Moving Beyond Stereotypes

by Camille Taylor
YWCA McLean County, Illinois

(Blank) are usually good dancers, (Blank) people smell, special classes are for???

If you’re human, you couldn’t help but fill in the blanks with an image or a word that popped into your mind. A stereotype is a popular belief about a specific type of individual based on prior assumptions. When singer Susan Boyle came on the stage of “Britain’s Got Talent,” people snickered, and no one took her seriously until she sang her first note.

When contest judge Simon Cowell asked the 47-year-old woman why her dream of being a singer hadn’t been realized, she said she’d never been given the chance before. When the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building exploded in Oklahoma City, initial reaction was this was the work of an international terrorist. No one dreamed it was the work of a Caucasian, U.S. Army Veteran who hated the federal government.

When the character Mona Lisa Vito took the stand as an expert witness in the film “My Cousin Vinny,” no one expected this gum chewing, tight skirted woman to give a detailed description of a specific car which helped free the accused.

And who could forget actress Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” when she tried to buy outfits on Rodeo Drive wearing her “street clothes,” and the store clerks wouldn’t give her the time of day. Stereotypes lead to prejudice, which is a preconceived judgment because of race, class, age, etc. Prejudice leads to discrimination and actions like racial profiling. Trayvon Martin’s killing is a result, I believe, of George Zimmerman’s prejudice.

It is hard to imagine that someone carrying skittles and an iced tea could meet the “stand your ground” law’s litmus test of posing a threat. Or was it the hoodie he wore or being a young, black male walking in a gated community? President Obama said if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon. I have a son who looks like Trayvon.

Now 38, my son has some not so fond memories of being racially profiled growing up here. Unlike his white friends, I had to accompany him to Eastland Mall, so that he could shop without fear of being followed around and/or possibly arrested. I worried about him when he started driving. He was an artist, and when a lot of the black kids started wearing anti-apartheid medallions he made out of wood, his school called me thinking he was in a gang.

I had to bring them the Pantagraph article titled, “Young Entrepreneur” which showed him at Culture Fest selling his artwork. Susan Boyle told Simon she was never given a chance. Sadly, neither was Trayvon.

Camille Taylor, counselor at Normal Community High School in Normal, Ill. has been an educator for 33 years. In addition to being recognized by the YWCA McLean County as a Woman of Distinction in the field of education, she is a Martin Luther King Jr. award winner for the City of Bloomington, a Distinguished Alumna by the College of Education at Illinois State University, a Human and Civil Rights award winner for the Illinois Education Association, and the H. Councill Trenholm Award recipient from the National Education Association for her work with diversity. She lives in Bloomington with her husband, Arthur, and is a mother and grandmother.


Stand Against Racism logoThis post is part of the YWCA Stand Against Racism blog carnival on issues of race, justice and diversity. We invite you to join the dialogue! Post your comment below, share your story and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #StandAgainstRacism.

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