re a chicken!” And being only barely smart enough to know better, I chickened out and ran home as fast as I could. She would have pummeled me!

What I said was horrible right? I humbly confess. It was an awful thing to think, say, write down, and pass around. Thankfully, I’ve fully recovered from those early signs of bigotry and hate toward African Americans. I’m ashamed to even admit it in this book. I only do so to express how stereotypes that we have been taught DO make an impact on our thoughts and behaviors. That’s how the negative stereotype of black people had been passed down from one generation to the next.

I only do so to express how stereotypes that we have been taught DO make an impact on our thoughts and behaviors. That’s how the negative stereotype of black people had been passed down from one generation to the next.

Thankfully, my parents never expressed the same views as my grandmother. Some of the force behind the stereotype was obviously lessened through more open-minded and loving parents.

But then as I got older and started driving, I had an opportunity to work at Middlekauff Ford in Plano, Texas as a “car shagger”. It was a pretty difficult job. After someone dropped off their car for service it was my job to go park it. After the car was serviced, I occasionally got to help wash and dry the car to make it look nice and pretty for the customer. When they came back to get their car, it was my job to drive it from the back to the front. Very strenuous and mentally challenging work indeed! It was a perfect 1st job for an up and coming teen.

Anyway, I didn’t work alone. I worked with a young, 20-something black guy who used to call me “home slice”. I still don’t know what that means, but I don’t think it was meant to be particularly flattering.

But he was great. He taught me how to do my job. He covered my butt when I was caught driving the cars too fast in the parking lot. He really acted like a big brother to me; a mentor and a friend.

We hung out sometimes after work and I even visited his house a few times. Guess where he lived? In the same predominantly black neighborhood my grandmother had “protected” me from earlier in my childhood.

I learned a lot of things from him. But the biggest lesson I learned was that the image that had been branded in my head was wrong. Or at a minimum, it wasn’t entirely accurate. The negative stereotype had started loosening its grip on me. I was suddenly free to start using my own brain and be open minded enough to experience something different than I had been taught.That one incredibly positive experience made a profound impact on my attitudes toward black people. It shaped me. Ever since that time, I have personally encountered more black people than I can count and with very few exception, they were all as nice, friendly, and unthreatening as my friend at the dealership.

I was suddenly free to start using my own brain and be open minded enough to experience something different than I had been taught.

For me, the stereotype has changed. I now view the “dangerous” or “criminal” black person as the exception. When I meet a new African American for the first time, it’s completely natural for me to think only the best of them. I trust them. I love them.

When I find myself in a predominantly black neighborhood, I’m not scared. I don’t roll up my windows or lock my doors. And I sure as heck am not passing on such unwarranted fears and negative stereotypes to my children. I’ve broken the chain of bigotry and hate, all because of my positive personal experiences. My children will grow up being taught to love ALL people regardless of race, color, religion, or sexual orientation.

Such experiences have also shaped my views of stereotypes and how they are changed. If I had experienced the same thing that I had been taught, I would no doubt be a bigot to this day. But my experience laid waste the stereotype I had been taught. And I trust that in a similar situation you would rely on your experience more than what culture has taught you.

 […this chapter will be continued in the next post…]   

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Comments

  1. Snuzin says

    “home slice” is an affectionate term used between male friends, like “homey” or “homes”/”Holmes”. Remember the lyrics to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: “Yo homes, smell ya later!”? Trans: later, dude

  2. alan says

    My dad was a good father who loved God and a good man in almost every way but he had a blindspot to race. He never voiced blatant racist diatribes however you could tell that he had a basic problem with blacks. He also thought Martin Luther King was a communist. Growing up, I came to realize that he was a product of his upbringing, born in the late 1920’s in the south. Later in his life, I think his views softened a bit as the culture changed. Whenever I think about my dad and his views on race, I’m still amazed at the blind spots we can be trapped in. It also makes me wonder about current powerful American Christian storylines that don’t get challenged enough. Like the black co-worker you met in your first job, probably the best thing to challenge what is off in us is spending enough time with someone who embodies that which is true. Even with this though, there needs to be light within in order for character to change. The other side, by way of challenge, is that we can be the people who embody the true thing. If there is one locally, this weekend visit a black church if you’re white. . . and enjoy the worship.

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