A Story in Memes: The Danger of Positive Stereotypes

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Tanya

I am the outspoken feminist that Pat Robertson warned you about.

There’s no such thing as positive stereotypes. All stereotypes are harmful. I could even make the point that so-called “positive” stereotypes are more harmful than negative ones. At least negative stereotypes are transparent in their prejudice. When someone utters a positive stereotype, they often think they’re paying someone a compliment because they’re highlighting an attribute that is supposedly ingrained in them due to who they are.

 

Here are just a few positive stereotypes that we see reinforced over and over again in our culture, often through memes:

Positive stereotype
“The Smart Asian Kid”
Positive stereotype
“The Well Dressed Gay Guy”
Positive stereotype
“All Black People are Good Dancers”
Positive stereotypes
“The Sexy Latina”

 

And then there’s the stereotypes that people think are just funny. They’re not really positive or negative but just a running joke:

Positive stereotypes

The problem with positive stereotypes is this: what happens when you go against type?

What about the Asian kid who needs special education in school because of a learning disability? You know that’s going to turn around on her. Kids are cruel. The “I thought Asians were supposed to be smart” comments are almost certainly coming.

What about the awkward gay boy with body image problems that doesn’t work out all the time and dress like a model? We wrote about that one at length and I assure you that no good comes of this stereotype.

And what happens when you’re black and you don’t like to dance or you suck at it? For a white person, nobody would think anything of that. (They may actually expect that and a lighthearted joke would occur at your expense). If you’re a black person who doesn’t enjoy dancing or who simply can’t dance like Michael Jackson, people in the club might comment on it which would further highlight the fact that you don’t fit the stereotype.

Then there’s the Latina thing. I’m a Latina and I dare say, I’m pretty cute, but I don’t want Latinas to be known as sultry and seductive. It oversexualizes us and leads to rape culture. Plus, what about Latinx people who identify as asexual? Their entire identity is erased by this stereotype.

The whole thing about lesbians moving in together on the second date is so commonly said that if you’re a lesbian that likes to take it slow, your straight friends are probably very confused by you.

But here’s the bigger issue…

A positive stereotype is still lumping all people together (all Latinos, all black folks, all gay people, etc.) and neglecting to take into account that people within a certain demographic are just that: people. People don’t all act/look/sound/behave the same. Not all black people are good dancers. Not all Asian people are good at math. Not all Latinas are sexy. Some black people are good dancers. Some Asians are good at math. Some Latinas all sexy (alright, most of us. I gotta say). Sometimes you may find that a trait is common amongst a certain demographic. Let’s say it’s common for Asian folks to be good at academics due to a culturally based work ethic and discipline. That still doesn’t mean all, folks. It’s never all.

The next time you see a meme that’s funny because it’s a positive stereotype, keep scrolling. And maybe the next time somebody says something like this, you might consider calling them out. We can change the culture around stereotypes but it means letting go of the positive ones, too, even when we think they’re funny or have a grain of truth to them.

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